How a horse chiropractor does adjustments

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  • Dr. Joren Whitley is an equine chiropractor based in Oklahoma.
  • He'll walk us through adjustments to the tail, jaw, back, and legs of a horse.
  • Dr. Whitley uses a range of tips and tricks to tell what is wrong and how to do his job safely.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Dr. Joren Whitley: My name is Dr. Joren Whitley. I'm a human and animal chiropractor, and today we're going to be talking about how I work on horses.

In general, most horses need a wide variety of different adjustments, but we check everything, like we do with a dog or a human. What I'm going to do is I'm going to check the thoracic, cervical, lumbar, pelvic, jaw, front fore ends, back ends, tail.

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So, every animal that we work on is different, but horses have to carry weight. So a person riding on a horse is going to cause more weight in certain areas of that horse's spine, so I may have to check different areas, like their pelvis or their lower lumbar area, more in one type of horse that does a certain job or another type of horse. And because of they're different jobs, they're all going to have different issues. So a horse that does a lot of barrels is going to have more shoulder issues. A horse that jumps is also going to have more shoulder issues and lower-back potential issues.

We have a lot of animals that don't want to do something because they know it's going to elicit pain. So when you take that pain away by making an adjustment, then they're able to function better. So, what I do is I check for side-to-side motion, I check for forward and back motion, and what I do is I adjust left or right, forward or backward to basically put motion back into that joint the way it's supposed to be.

Whenever I first come upon a horse, one, I take the history from the owner. "Hey, the horse doesn't want to do this. It doesn't want to do this. On this barrel, we're having a problem making this left- or right-hand turn." So what I'll do is I'll kind of coerce the animal to do what I want it to do. I can take its head, and I can bring it over to its side to put it through its normal range of motion just as us turning left or right. And if it doesn't want to do that, then I know there's a problem there. We have a lot of horses that come in that are not able to make hard left turns or right turns. We find out that a shoulder issue caused a lot of tension up into the neck, which eventually caused the jaw issue.

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So whenever I work on a horse's jaw, what I'm doing is I'm checking for that motion from side to side. For us, we normally chew forward and backward, whereas a horse will move from side to side. That's going to cause a stiffness on one side or the other.

I'll be checking areas of their tail, because if their tail is off just a little bit, it's going to cause a twist in their pelvis, which is going to make their entire spine off. Now, what will happen a lot of times is we'll work on the pelvis. There's a ton of tension on the back end. What we do is whenever I'm pulling on that tail, I'm allowing traction in each one of those joints in the lower back. And then sometimes they get traction all the way up where I'm leaning back and they're pulling as far as they can, and we're just separating those joints little by little, just getting them snugly. And a lot of times, as I'm doing that, you're going to see the horse's head shift left or right. Sometimes they're looking around and going, "What are you doing back there?" But sometimes they're trying to move their head around because it feels good. It's like if somebody was poking on a little spot in your back and you're like, "Yeah, I'm just going to move my neck around to get more motion into that area or to really stretch that muscle."

What I'll do is sometimes I look at an animal's posture. So I'll look in and I'll look and see if there is a deformity on one side or the other. And by deformity, I mean that the muscle is larger on one side versus the other, or maybe there is a small tilt in the spine if I'm looking down their back. Maybe their spine kind of curves off to one side or one side is tilted higher than the other one or there's more muscle mass. So whenever I'm checking an animal's spine and you see me put my hand on its spine, what I'm doing is I'm checking to see if the muscle tone on one side or the other is more tonic or tighter than the other. So I can go, OK, this isn't moving this way. So I need to move it in that direction. But a lot of times I'm also feeling for heat. So, anytime you have inflammation, you're going to have more blood flow.

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Then whenever I get into the back legs, again, every joint has a range of motion it has to go through. But what I'll do is I'll try to make sure that each one of those joints is moving so that the knee can move like it's supposed to. And if it doesn't, I just give it a little nudge to get it through that range of motion to make it move as it's supposed to. It doesn't take much, depending on the joint. Sometimes, like, the shoulder joint, it does take a lot more force, because these horses are very large and they have all of their weight.

Let's say we take a newborn calf or a newborn foal, a baby horse. I can put motion through that joint without having to do very much. I can just kind of lean into it and get that thing moving. I don't just walk up and waylay a bunch of force onto an animal that has a ton of arthritis. What I'm doing is I'm working slowly into those joints, so I'll put a little bit of force and I increase that force gradually depending on the amount of arthritis or wear and tear on that joint. So, whenever you hear that cracking sound during an adjustment, normally its nitrogen is leaving the joint. It's not necessarily needed for an adjustment, but it's always really, really satisfying for us.

Whenever I'm working, I don't really necessarily need an assistant, but what I do need is I need somebody to be able to hold the horse. So I have this big Styrofoam block that's like an aircraft foam that I use to stand on, but I also use it in a way that blocks me from the animal. Let's say I need to work on a horse's back end. I do this little technique where I'll use either a key or I'll use the end of something a little bit pointed and I'll rub it down their butt to cause them to basically do a cat stretch. But what that does, it opens all the joints up. But whenever I do that, sometimes I can irritate the animal, and so I need to have that block in between me and them in case they were to kick me.

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Whenever I'm working on an animal, I have to cue in body signals. I'm checking their eyes to see if they're really flighty. If they are looking for their exit, I know that this animal is going to be a lot harder to work on. If a horse's ears are pinned back, it's angry with me, or if it's not listening for what's behind it, it's upset with me in some way. As soon as I make the adjustment, then they chill out. But a lot of times, whenever I'm working on an animal, I'll see that they're licking and chewing or their eyes get really heavy. They're getting an endorphin release. I also do little things that people may or may not catch for safety. The way I walk around a horse. The way I am patting their leg as I'm going down to reach for it 'cause I know that if I'm patting the leg and it's causing irritation to the horse that that horse is mad at me or they are ready to kick me, and I need something in the way. Or it's something where I go, "Hey, I'm not working on this today. I'll work on it next time I see you."

I love working on animals, I love working on people, and being able to combine the two has been able to open a world or open the doors to a world that a lot of people have never seen before.

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