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Thoughts on Contraindication

Contraindication -

“Something (such as a symptom or condition) that makes a particular treatment or procedure inadvisable”.

This is something that is deeply missing in the equine developmental and rehabilitation world.

Exercises are not ever a one-size it’s all, and if they claim to be, you should be concerned.

For a few that get thrown around a ton without talk on correct biomechanics or contraindications -

Pessoa rigs -

(In my opinion they are never healthy)

But specifically, if the horse has an underdeveloped thoracic sling this will build the low back muscles at the expense of the thoracic sling and the neck and you will wind up with different or worse long term damage.

It also further drives the horse into adduction instead of supporting healthy movement through the shoulders which can compound nerve compression issues.

Hill work -

If the hind end is weak, it’s most likely because it’s overworked or unable to activate due to dysfunction in the spine, therefore hill work is just going to force the horse to strengthen the dysfunction.

The top two things I look for before allowing the horse to do hill work is:

1. Do they have a neutral spine?

2. Do they have good mobility and strength in their elbows and stifles?

If the answer to either is no, wait to do them.

Pole work -

Unless the horse can support it’s weight back to its correct center of balance (between the 7th and 8th rib by way of the trapezius, serratus ventralis cervicis and thoracis and deep pectorals) this will just strengthen their dependency on using their poll as a lever and trash their upper neck and usually their iliospsoas.

A big clue in, is if the horse is able to move freely without its ventral neck engaged.

If it’s using it’s ventral neck for the poles, then it is not sound enough to be doing them.

Circles -

Horses have to be developed TO properly do a circle that is beneficial to the body.

Most of this time, using them as a rehabilitation plan is simply a “no” to me unless you are educated and skilled in understanding why and how they should be done as well as how to execute them.

Asking those questions to anyone suggesting any exercise is incredibly important.

I could sit down and line out contraindications for any exercise.

That doesn’t make the exercises bad, it just means that the horse might not be ready for them.

And the problem that I consistently run into in books and videos and posts, is these things are never mentioned…

How is that possibly a thing?

How do people who claim to be experts in bodies not address all the ways things needed to prepare or be cautious of?

Or about the time you spend doing some of these exercises?

Even ones that I have full faith in, my metric is STILL to let the horse tell you how long they can do it.

If you push anything past it’s fatigue point, it WILL go into biomechanical failure.


A couple of tips on that -

Swishing tails, means discomfort.

Don’t keep pushing something that they are actively demonstrating is painful.

Movement getting more open and free, licking, chewing, deep breaths and dropping more into a parasympathetic state as you go are generally good signs that the body is releasing into a better place.

Typically when you start, there’s the initial point of resistance that’s showing it’s difficult for them to access that part of their body.

Then it gets easier

Then you hit a second point of resistance.

That’s when their quarter is generally up and they’re about to drop into biomechanical failure.

Tell them they’re amazing and put them away.

Whether that’s 5 minutes or 20 minutes.

Rehab should be moderately horse-led.

Rule #1 of rehab is -

NEVER strengthen something at the expense of something else.

Unless you like playing whack a mole.

I wish I was lying when I tell you I’ve seen countless horses who’s “rehab” was making them worse.

I really wish I was lying when I tell you how many times I’ve watched “rehab” kill the horses. Particularly kissing spine cases.

It’s one of the most tragic things I’ve come across and why I try to deeply educate and encourage people to ask questions and allow the horse set the tone.

One of the things that I get the most criticism for, is that I refuse to just hand out my exercises.

And the reason for that is simple -

There are contraindications for EVERY exercise.

Sometimes physical and sometimes behavioral.

And I’ll be damned if I care more about making money than I do about keeping the integrity of this work and the safety of the horses as my number one priority.

1:1 sessions ensure that the horses body and mind can be advocated for appropriately, and at the end of the day, that’s a hell of a lot cheaper than paying thousands of dollars in chasing one lameness to the next.

Please remember -

Just because the horse is doing the movement, does not mean they’re not using a compensatory pattern to do it.

Please ask questions and make sure that you are educated on how to feel and see what muscles are firing when doing the exercises to make sure you can spot your equine partner appropriately.


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