Skeletal & Postural Assessment

The main reason I like to look at a horse’s posture, is if you take a theoretical horse and remove all the muscles, you are left with a skeleton. But the skeleton without muscles would collapse. Therefore, when you assess the skeleton it gives you an indication of which muscles are pulling the skeletal frame out of alignment. This will help you assess your horse for their massage treatment. It will allow you to specifically target the right muscles for the right reasons.

In my work as a physiotherapist, it’s important to conduct a massage treatment for a reason, in the industry, its termed as ‘clinical reasoning’. As an owner, it will be nice for your horse to have a full body massage and it will help their mental health as well as physical health. But if you’re looking to improve their way of going, performance or help an injury recover, you need to identify the areas that need help. 

So, with your skeletal, postural, muscular and palpation assessment you will be able to build a map of the areas that need targeted massage attention. Then in the next lesson, you’ll learn about the massage strokes you can use to deliver the correct type of treatment to those areas.

Along with the video and the prompts below, assess your horse’s posture from a skeletal perspective. You’ll move on to muscle assessment next.


Areas to Assess

Forelimb confirmation

Download front feet images from Lesson Materials

From the picture of Minstrel’s front feet, we can see that the left fore (on the right side as you look at it) looks quite even either side of the plumb line. the right fore looks a little out of balance, but I suspect this is the angle of the picture rather a defect.  If you’re using photos then take a few pictures to get an overall picture rather than rely on one.

Look at your horse’s feet and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you they sit nicely under the body?
  2. Do they come in towards the mid-line or is the stance quite wide?
  3. Do the toes point straight ahead or turn in or out? 
  4. Is there more wear on the inside or outside edges of the hoof or shoes?

Spinal Assessment

Download core strength and dorsal line images from Lesson Materials

From the core strength picture, this is of a horse that had been out of work for a while, you can see that the belly sags towards the ground and he has no top line, forcing the spine into extension. this closes up the dorsal spines and can contribute to kissing spines. 

Looking at the dorsal line picture, you can see that Minstel deviates to the right, and when you watch the video’s you’ll notice he stands like that most of the time. When assessing Minstrels muscles, he is always tight through his right shoulder and thoracic part of his longissimus and the left side is a bit weaker. His owner informs me that under saddle she feels like she has to ride him stronger through the left side as he doesn’t bring his left hind underneath him. 

Now look at your horse’s spine from the side and from overhead.

  1. From the side, does the spine dip?
  2. How is your horse’s core strength and top line?
  3. Is the top line helping your horse’s spine stay in neutral alignment or is the lack of muscle causing the spine to extend and drop towards the belly?
  4. Square your horse up. Stand behind your horse and look from the tail through to the ears and note whether your horse’s spine is straight or whether there are little curves or deviations?

Base Stance Assessment

  1. Look at your horse from both sides and note the position of his legs. 
  2. Do the forelimbs sit underneath the shoulder, or do they come back a little?
  3. Do the hind limbs sit directly under the pelvis, or they out behind your horse or right underneath his belly?

Pelvic Assessment

Download pelvic assessment image from Lesson Materials

From the pelvic assessment photo, you can see that this racehorse has an obvious injury on the right side of his pelvis. It is completely asymmetrical, with noticeable muscle wastage on the right-hand side. He is also leaning to the left side to remove the weight from his right hind. 

If it’s safe for you to do so, stand your horse square. Reach your arms around until you find the tuber coxae on each side and ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Do your hands feel level or is one higher than the other?
  2. Is one hand further forward?
  3. Just looking rather than measuring, Is one hand further away from the midline than the other?

Hindlimb Assessment

Looking at your horse’s hind legs from behind:

  1. Do the hocks sit straight?
  2. Do the hocks point outwards or inwards?

Make any notes on your horse’s conformation that you may think are relevant. 

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