Many people say they’d like to be better at horse gait analysis.
You know, where you watch the horse and look for short-striding, unevenness, gait assymmetries…stuff like that.
But should you even do that?
Is it a waste of time?
More about why or why not on today’s Horse Mysteries Solved podcast.
Purchase: Where Does My Horse Hurt
Hello, friends. Dr. Renee Tucker here. Hey, stop staring at the horse. Stop watching it move around.
Okay, just kidding. But seriously, I wanted to talk about this because I had a chat with someone on the phone who was considering coming to TBT University, and her question was, do I teach how to do horse gait analysis? And what she was really looking for was those kind of I don’t know, it kind of seems like magic where people see the horse move and they say, oh, yes, I can see that the horse is holding its head a little bit crooked, and therefore it must be having a difficult time with the canter. And everyone’s like, amazed by this kind of thing. And that’s some experience and it’s certainly fun.
Now, in TBTU, we do a little bit on how to watch the horse, how to look for asymmetries. But here’s the thing, they don’t necessarily know. I know you’re thinking, I’ve really lost it this time. All right? But seriously, okay, sometimes if you’re watching a horse move, you might see a horse short striding in the front hind, front or the hind.
And so you’ll immediately might think, oh, if they’re short striding in the front, the problem is that front short striding leg, same for the back leg. If you see a short striding back leg, that must be the problem. When in fact, what we see when we’re watching a horse move is most of the time, compensations. The compensations are what kind of grab our eye if we see a horse with a clunky shoulder, like, oh my gosh, what is wrong with that shoulder? When actually it’s probably something completely different.
So let me give you a couple of examples. Let’s go with the shoulder. One, if I’m watching a horse move and I see a short stride and a stiff clunky shoulder, sure, I’m going to think, okay, there could be a problem in the leg. And I might do if a traditional veterinarian would do a hawk flexion test, maybe some lower leg flexion tests, potentially just go ahead and inject the coffin joints, whatever, when in fact the problem could be that the sternum is misaligned. The sternum is the center breastbone of the horse.
It’s the center of the barrel of the thoracic cavity, okay? And so when that whole barrel is crooked because the sternum is misaligned, then the shoulder has to go a different route. Instead of the leg and shoulder going straight forward, nice and easy, straightforward, and then straight back. And then straightforward and back instead. If the barrel has moved toward the shoulder, then the front leg has to kind of go around and you’ll see just a little bit of instead of going straight, the leg literally moves around the barrel just an inch, maybe two.
So not a whole lot. But if you maybe watch from behind, you’ll see the leg moving out and then coming back in to land potentially flat. Some horses will actually land a little bit crooked because their leg has to go around so far, but this puts a lot of strain on the knee and the shoulder and all kind of things. So when you’re watching the horse move from the side, the shoulder looks really weird. But the reason is because it’s having to go effectively around the sternum and in fact, the whole barrel.
Now the other side, where the side where the sternum has moved away from the shoulder, it’s going to look fairly normal, but it may look actually less muscled because it’s actually sinking a little bit in towards the barrel where the barrel should be. So it’s just that the shoulder looks a little bit flat, a little less muscled than it actually is. And once you realign the sternum, then that shoulder sits where it’s supposed to sit, and it looks normal. So that’s just actually two examples of you can be looking at a leg and it’s like, well, why isn’t that one muscled? Or why is this one over muscled?
Or why does this one move stiffly? And we get a little locked on the compensations with our eyes. Our eyes always find the compensations first because they look weird. Same for the hind end. So, just another example.
If I saw a horse short striding on a lunge line or free running around, I would say, oh, my goodness, look at this right hind leg. It is short striding by a couple of inches compared to the left hind. The problem must be in the right hind leg. Now, as a young veterinarian years ago, I would certainly say, oh, my gosh, that’s the problem. It’s short striding.
So I will do a flexion test. Now, there’s two examples here as well. If, say, for example, the right hind leg was short striding because, say, the stifle is misaligned, and you do a hawk flexion test, that hurts the stifle, too. The hawk flexion test actually gets the hawk and the stifle and the hip and the lumbar and the si, depending on how high up you hold it. It gets a lot of joints with a flexion test.
We just want to know, does it hurt when we flex it? So if this stifle, for example, is misaligned, you would get what we call positive flexion tests. Positive means they limp. They limp a lot when we let the horse trot off again. Okay, so I’m a young veterinarian.
I see a horse short striding, right hind. I do a flexion test. The horse limps like this is it proof positive there’s a problem probably in the hawk. Now, just as an aside, let me tell you, in vet school, we are taught that if there’s a lameness in the hind end, 90% of the time the problem is in the hawk. And if there’s a lameness in the front end, 90% of the time, the lameness is in the foot.
So this is why veterinarians start there, because this is the most common problems and we want to save money for people. You don’t want to do X rays and other diagnostics on the whole leg, right? I mean, that makes sense. You want to start with the most common area and they say, use the kiss principle, right? Keep it sweet and simple.
They use another acronym, but I don’t want to be that rude anyways. So typically, if I was a young veterinarian, I would flex this poor short stratted horse, say, oh, my gosh, there’s a hawk problem, probably X ray the hawk and probably inject the hawk and see what happens. Because that usually helps. Not always, of course, but it usually does because if the stifle is misaligned, that overloads the hawk, so the hawk gets sore. So the injection does help, which makes us think the problem is in the hawk.
It’s like a confirmation when you treat the hawk and it helps you think that’s it. But in fact it’s the stifle all along. So if you corrected the misalignment in the stifle, then all would be well. But you’d say, well, why doesn’t the vet know this? Because we’re not taught that.
We’re not taught that in vet school. We are taught, find the pain, fix the pain. That’s what we’re taught. What I try to say, and I hope we say this all the dang time, is that great, find the pain and sure, absolutely help the pain, but find out why is the pain there in the first place, otherwise it just comes back. Okay, that’s enough on that one.
Hopefully you get my idea here. The other thing is if you’re staring at a horse on a lunge line and they’re short strided and we’re still on the right hind, it could be short strided, but the problem would be located not in the leg, right? As a veterinarian, all I know is the leg. That’s just the way things are. So some horses can be short strided because their pelvic synthesis is misaligned, all right?
The pelvic synthesis is the bottom of the pelvis, and you want to think of the pelvic synthesis as the foundation of a house. So if that foundation is crooked, the whole house is crooked, the whole pelvis will be crooked. Now, if the horse is short in the right hind, it could be that the pelvis is crooked in such a way that the pelvis, the top of the pelvis would be the high side on the right. So we could look at the horse going straight away from us at a walk or trot and be like, oh my gosh, look at what I’ve learned. The pelvis is high on the right.
You can clearly see it’s not moving on the right and it should move and it should be equal. So this is not bad information. I’m just saying that when I was a young veterinarian and I saw a pelvis high on the right, I’d be like, oh, my gosh. Sacral iliac problem. Let’s inject it.
Well, instead, what you want to do is say, okay, yes, that could be a problem. Maybe it is. Let’s try to help. Any pain points? That’s fine, perfectly fine.
Why is it painful in the first place? It’s not always riding. People want to blame it on use. They want to blame it on, oh, my gosh, you’re just overusing the horse. You’re working the horse too much or at too high of a level, or they go with the horse must have fallen in the pasture.
Okay. There’s always some other reason than the horse’s body is misaligned, and that’s surprisingly easy to happen. I’m often wondering how these horses are functioning with all these misalignments they have, but they do. And, you know, we do, too. Our bodies automatically compensate.
They just scooch things around, use other muscles, turn some other muscles off so we’re comfortable, but we’re still misaligned. So my point of this whole podcast is that, yes, you can watch a horse move. You can get some good clues. You can find asymmetries in stride length, in muscling. Those are good clues.
But my point is, most of the time, those clues point us to the compensation. They do not point us to the primary underlying cause. Okay? You say, oh, my gosh. Well, how do I find that?
The first thing you want to do if you wanted to find primary underlying causes would learn the body checkups. So I teach those. They’re in my book. There’s a few of them out of my free videos, but there’s checkups where you check every joint in the horse. You don’t do every joint every day, right?
Okay. If you have a horse who’s short strided in the right hind, you would do the hind leg checkups. Okay. They’re in the book. So that gives you some more clues, because if you’re thinking, oh, my gosh, my sacroiliac, it doesn’t move when I’m watching it on the lunge.
It’s a little sore when I touch the gluteal area. But what if the checkup is fine? If the sacroiliac checkup is fine, great. That tells you your si is sore and not moving. But there’s another reason, right?
So the checkups are one of the first things you can do to try to get some more real clues, see what’s really going on with your horse, I hope. Hopefully that was helpful. My whole point is don’t stare at the horse forever. Watching the horse move is good information, but you really don’t have to do it. That’s not going to show you the cause of the problem.
Most of the time, that just shows you compensations. Okay, send me any questions. I’ll talk to you guys later. Okay, bye.
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