Looking after your horse's back

Discover what to look for when choosing an equine back care practitioner and how to care for your horse's back with advice from the McTimoney Animal Association.

We all know how important it is to ensure our horses receive the best care. From saddle fitting to teeth rasping, veterinary care to feeding requirements, worming to shoeing, the list goes on and on! So what should you consider when choosing an equine back treatment?
Well, firstly does your horse need back treatment at all? Ideally, the answer would be no. However, there are many horses working with low grade discomfort that their owners are unaware of. Like us feeling a bit stiff getting out of bed in the morning, our horses can feel mild discomfort at times which improves with appropriate movement and work.
So how do you know if your horse needs a back treatment? You might have noticed symptoms of back pain such as dipping the back when groomed or touched, saddled or girthed. Or symptoms might be work-related such as reluctance to go forwards, difficulty striking off into canter, stiffness when asked to flex the head and neck to one side, or a general loss in performance. Bucking, rearing and napping are obvious symptoms of pain and in these cases, ruling out back pain is very important.  Sometimes your horse may not have these symptoms but you may notice a slight change in personality and behaviour which could indicate discomfort.

Choosing a back practitioner

So how to choose your ideal back person? Whatever your preference of therapist, always use a qualified, insured and registered practitioner with a professional animal specific association such as the McTimoney Animal Association to ensure that your animal is treated by someone qualified specifically to treat animals. The practitioner should seek veterinary permission prior to treating your animal, so if they don't, that should ring alarm bells. If you don't see an improvement after a couple of treatments, discuss this with your therapist and your vet as there may be an underlying cause to your horse's discomfort.

McTimoney for horses

The McTimoney approach is a highly effective and holistic treatment using chiropractic techniques to stimulate the change necessary in your horse's spine and locomotory system and remove discomfort. There is an optimal range of movement between each vertebra in the spine. When joint movement is reduced or one-sided, this produces palpable changes in the spinal column as the body tries to counter the effects of the underperforming joint. McTimoney Animal Practitioners identify these areas and use gentle chiropractic techniques to realign the structure and bring the body back into balance.
This is the only treatment which seeks to rebalance the skeletal frame of your horse to achieve symmetry and equal functioning of the left and right sides. Many horses are one sided and schooling exercises are targeted towards improving flexibility but if your horse's skeletal frame is not straight it is impossible for him to move equally on both sides.
The McTimoney approach aims to help resolve performance issues which cannot be resolved through veterinary intervention. Injuries or trauma can produce compensatory movement and postural problems, resulting in changes in spinal flexibility. Long-standing compensations from poorly fitting tack or incorrect foot balance are also common reasons for discomfort and symptoms of poor performance.
Reduced flexibility is evidenced by stiffness in movement or difficulty in performing movements which were previously easy to do. You might notice increased weight in one rein, striking off on the wrong canter lead or stopping in front of fences. Some horses will buck, others will simply not go forwards and feel stuffy to ride. Any change in your horse’s behaviour should be investigated, by your vet and your McTimoney Animal Practitioner.

Treatment takes around an hour and your McTimoney Animal Practitioner will take a full history of your horse and where appropriate will ask to see your horse move. They may also ask you to ride or lunge your horse. The practitioner will then palpate your horse, explain their findings and how the treatment will work so you are aware of what they will be doing and this is also an opportunity to discuss what has caused the issues. The treatment uses quick, gentle adjustments on the key locations your practitioner has identified as requiring treatment, and then aftercare advice will be given.
All members of the McTimoney Animal Association are qualified after training with the premier institution of its kind, the McTimoney College in Abingdon, having studied up to three years at postgraduate level attaining an MSc or Post Graduate Diploma in Animal Manipulation.
McTimoney Animal Practitioners are registered with the McTimoney Animal Association.
For more information on your local practitioner go to www.mctimoney-animal.org.uk.

Molly, Fern, Carla Pope, Joey, and Edward. PHOTO: Rachel Maddox Photography

Molly, Fern, Carla Pope, Joey, and Edward. PHOTO: Rachel Maddox Photography

Keen show jumper and dressage rider, Chloe Dean has owned 12-year-old warmblood, Toffee since he was three. The pair originally competed in showjumping and are now enjoying great success in affiliated dressage. Toffee has regular McTimoney treatments with experienced practitioner, Jenna Churchill.

Chloe said. “I book Jenna for routine check-ups and then if I feel Toffee is not right, or we have an important show, extra visits are booked. After one particular routine treatment with Jenna he went on to win two novice dressage tests on the same day.”

Chloe continued: “I generally have a dressage lesson every week with Toffee, do one other schooling session, go for a hack twice a week and then compete at the weekend. Jenna comes every three months to ensure Toffee is in top condition for competitions.”

Jenna from Worcestershire said: “I have super clients, both animal and human. The job is incredibly rewarding and after each treatment I receive positive feedback from the animals’ owner which proves how unique and effective the McTimoney treatment is.”

Jenna also treats another horse for Chloe, Inka, a three-year-old Warmblood mare. Chloe said: “I bought Inka in June 2015 as a two-year-old and I am hoping to begin riding her this year. She will then have regular visits from Jenna alongside Toffee. It gives me piece of mind know they are comfortable and in the best condition to enjoy their work.”

For more information or for advice on your animal please contact Jenna on: 07786487677. Alternatively, visit www.backinactionmctimoney.co.uk

To find your nearest practitioner visit www.mctimoney-animal.org.uk

Caring for a donkey

Related to horses they may be, but donkeys have very different needs when it comes to their care. Here to give you advice on donkey care is behaviourist Ben Hart who regularly works with donkeys at The Donkey Sanctuary.

What makes donkeys different?

Looks aside, it’s their personality that really sets donkeys apart from their horse and pony relatives. Wrongly mislabelled with a stubborn attitude, they have a reputation for being hard working yet wilful. “A donkey’s ‘fight’ mechanism is more easily engaged than a horse’s,” says Ben Hart. “In the wild they live in a different environment and smaller herds than wild horses do, so when danger approaches it’s not always possible to run away. Instead they’ll stand their ground and defend themselves, and this feisty attitude is still instilled in donkeys, even after years of domestication.” Tough they may be, but donkeys must have the right care in order to flourish and live a long and healthy life.

Feeding donkeys

The best way to feed a fit and healthy donkey is with ad lib access to barley straw to avoid the risks of hyperlipaemia which can be fatal in donkeys. Weight gain is their biggest enemy, and as they tend to have a slower metabolism than horses, a low starch, high fibre diet is essential in order to help them remain a healthy weight and guard against the dangers of laminitis, which is something they’re prone to.

donkeys in a shelter

“The donkeys I work with at The Donkey Sanctuary our young, fit and healthy and have a diet largely based on high fibre barley or straw, with small amounts of hay, haylage or grass,” says Ben. “If needed we top this up with a balancer, which gives them all the vitamins and minerals they need.”

When looking for a balancer or high fibre hard feed, go for one that’s donkey-friendly. Top Spec Donkey Forage Balancer has been designed in conjunction with the Donkey Sanctuary to promote general health, while being low in calories. Saracan Horse Feed’s Donkey Diet is low in energy and protein, but high in fibre, and Mollichaff Donkey is a complete fibre feed formulated especially for donkeys which is low in sugar and starch.

As with feeding a horse, common sense should always dictate, and any changes to your donkey’s diet should be made slowly and gradually over a period of four to six weeks.

What not to feed your donkey:

  • Feed supplements, unless recommended by your vet
  • Cereal-based feeds as these may be too high in sugar
  • Treats with a high sugar content. Instead go for limited chopped apples or carrots

Worming donkeys

It’s advisable to ask your vet to provide you with an effective worming programme for your donkey to help prevent the build-up of worms in their system. As with horses there are different types of wormers that tackle different worms, and each should be used at the correct time of year.

Donkeys can tolerate a large lungworm infestation without showing any signs, whereas horses will suffer a severe cough if they contract this parasite. “Many people are led to believe horses and ponies can’t live together because donkeys carry worms, but with an effective worming programme both can be put in the same paddock without any concerns,” says Ben.

“Regular faecal egg counts (FEC) are taken at The Donkey Sanctuary to determine if a donkey needs worming. If done with the correct care and management, this is a great way to protect your donkey as well as preventing a resistance to wormers as you’re not using them unnecessarily. FEC can be arranged through your vet or you can obtain a kit online. A sample of dung is sent off to a laboratory for testing and can see tell you if worming is required by checking how many worms are in your donkeys internal system. These should be done four times a year to make sure a worm burden doesn’t go undetected.”

Looking after your horse's health

Discover some simple ways to look after your horse's health - from his temperature and legs to his teeth and skin, we've got it covered here!

A healthy horse is generally a happy horse, but as he can’t speak to tell us how he feels, we have to know how to spot the signs that he’s feeling under the weather through changes in his behaviour, mood and from a visual look at him.

If your horse is happy and well, he will show signs of good health through his appearance and behaviour

If your horse is happy and well, he will show signs of good health through his appearance and behaviour

How do I know if my horse is healthy?

Whether you’re standing next to your horse in his stable or with him in his field, there are a few easy checks and signs to look out for, to make sure he’s happy inside and out. So next time when you’re with your horse, have a quick look for these obvious tell-tale signs to check that he’s happy and in condition.

Inspect his eyes and nostrils

Looking at your horse's eyes, check that they’re bright, not cloudy and free of any discharge. Similarly, his nose should be clean and have little or only clear discharge.  

Glare at his gums

Peeling back your horse’s gums, they should be a salmon pink colour, any signs that his gums have a yellowish tinge, could suggest issues with his liver.

Listen to your horse's tummy

Listening to your horse gut is something, we often don’t think about, unless there’s a concern about colic. But if you listen to both sides of your horse’s abdomen, you should hear gurgling, fluid-like and the occasional grumble which are all signs of a healthy tummy. 

Condition score your horse

You will probably know seasonally when your horse puts on a few pounds or not, but any radical changes in his body condition score, should be recorded and kept a close eye on. Running your hand over his body, you should just feel his ribs, with a good even coverage, over his quarters and no excess fat on his crest.

Troublesome teeth

Feel for sharp teeth, down the outside of his cheek

Feel for sharp teeth, down the outside of his cheek

Watch your horse as he eats, if he drops his food which is referred to as quidding, or dunks it in his water bucket, this could sound warning bells, that there might be a problem with his teeth. If he has sharp edges these can usually be felt through his cheek, but for a thorough diagnosis of the health of your horse’s teeth ask a vet or equine dental technician to examine them. In reality he should have his teeth checked every six to twelve months.

Healthy skin

Your horse’s coat and skin can tell you a lot about he’s feeling. A shiny, glossy coat with no signs of irritation and rubbing, usually shows that he’s healthy and free from any skin conditions. But his skin also can help tell you if he’s lacking in fluids. If you firmly pinch your horse’s skin on his neck and then releasing it, if it leaves an indented mark for a few seconds, this could suggest he needs to increase his water intake.

Check your horse's legs

Checking horse's leg

Glancing down at your horse's legs, feel all over his legs, checking to make sure they’re free-from bumps, lumps and blemishes. If you spot any signs of heat, swelling or wounds, you’ll need to treat them immediately or if he is seriously injured, seek advice from your vet straight away..



Check his TPR

Here are the temperature, pulse and respiration readings you want to see, to confirm your horse is fighting fit.



The normal temperature for a horse at rest, not having exerted himself during exercise is 37.5 and 38.5 degrees Celsius.


An average horse should display a pulse reading of 32 beats per minute.


Your horse at rest if healthy will take 12 – 15 breaths a minute.

Click to read more about how to take your horse's TPR.

How can I keep my horse healthy?

Health is all about looking after the inside and outside of your horse. There’s no point in bandaging him up and keeping him in a comfy fully bedded stable if he’s not feed the right nutrients, offered a chance to stretch his legs and in a simulating environment with other horses. Here are three areas which will improve your horse’s well-being.


Devise a feeding plan for your horse that matches his fitness levels, condition which meets the demands of the work being asked of him. He should have a balanced diet with all the right nutrients to keep him happy within himself. If confused by all the nutrients and feeds on offer in your local feed store, then speak to a nutritionist.


Horses in turnout field

Your horse like us, need to move around, as otherwise they feel they live a life of captivity and control. This doesn’t mean he needs a full-on fitness regime, it could be simple daily turn-out, lunging or some ridden work. This will not only keep his mind active, but his joints supple.


Trapped in a stable with no company or in a bare paddock, doesn’t say stimulating environment to your horse. To keep him happy in his mind, make sure he has access to see other horses and plenty of ab-lib forage, whether that’s grass, hay or haylage as this will keep him occupied for longer. Adding a few stable toys to his home or turning him out in a paddock with lots to see, will see him happier and ultimately healthier.

When to call the vet

Seeing your horse clearly not himself, can be quite stressful and upsetting, but acting quick and seeking advice could reassure you as well as allowing your horse a quicker recovery should he not be well. Obviously any signs that indicate lameness, colic, pain or serious swellings then pick up the phone and call the vet immediately.

Do you have a veteran horse?

Learn how to keep your veteran horse healthy - click here.




Keep your veteran horse healthy

Keep you veteran horse in good health all year round with this advice designed to help you ensure he stays full of life for longer.

The longer you own your horse, the more they become part of the family especially as we do our best to look after them and give them the best future possible. But as your horse ages and reaches his twenties or even thirties, you need to give him that extra TLC to keep him happy and healthy.

A little extra care and protection, will keep your veteran healthy 

A little extra care and protection, will keep your veteran healthy 

Feeding your veteran horse fibre

As your horse ages his digestive tract become less efficient and his teeth become shorter, smoother or are lost altogether. This means he’ll find it harder to chew hay so to keep his fibre intake up, by offering fibre in an easy to chew form such as short chop feeds or chaff. To also make sure he has all the essential nutrients to keep him in optimum health, provide him with balanced veteran cubes that can be soaked to help with his digestion. To read more about forage http://bit.ly/2ghtB5S

Condition concerns in the older horse

It’s important to watch how his body changes as he ages. Of course his shape will alter as his muscle mass reduces with less exercise, but what you have to be aware of is his weight. To help you see if theres any subtle changes to his shape keep a regularly record of his weight by using a measuring tape and if concerned contact your vet.

Worming your veteran horse

It's important to take worm egg counts and worm your horse regardless of his age

It's important to take worm egg counts and worm your horse regardless of his age

Veteran horses have a reduced resistance to worm infections, so keeping on top of your horse’s worm burden is important. This involves worming for encysted larvae in December or January, and covering or testing for tapeworm in spring and autumn. For the rest of the year use regular worm egg counts and only worm when an active burden is present. This will ensure your horse is worm-free, without overdosing on anthelmintics drugs, when they’re not required.

Equine vaccinations

Just like his teeth, your horse’s immune system starts to weaken as he ages, making it less efficient at fighting off infections. To try to minimise the risk of serious infection it’s important to keep an older horse’s vaccinations up to date, even if he’s not going to be travelling anywhere. Also don’t forget about tetanus as this is in the environment such as soil, meaning infection can occur, even through minor cuts and abrasions when he’s turned out in the field.

Dental checks

Horses as they age can become more prone to dental problems. Loose teeth can shift, causing ulceration in the mouth and may eventually fall out, leaving a gap behind. Diastema (gaps in between the teeth) can become packed with feed and cause painful gum disease. It’s therefore really important that teeth are checked and routine dental care is undertaken regularly to pick these problems up early.

Think about your horse's feet

Even if your horse isn’t still in work it’s important to keep an eye on his hooves and to maintain regular foot trimming to keep his feet in good condition and avoid putting extra strain on joints and tendons which are less elastic when your horse is older. A well cared for foot is also less likely to crack, which reduces the risk of foot abscesses and lameness problems.

Keep your horse's joints supple

Gentle hacking will keep him supple  

Gentle hacking will keep him supple  

To prevent his joints becoming stiff and creaky, exercise is key. It doesn't have to be ridden work, as simple in-hand walking or daily turnout will help. Exercise will also keep his mind active and give him a purpose. To boost his mobility try adding a joint supplement to his daily feed.


Give him an MOT

To confirm he's fit and well or to spot any issues, ask your vet to give your horse a  regular check-up. In some cases, this may include a blood sample to screen for underlying conditions that might not obvious until later.

Learn more about veteran health issues - click here

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