Why Does my Horse need Osteopathy?

Horses are exceptional athletes, often subjected to intense physical demands in various disciplines. Maintaining their peak condition is essential for their performance and well-being. Equine osteopathy, a manual therapeutic approach, plays a vital role in addressing not only musculoskeletal issues but also broader aspects of the horse’s health. This article explores the principles and applications of equine osteopathy and its broader implications in animal healthcare. Like human athletes, horses require periodic mobilization and rebalancing to excel in their endeavors.

Equine Osteopathy: A Holistic Approach:

Equine osteopathy is a manual technique that goes beyond conventional chiropractic care. Its aim is to restore homeostasis in the horse’s body by addressing restrictions in joints, muscles, ligaments, and organs. Homeostasis is the state of steady internal conditions maintained by living things. This holistic approach is grounded in the idea that structure determines function and vice versa. Human biology explains this idea by saying that the way a body part looks and sits in the body determines the function of that body part. In simpler terms, the way a body part is positioned and functions in the body is determined by its anatomy. The core concept of “structure/function” underscores the idea that there is always a relationship between the structure of a biological entity and the functions it carries out. Any imbalance in one part of the body can affect interconnected areas. Osteopathy can help to prevent illness by identifying early signs of disharmony in the body, ultimately enhancing the performance and overall well-being of a healthy horse.

Preventative Care and Performance Enhancement:

Osteopathy views the body as a whole, taking into account the organs, which can influence spinal ganglia and, consequently, the horse’s entire spine and body systems. Osteopathy evaluates how the organs and fascial tissue might be causing restrictions in the body. By alleviating fascial tension around the organs and tissues, osteopathy ensures lasting relief and improved motion in the spine and joints. This is the reason I prefer osteopathy to chiropractic care.

Pain and Immobility:

Osteopathy is based on the theory that diseases are primarily caused by a loss of structural integrity that can be restored through manipulation. The body functions optimally when its parts are unrestricted. If the motion of the body is restricted, inflammation develops. The area swells, resulting in congestion and edema, reducing blood and nutrient flow. The area becomes painful, sending distress signals through nerves to the ganglion, which, in turn, affects muscles at the nearest spinal segment. This muscle hyperactivity restricts motion. When two or more spinal segments are restricted, osteopaths use that information to identify corresponding internal problems that must be resolved for the mobilization to be effective long term. For instance, a mare that cannot collect and get her rear end underneath her could have stifle or hock problems. Often the hocks and stifles are injected. This is treating symptoms, not the primary cause. The primary cause was inflammation in the pelvic room, such as the restricted motion of an ovary. Once that restriction is removed, the rest of the leg would be mobilized as the secondary problem.

Three Pillars of Equine Osteopathy:

Osteopathy relies on three pillars: parietal, visceral, and cranial sacral work. All three components must all be addressed to restore balance and function in the horse’s body. By examining the entire horse, osteopaths can identify and address issues arising from structural, mechanical, chemical, energetic, neurological, vascular, or immunological imbalances.

The Principle of Auto Correction:

Equine osteopathy operates on the principle of auto correction, recognizing the body’s inherent self-healing capabilities. It seeks to simulate these capabilities by restoring mobility to restricted areas, facilitating the horse’s natural ability to adapt and regain mobility.


Nerves can become entrapped where they exit bones and may be impeded by tissue swelling. Areas of immobility in horses can lead to restricted nerves and blood and lymph vessels, causing congestion, stasis, edema, and swelling. Osteopathy aims to mobilize these areas, enabling the body to return to homeostasis.


While we previously believed that fascia held our skeletons together, research now suggests that it’s the skeleton’s role to support the more important fascia. Nerve impulses travel faster through fascia than nerves themselves, making fascia a crucial element in the body’s functioning. Dietary choices can impact fascia health, leading to stiffness in horses. Osteopathy considers these factors and can recommend dietary changes for improved well-being.

Specific Applications:

Equine osteopathy is beneficial for addressing various issues, including unexplained lameness, pain, decreased performance, and behavioral problems.

For example:

Castration Adhesions:

Post castration problems can be resolved using visceral techniques to address restrictions both between the cut spermatic cord, the inguinal rings, and the fascia. The spermatic cord runs over the ureter, so if the spermatic cord is being drawn ventrally by an adhesion in the inguinal ring, it is also causing a restriction of the ureter between the kidney and the bladder. A veterinarian can mobilize the area of the inguinal ring, improving motion. This mobilization is addressing an adhesion, not a surgical scar. Any castration technique that involves excessive twisting of the spermatic cord increases the restrictions found post castration.

Decrease in Level of Performance:

Possible causes:

If the problem involves respiration, we will examine the ribs for mobility, determine if the innervation and vascularity to the diaphragm is compromised, and try to mobilize the area of restriction.

Compression of the Celiac Artery:

Restriction caudal to the diaphragm can involve the celiac artery. The diaphragm’s crus can tighten, congesting this area. There is a similar, but not exact condition in humans called Dunbar Syndrome. The crus of the diaphragm attach to the last two ribs and to lumbar vertebrae L1-L4(5). Mobilization of the crus and the diaphragm can resolve this problem.

Pain in the Ovaries of Mares:

During a normal heat cycle, motion occurs in the ovaries. This motion can lead to restrictions of the fascia, nerves, and spinal segments.


A restriction of two or more vertebrae in the same direction in the area of the stomach can be indicative of an ulcer. We successfully treat these problems with green clay and Iberogast; avoiding the problems associated with giving omeprazole long term. Hindgut ulcers can be treated long term with 1/2 cup coconut oil and 1/2 cup baking soda in the feed two times daily for 4 to 6 months.

Large Strongyle Larvae at the Cranial Mesenteric Artery:

Spinal restrictions between Th12 and L4 can indicate the presence of large strongyle (L4) larvae. These larvae are mobile in the tissues and are not killed when a single dewormer is administered. A Panacur Power Pac (double doses of Panacur), given to the horse’s correct weight, will not kill, but will immobilize these larvae. A follow up administration of Quest Gel ten days after the last dose of Panacur will be able to kill the immobilized larvae. We then clean up the rest ten days later with a Quest Plus.


A difficult to diagnose lameness could originate in the spine, sacrum, or hips. This imbalance can affect the way the lower legs move, however the primary problem may originate from another area.

Horses who cannot be handled at the poll:

Horses that cannot flex or extend at the poll can have restrictions of the cranial nerves and/or blood supply to the head, resulting in behavioral issues. Radiographs of CO-C1-C2 can discover the cause. The TMJ (temporal mandibular joint) needs to move freely for the horse to chew properly, and can be painful if restricted. The teeth can impact the health of the TMJ. This is why we need to look at The Whole Horse.

Looking at The Whole Horse:

A fundamental aspect of equine osteopathy is the consideration of the horse as a whole entity. Osteopaths recognize the importance of balancing the autonomic nervous system for optimal endocrine and immune function. These imbalances can lead to issues like adrenal burnout, affecting overall health and disease susceptibility.

PRM Primary Respiratory Mechanism:

The animal has a primary respiratory mechanism that can be measured. When this mechanism is asymmetrical, or the amplitude is too high or too low, the endocrine system is not in homeostasis. A horse who is acting tired, depressed, and stiff could be suffering from adrenal burnout. These animals have a weakened immune system and seem to catch every illness. The primary respiratory mechanism needs to be rebalanced.

Specific Applications:

Equine osteopathy is beneficial for addressing various issues, including unexplained lameness, pain, decreased performance, and behavioral problems.


Osteopathy involves neurological evaluation, utilizing the autonomic nervous system as a guide to internal conditions. Spinal and limb restrictions serve as indicators of internal problems. Once these internal issues are addressed, external restrictions in the back and limbs can be resolved, with a focus on maintaining mobility. By identifying and resolving the root cause of the problem, osteopathy provides long term relief.

If you are interested in having your horse evaluated by Osteopathy: Please call the clinic at (979) 243-4969 for an appointment.
The addition of osteopathy to our toolbox has elevated our veterinary work, allowing us to provide comprehensive care for your horse’s well-being.

Dr. Groves studied with Janek Vluggen at the Vluggen Institute of Equine Osteopathy and graduated with an EDO in 2007. Osteopaths Janek Vluggen and Pascal Evrard, along with veterinarian Dominique Giniaux, have been instrumental in developing animal osteopathy based on Dr. Andrew Taylor Still’s work. If you are interested in becoming an equine osteopath, you can contact the Vluggen Institute of Equine Osteopathy directly at h.reiners@vluggeninstitute.com