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A Personal Journey Towards Understanding a Whole-Horse Approach to Health and Soundness (by Becky Tenges)



Becky & RyThis month I wanted to share a story told by friend and Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork Instructor, Becky Tenges –

If someone had told me five years ago that I would start a second career as an equine bodyworker, after having already retired from a very successful first career as an investment banker, I would have told them they were nuts and, furthermore, I would likely have told them that bodywork for horses was an unnecessary extravagance at best and a ridiculous waste of money at worst. But, turn the clock forward to today and I would tell you that a question asked by Scott Lampert, my horse’s farrier, touched off my journey from ignorant skeptic to educated proponent. Scott Is an Accredited Professional Farrier by the American Association of Professional Farriers and an internationally sought after farrier, speaker and clinician. His compassionate inquiry to me on a horse’s behalf went something like this: “I can fix this poor horse’s feet, but what it also needs is an equine massage therapist. Have you got a good one of those in your area?” The answer, at the time, was “No”.

Scott is a consummate professional. Among his amazing qualities as a farrier, Scott is a highly educated, confident, technical and artistic practitioner in executing his trade. He has “˜peripheral perspective’ beyond his trade and understands that the whole horse needs to be treated. He knew that he could improve the horse’s feet that day. But, he also knew that if the horse’s body issues didn’t get addressed, they would continue to negatively impact the horse’s feet. And, while the question he asked me occurred on the first day I met Scott, the force and yet ease with which he delivered his question made clear the relevance and importance that he ascribed to bodywork on its ability to help the horse to “˜be well’. Scott embodies the truth that all equine practitioners should live: we should do everything possible to encourage whole body well-being of horses.

And so, came together Scott’s belief in the value of bodywork, my equine experience (I grew up on an Arabian horse ranch and with a dad who was a farrier), and all the time I had on my hands as a retired executive with teenaged children who didn’t need quite so much of my time.

As to the question of bodywork, the horse’s feet, and what this has to do with a more complete approach to the horse’s health, we can get closer to the answer by asking two more questions.

1) What if the primary cause of some of the puzzling podiatry and lameness challenges that horses experience””and that farriers and vets work to resolve””originate in or are exacerbated by minor muscle lesions and soft tissue restrictions somewhere in the horses’ bodies? and,
2) What if these lesions and restrictions are the cause of postural imbalances and uneven weight distribution which are leading to incorrect footfalls, unbalanced hoof loading, uneven hoof growth and, eventually, joint issues””the very issues farriers and vets are called in by horse owners and trainers to address?

The physical challenges that horses and their humans often face are circular. As with the proverbial question of “˜Which came first”¦the chicken or the egg?’ often times we do not know where the cycle began. Are imbalances in the foundation of the horse””its hooves””causing compensatory imbalances, and lesions in the body? Or, rather, are lesions and imbalances somewhere in the body the cause of the kinds of things we see lower down in the form of joint lameness, uneven hoof sizes, flares, and medial/lateral hoof imbalances? By looking at these questions as integral and interwoven parts of the same issue, we open the door to a more complete approach to managing our horse’s performance, soundness, health and well-being.

Physical Therapy in the Whole Horse Approach

Physical therapy involves evaluating, identifying, and treating a range of diseases and disorders using physical means. In physiotherapy the physical therapeutic touch and movement requested by the practitioner is applied with the purpose of healing.

In the world of physiotherapy, we encounter a weaving together of the sciences of biology, physiology, and physics, where the thermal energy of the human’s touch is transmitted as electromagnetic energy in the form of infrared radiation (heat) to the horse’s body, causing changes to occur at a cellular level. In addition, beyond these physical sciences, on a completely personal level the physiotherapeutic healing contact between practitioner and horse represents a form of tactile, sensory interaction””a relationship built on a form of communication and connection that bridges the nonverbal world between horse and human.

An excerpt from the Introduction to the book Physical Therapy and Massage for the Horse, by co-authors Dr. Jean- Marie Denoix and Jean-Pierre Pailloux, makes the case for taking a broad, whole-horse approach to managing the health of the horse. “Traces of earlier injuries are retained almost indefinitely by the locomotor apparatus (the muscles and other structures involved in locomotion), and while there have been considerable advances in diagnostic methods, these have not been accompanied by comparable movements in medical and surgical treatment. It is in this area that physiotherapy can provide important support, as treatment focuses not only on the lesion itself, but on the overall impact it is having on locomotion. It offers a global approach, improving the speed of repair and enhancing the patient’s ability to tolerate locomotor problems which may present a number of aspects.”

The ever increasing demands placed on equine athletes in all forms of competition are pushing horses to their physiological limits, resulting in the appearance of frequent podiatry and lameness challenges. In the early and typically “˜clinically invisible’ stages of the underlying injuries, these challenges reveal themselves as behavioral and training problems in the horse. When we address ourselves to any single physiologic dilemma of the horse it makes logical, intuitive””and even scientific””sense to take into account the horse, the whole horse.

In a recent article in The Chronicle of the Horse about the legendary equine veterinarian Dr. John R. Steele, still practicing medicine after almost 70 years, Tim Ober, partner in Steele & Associates and USEF Show Jumping Team veterinarian, said of Dr. Steele: “If we were going to summarize what he did differently from everybody else it is that he understood the horse as a whole. He understood how to treat the whole horse before everybody else did.”

Becky Tenges, owner of Equine Bodyworks USA, is a Certified Practitioner, Instructor and Clinician of the Masterson Methodâ„¢ of Integrated Equine Performance Bodyworkâ„¢. She is a Certified Equine Thermographer (EquineIRâ„¢), Equine Ergonomist (Saddlefit 4 Life ®), Equine Rehabilitation Assistant (Winter 2014), and Level I Infrared Thermographer. Becky has also taken advanced training in Biomechanics, Equine Myofascial Release and in Integrative Veterinary Medicine topics. By Spring 2015, Becky will have completed a Certification in Equine Kinesio Taping.

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