Sometimes it’s about knowing what not to do…

Life as an Equine Functional Osteopathic Practitioner is both varied and colourful; and it is this which draws people to the profession. But, why exactly do people choose osteopathy over other types of therapeutic studies? 

Osteopathy is a unique system of assessing, evaluating, treating and managing (global and local) health issues that affect a horse and its wellbeing. Osteopaths do not consider themselves to be manual therapists as such. Rather they think of themselves as practitioners who utilise the musculoskeletal system as a conduit to impact the whole health of the animal. This may be performed using the neurological, biomechanical, endocrine, psychological or circulatory system.

Because the osteopathic model means the animal may require further investigations (to get to the bottom of a complex case) or medical intervention for the treatment of an acute injury, an osteopath from a non-veterinary background will always need to work within a multi-disciplinary team. That is the law as it stands on the majority of countries. Osteopaths may also need to work alongside other para-professionals to ensure the horse gets the treatment and attention it needs, if the osteopath is to achieve long-term success.

Vets however, who train as osteopaths have a much broader toolkit, and whilst they still need to work with other professionals, core investigations are at their fingertips, which means they can engage wholeheartedly with osteopathic approach as it is intended to be used. That is why we actively encourage vets to join our programme. 

As an example of an osteopath, whilst some manual therapists may seek to reduce muscular tension in a hypertonic muscle, an osteopath would first ask why it was there and what caused its onset. They would seek to evaluate the whole horse, its medical history and its environment – before hypothesising a possible cause. They would evaluate each joint, distal to proximal, appendicular and axial. All with the intention of finding the root of the problem. They would also talk at length to the owner, trainer and handlers to ensure the horse was happy and of good general health, and if appropriate they would look at the animal’s living conditions, companions and past history to see what other patterns arose. 

They might also work with the farrier and/or saddler (as appropriate) if the tension appeared functional in nature, or with a veterinary colleague if further investigations were required. Thus the osteopathic approach is a far cry from manual therapy as most know it. 

From a clinical perspective, whilst osteopaths will typically use therapeutic treatment as part of their plan, they will also work to create balance in all the other elements of the horse’s life and seek to alleviate the root cause of the problem. In some cases that means working with the owner to improve their overall relationship [with the horse]. But it may also mean recommending medical intervention to keep an old horse comfortable. 

Being an osteopath is not about being able to fix every horse that comes your way. Rather, it is about having the skill and clinical knowledge to know what needs to be done and being sagacious enough to do what is right for the horse. Even if that means finding the problem and standing aside.

Written by Dustie Houchin