There’s A Horse Of A Different Color!

By Dr. Ava Frick, DVM


It’s about time that we varied the species and introduced something for the horse loving friends in Healthy Planet land!  Horses are oftentimes a young girl’s best dream and if lucky become her best friend.  Life changing moments are shared between a horse and owner.  Some fun, some not so fun.  But for whatever the reason we keep going back for more!


Husbandry and training techniques have changed dramatically over the last 20 years.  With the development of 100’s of TV stations and the internet, exposure to a variety of philosophies from other parts of the world suddenly became readily available.  It is easy to become a part of a continuing educational venue and practice implementing that style with a new session or refresher course just a few days away.


This has also improved the channels for education about equestrian complementary health care.  Many areas of the horse industry were the first to accept massage, chiropractic, and physical rehabilitation well before the small animal veterinarians ever believed any of it worth a second look.  Horses are very much “into” their bodies and anything that makes them feel the least bit better quickly puts them in an optimal frame of mind and provides for the rider a greater pleasure moment too.


One simple thing that anyone can implement to help relax their horse is massaging the TMJ joint.  That stands for temporomandiublar joint, which is the articulation of the skull and mandible (or lower jaw).  The proper function of this joint and its connecting tissue is crucial for head position, body positioning, balance, and coordination.  The joint can become malpositioned from stress, poor dental alignment, and  poor bits and training techniques, to name a few.


TMJ subluxations can be very painful causing the horse to act with resistance and ways atypical to its normal character.  Pain in the facial muscles may radiate to the neck and shoulder, create muscle spasms and cause problems with chewing.   Swelling may or may not be present.   In humans it may also cause headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting.  We don’t have to worry about that last symptom in horse but you can see that any of those symptoms could appear to be caused by other etiologies, leading the clinician away from the real cause and prolonging a resolution.


A TMJ massage takes 2-3 minutes and can be a great relaxation technique for both the horse and yourself when performed either before or after a ride.  First locate the joint just behind the eye.  Immediately beneath that ridge is the tissue you will massage.  With very light pressure, no more than would be comfortable if someone would place a finger on your eyeball, and using the flat of your first and second fingers, make a slow counter-clockwise, circular motion.   Soon the horse will begin to relax, lower his head, and oftentimes even take a slow deep breath.

For more details and photos on how to do this simple exercise look for my book, Fitness in Motion.  It is available at major bookstores and online.  Or for an autographed copy, contact www.avafrick.com.