Rachel Pople - Equine Physical Therapist (MSc)
Rachel Pople - Equine Physical Therapist (MSc)

When to seek help

Horses have become domesticated and selectively bred for various sporting disciplines. Historically horses have demonstrated their ability to carry weight on their backs, although little is known about the adaptations of the musculoskeletal system to the various pressures placed upon the body when working under saddle with a rider or harness. These pressures can sometimes cause biomechanic alterations, discomfort and compensation of the musculoskeletal system reflected as muscle spasm, asymmetries and misalignments. McTimoney Manipulation and Sports Massage can be used to aid recovery, increase comfort and therefore improve the overall performance of your horse.




Misalignments and muscle tension can be described as acute or chronic. Acute problems are caused by a sudden trauma, whereas chronic problems typically develop over time and are often due to compensations.

Acute musculoskeletal problems can be caused by:

  • A slip, trip or fall in the field or whilst being ridden/competed
  • Landing awkwardly after a jump
  • Slips when travelling or being unloaded
  • Playing in the field
  • Getting cast in the stable
  • Accidents 

Chronic musculoskeletal problems can be caused by:

  • Poor fitting tack and equipment - it is important to remember that even if the saddle was fitted correctly, your horse is continuously changing shape throughout the season, especially with a change in work load. Even a slight increase in top line may lead to saddle rubs or pinches.
  • Dental issues
  • Poor farriery causing unbalanced feet or feet being left too long
  • Poor conformation
  • Lameness
  • Arthritic/orthopaedic problems
  • Compensatory misalignments and tension from an old injury or weakness
  • Strenuous or repetitive work
  • The demands of disciplines such as eventing, dressage and showjumping place great strain on the horse's body.
  • Inappropriate intensity of work and insufficient warm up and cool downs.
  • An unbalanced rider can contribute to problems if they are suffering from asymmetries and misalignments themselves
  • Excess weight
  • Travelling 




It can be difficult to determine whether your horse is suffering from musculoskeletal problems but it is important for owners, riders and trainers to recognise the early physical and behavioural symptoms associated with a developing issue. Initially the horse may compensate for a problem quite effectively but over time muscle tension and misalignments of the skeletal system may affect the comfort, soundness and performance of your horse. 


Symptoms of musculoskeletal issues can include:



  • Changes in temperament
  • Changes in behaviour including napping, rearing and bucking
  • Lethargy
  • Increased levels of anxiety, grumpiness, irritability
  • Loss of interest in work
  • Unwilling to be handled
  • Problems with behaviour/aggression when being saddled or mounted i.e. biting or kicking, stepping away or dipping the back when groomed, girthed or mounted
  • Difficulty with the farrier
  • Refusing to load
Head Tilting


  • Unexplained changes and deterioration in usual performance
  • Reluctance to work or to carry out specific movements
  • Head tilting or shaking
  • Uneven or disunited gaits and canter lead problems or changing legs and bucking during canter transitions
  • Preference to one canter lead or trot diagonal
  • Favouring one rein
  • Asymmetry including stiffness on one rein or difficulty bending one way or no longer moving straight
  • Jumping to one side, refusing to jump, rushing fences, knocking poles down, jumping flat or bucking on landing, inability to bascule over the fence
  • Difficulty in working in a forward rhythm
  • Difficulty in lengthening strides or collection
  • Struggling with schooling exercises which are not usually a problem
  • Reduced ability to carry out lateral work
  • Reluctant to work over the back, hollowing and inability or refusing to work on the bit
Pelvic Asymmetry


  • Muscle atrophy or uneven muscle development
  • Stiffness
  • Tight, sore painful back, neck and quarters
  • Cold backed
  • Pelvic asymmetry
  • Lack of top line
  • Shifting of weight when standing
  • Recovery from trauma or injury
  • Uneven hoof or shoe wear
  • Reluctant to stand square
  • Holding the tail to one side or tail clamped down



  • Unlevelness, especially behind, often seen as a dropping of the hindquarters on one side
  • Irregular action
  • Reduced quality of the strides
  • On the forehand
  • Unusual gait such as toe-dragging, scuffing, tripping or irregular action
  • Loss of impulsion, difficulty in engaging the hindquarters or an inability to track up
  • Crookedness on a straight line 

Contact Me:

Rachel Pople

Equine Physical Therapist

MSc (Animal Manipulation)

BSc (Biological Sciences)

Pg Dip (ESM)


Find me on Facebook

Print Print | Sitemap
© Rachel Pople - Equine Physical Therapist