Rehab for Horses: Why Physiotherapy is Recommended for All Horses and Which Plan Suits Your Equine Partner

December 02, 2021 7 min read

Rehab for Horses: Why Physiotherapy is Recommended for All Horses and Which Plan Suits Your Equine Partner

Physical therapy or physiotherapy for horses has gained popularity throughout the years in the horse world, but there are still many riders who aren’t convinced of the benefits of equine rehab.

However, what may look like a simple horse massage of your riding partner is different when done by a trained expert. Equine therapy is so essential for your four-legged palin fact, it is not only recommended for horses who are suffering from physical conditions, but for all horses. Physiotherapy doesn’t only nurse our beloved animals back to health, but it helps prevent any further conditions from worsening or even happening, and aids in lengthening the lifespan of your equine. Aren’t those all that we want for our four-legged pals?

Physical Therapy for Horses, in a Nutshell

There’s no denying that horses are one of the most hardworking animals, and they are some of the best athletes. Just as top sports athletes need physical therapy to properly recuperate, equines will also benefit from such treatments.

Physical therapy for horses is the assessment and treatment of an equine’s musculoskeletal conditions. They are not veterinarians that help cure conditions or diseases, instead, they work hand-in-hand with your vet to ensure a holistic treatment that will benefit your horse and lengthen their lifespan.

At its most basic, physical therapy for horses is when a physiotherapist, through a chosen program, helps your equine partner heal from injuries, increase flexibility, or return them to their proper functionality. To know more about Equine Physiotherapy, read more about it here.


Your horse’s lifespan may be lengthened through physiotherapy

Dr. Angelique Barbara, a doctor of Chiropractic and Founder of Angel’s Animals – Holistic Seminars, says that physiotherapy will always help in lengthening your horse’s life. “Bodywork in general will definitely lengthen the career of the horse and allow them to perform longer than a horse that is not receiving any bodywork due to the decreased risk of injury,” she says. She points out the obvious, but sometimes overlooked reason as to why horses are not as productive or do not perform as well as before. She says, “Horses who are in pain will not perform as well, and will tend to retire earlier due to bad behavior associated with the discomfort.”

Healthy or unhealthy, both kinds of horses need rehab  

Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes, and it applies greatly to your equine partners as well. When your four-legged pal is in pain or is suffering from a condition, bringing them to the veterinarian and to a physiotherapist is the ideal scenario. Dr. Barbara says, “Most horses who compete for a living will need some degree of rehabilitation at some point in their careers, similar to human athletes. For example, most horses tend to overuse the muscles in their neck, trapezius and latissimus dorsi, to name a few. Repetitive stress causes tightness, which leads to restriction in movement, which can lead to injury.”

How do you know if your horse is already injured and is in need of horse rehabilitation? Dr. Barbara says that the obvious signs would include a decrease in your equine partner’s usual range of motion. She points out, “If the horse is having trouble bending to one side or having difficulty picking up one lead or transitioning gaits. If it is ignored it can lead to a more obvious lameness.”

For four-legged pals who have no known injuries or conditions to treat, Dr. Barbara says that they will still benefit from physical therapy. “Think of your horse as a top athlete in its field. Most athletes will receive regular massages, chiropractic and other forms of bodywork to help them perform optimally and prevent injury.”

Basic Treatment Plans for Your Equine

There are several treatment plans available to your riding partner, but before delving into creating a course for your equine’s rehabilitation, your equine needs to undergo an assessment, in order to find the right plan. “We start by taking a history and learning about the current ‘complaint’,” says Dr. Barbara. “We then evaluate the horses by watching their gait, checking range of motion, and performing palpation.” Palpation, as Dr. Barbara explains, is feeling the horse’s body with their hands. They do this to look for any tightness, scars, restrictions, heat, and the like in your equine partner’s body.

After the assessment, they create a detailed, personalized plan for the horse, depending on the conditions, needs, or other findings discovered from the assessment. “The great thing about our program is that we teach many modalities, which allows our practitioners to pick and choose the techniques that will work best for the horse,” Dr. Barbara explains, “Just like people, every horse is different, and some will respond to certain techniques better than others.”

While there is no “one size fits all” treatment plan for all equines, there are however different modalities or plans that can be recommended to your horse, depending on the initial assessment and findings. Physiotherapy for horses is based on physical therapy for humans, and so the treatment plans are more or less patterned after how to treat a human body. The basic treatment plans are as follows:

Thermotherapy

Using hot or cold temperatures to heal injuries is one of theoldest treatments, and that is what thermotherapy is about. Using buckets of cold water, ice, or a cold-hose, the coldness will reduce inflammation, swelling, or pain after your equine exercises. Heat, on the other hand, helps increase blood flow and slows down the nerves, decreasing horse muscle spasms while increasing the elasticity of your riding partner’s muscle. Heat packs, towels, pads, blankets, even infrared heaters will help in hot thermotherapy.

Kinesiology Taping 

It is said that anything that can be treated using your hands can be treated with tape, and Kinesiology Taping aims to do just that. Using fabric tape, taping aims to increase blood flow, reduce pain and swelling through supporting your horse’s joints, and help retain, correct, or improve your equine partner’s range of motion.

Exercise Therapy

As the name suggests,exercise therapies for horses need for your riding partner to get moving. Depending on their condition or the findings from the assessment, exercise therapy can range from core strengthening exercises to manual joint manipulations.

Manual Therapy 

When a physiotherapist uses their hands on your equine’s body to help them heal, that’s manual therapy. Massages, joint mobilization, plus manipulation for horses are important. In the hands of chiropractic experts like Dr. Barbara, it can be therapeutic. Manual therapy also includes acupuncture and acupressure.

Electrotherapy

While the effectiveness of electrotherapy in horses is yet to be proven, humans have benefitted from it for years, making it seem like a good therapy plan to adapt for equines as well. Different types of electrotherapy may help in improving spinal cord injuries, raise tissue temperatures, or increase cellular metabolism. Some electrotherapy is used like acupuncture as well. Dr. Barbara’s organization offers Cold Laser Therapy to help reduce inflammation in the affected area and aid in muscle recovery and wound healing.

Expert Advice from an Equine Physiotherapist

The general rule is that all horses will benefit from physiotherapy, and depending on the findings of your riding partner’s assessment, a trained physiotherapist will give their recommended treatment plan. Dr. Barbara also adds these important words of advice to all riders:

  • Watch out for the subtle signs that your horse needs treatment.

When a rider is not aware or perhaps not as observant over their equine partner that day, these signs might be taken lightly. Dr. Barbara says to observe the following signs, such as “horse pinning their ears back when saddled, or when asked to perform certain tasks. This is an indication that the horse is experiencing pain. They may also swish their tail or hesitate before responding to the cue. More stoic horses may just alter their breathing, and not be quite as responsive as they usually are.”

Barbara points out that in their organization, they take a holistic approach to treatment. “We teach our students how to find the root of the problem rather than masking it,” She explains. The courses their organization offers are indeed holistic, including body nutrition and reiki, among other treatments.

  • Equine massage is highly recommended.

Sometimes the simplest technique is the most recommended one, without the need for fancy machines and such. This is the case for horse massage, which Dr. Barbara says is the most recommended treatment in their organization. She adds, “Most of our practitioners will recommend massage first and foremost. When performing massage, it is all about ‘feeling’ the horse and the majority of the treatment is done with bare hands. I am also a very big fan of our Animal Neuro-myofascial Release Technique. This is our body alignment technique which uses neurological stimulation and soft tissue release to allow the animal’s vertebrae to align themselves. Most horses will start with weekly or bi-weekly sessions, and then move to a maintenance plan which is usually once a month or once every 3 months, depending on the particular horse.”

  • Your equine will always experience discomfort—even if you are the best rider.

The amount of work you expect your four-legged pal to put in is tough, and it is inevitable that they experience discomfort from the work. “We ask them to carry us on their backs and perform tasks. They will experience some discomfort from sore muscles, similar to how we feel after a good workout. [This happens] no matter how good of a rider you are, how good of shape your horse is in, or how great your tack fits,” Dr. Barbara explains.

How a Horse Tack Fits Aids in Therapy

Horses carry immense weight on their backs and are expected to work as hard, if not, harder than their rider. Throughout all that work, what horse owners and riders can do is to provide what their equine partners need in terms of rehabilitation, care, and equipment necessary to keep them healthy and happy. “A proper tack is essential to the horse’s wellness,” Dr. Barbara says. “It prevents sore muscles, stress points, and allows the horse to have proper circulation along the back muscles while horse riding. Many horses will develop pain and altered gait due to ill-fitting saddles. No matter how much bodywork we perform, we will never ‘fix’ the problem if the tack does not fit correctly.”


Physiotherapy for horses helps prevent injuries and lengthen the career and lifespan of your equine. More importantly, it gives your riding partner the much-needed care, love, and wellness it deserves, and that alone makes it worth a try—a simple online search of “horse therapy near me” will bring your equine closer to some TLC!