Dr. Ryan Lukens works on a horse’s thoracic vertebrae. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

Horse owners often joke that they care for their horses better than they do themselves. While there are grooming treatments and products out there that might be considered a luxury, veterinary chiropractic adjustments do not fall into this category.

Any horse can take advantage of regular chiropractic adjustments, he says Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian Dr. Ryan Lukens, a certified veterinary manipulative practitioner from the Chi Institute in Ocala, Florida. He received his certification (CVMMP or Certified Veterinary Medical Manipulation Practitioner) in 2017 from the institute, which trains licensed veterinarians in medical manipulation (adaptations in chiropractic).

From minis to draft horses and grazing animals to elite sport mounts, the parasympathetic stimulation triggered by adjustments in chiropractic improves facets of health for any horse. Therefore, chiropractic adjustments in horses improve more than just athletic performance. Lukens considers it a necessity for sport horses, and he has had great success in translating chiropractic adaptations into his patients’ sporting achievements.

What are the advantages?

“One of the most beneficial results of regular veterinary chiropractic adjustments is increased freedom of movement,” said Lukens.

“Ensuring that the horse has the correct range of motion can greatly reduce the chance that it will have to physically level out an area that may not function at the same level. By reducing the likelihood of compensation, we are reducing the likelihood of many common athletic tube injuries. Most sports injuries occur when a horse is easily unbalanced because of the balance. Regular adjustments in chiropractic care help horses maintain their natural balance. “

He says other benefits of veterinary chiropractic adjustments include:

  • Relief from aches and pains
  • Reversing muscle atrophy by increasing the frequency of nerve activation
  • Increasing the speed and accuracy of athletic movements
  • Help calm the fight or flight response. This has a domino effect on improving various body functions such as neutralizing stomach acids, improving digestion of the hindgut, lowering blood pressure, lowering cortisol levels, and strengthening the immune system.

Dr. Ryan Lukens performs a veterinary chiropractic fit on a horse’s shoulder. It is one of the most common problem areas for sport horses. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

What owners need to know

Lukens has some “must-know” points horse owners need to understand about adapting chiropractic care for horses.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of the most important adjustment points in the horse, says Dr.  Ryan Lukens.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of the most important adjustment points in the horse, says Dr. Ryan Lukens. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

1. The most important adjustment points.

“I take a full body approach in every session. There are 205 bones that make up a horse’s skeleton. I don’t just customize the skeleton, though. I’m working on improving movement on segmented levels that involve bones and the supporting soft tissue structures and nerves, ”says Lukens.

“I was taught to use motion segments to test moving segments. If a segment is not moving freely in the appropriate directional planes, I can make an adjustment to correct the limitation on that movement. “

The main adjustment points include:

  • Lower jaw and tongue
  • Temporomandibular joint (temporomandibular joint)
  • Survey and cervical vertebrae
  • Withers and sternum
  • Front and rear legs
  • Thoracic and lumbar vertebrae
  • Pelvis / sacrum

2. Every horse is different and its riding discipline makes different demands on its body.

The most common adaptations for different performance horses are:

discipline General adjustments
dressage Balance is important for dressage. The most important points of balance affected by veterinary chiropractic care are the temporomandibular joint, hyoid bone, sternum and cervix facets. Other common adjustments that are affected by side work include shoulders, elbows, and pelvis.
Hunter / Springer Hunters and jumpers typically benefit from vertebral adjustments of the lumbar and upper neck regions, ribs, sternum, anterior distal limbs, and shoulders.
versatility Most eventing horses benefit from adjustments to the pelvis, all cervical vertebrae, TMJ, ribs and shoulders.
Western disciplines Reiners benefit from adjustments to the right shoulder, lower cervical facets, withers and pelvis, and barrel racers benefit from adjustments to the shoulder, sacroiliac and hip joints.

3. Things to consider before and after an adjustment.

It is important that dentistry and farriers are not overdue prior to the adjustment of veterinary chiropractic care. Sharp tooth points can cause adjustments to be held for shorter periods of time, especially with surveys, temporomandibular joints, and cervical vertebrae. If a horse is not well shod or has recently pulled a shoe, the adjustments to the limbs, back, pelvis, and sacrum may not provide lasting benefits.

In addition to these requirements, a horse can be ridden before an appointment and have a normal day. The only restriction on driving is that they are not allowed to be driven for the rest of the day after being set. However, there may be times when they go to pasture after an adjustment. The next day, says Lukens, the horse can be ridden as usual, with the owner or rider talking to him about how they felt.

Dr.  Ryan Lukens performs a veterinary chiropractic fit on a horse's pelvis.Dr. Ryan Lukens performs a veterinary chiropractic fit on a horse’s pelvis. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

“I prefer to see new patients two weeks after their first fitting appointment. After the second appointment, I sit down with the driver to discuss and compare the chiropractic adjustments made between the two sessions. If I’ve made several of the same adjustments, the appointment intervals remain every two weeks. As soon as similar adjustments decrease, I can increase the time interval between sessions to three weeks, ”says Lukens.

“Some horses can keep the adjustments for four to six weeks with lighter work. The rider can usually feel when a horse is due for further adjustment. Typically, a high performing horse may benefit from chiropractic adjustments as often as each week, but the most common interval for my clients at this level is every other week. “

Dr. Ryan Lukens works on the cervical vertebrae. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

4. Chiro to the rescue! Common problems:

Common problems can be resolved with a veterinary adjustment in chiropractic care. For jumpers, changes in jumping style (i.e. landing off a fore limb, just jumping off a particular line) and performance (hitting more rails than normal) can indicate a lack of freedom of movement that can be corrected by an appropriate adjustment or row of adjustments.

In dressage horses, a change in balance can result in the head tilting, not working through the back, the lower curve of the neck being lifted, or the hind legs not following the path of the front legs. This often occurs with a recent inability to execute tempos changes. This balance can be restored through an adjustment.

Dr. Ryan Lukens. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

In western horses, a decrease in acceleration and turning may indicate that adjustments are needed.

According to Lukens, a veterinarian’s extensive knowledge of anatomy and understanding when a horse doesn’t need to be adjusted is an important part of the horse’s safety and wellbeing.

“If done incorrectly, adjustments can have negative effects. I believe a vet trained in chiropractic adjustments is the safest choice for the horse. “

Dr. Ryan Lukens became interested in horses early on when he grew up on a 30-acre horse farm in Lebanon, Ohio. After graduating from Ohio State University in 2012, he became the fourth generation veterinarian in the Lukens family. It went back to his great-grandfather’s graduation from Ohio State University’s Veterinary College in 1912. Lukens primarily focuses on treating sports medicine and lameness and chiropractic patients.