Horses, being prey animals, have developed many ways to survive in the wild. One of the most
obvious ways that we, as horse owners, should be aware of, is compensation. Horses are truly
experts when it comes to compensating. They have to be to stay alive in the wild because if
they show weakness, they will be taken by a predator. This tendency of compensation sadly
sets them up for more pain and injury living a domestic life under our care.
The other reason horse’s compensate, if I may anthropomorphize a bit, is because they want to
please us. We need to STOP asking for more. More shows, more ribbons, higher scores, just
a bit more work, more time on the lunge...more more more! Stop. Let the horse show you his
pain. Pay attention.
Many times there are a long line of insults to the horse’s body that go completely unnoticed by
their owners and therefore also by the trimmer and vet. What starts out as maybe some caudal
pain in the foot, eventually transfers to strain on the opposite diagonal leg, and later moves up
the body to the shoulder, and eventually the stifle. It goes different directions depending on the
origin of the original pain and what is being done with the horse. The owner may notice the bad
stifle and try to figure out what caused the issue...not even realizing that it actually started with
a trim 6 months ago where the farrier took off too much heel. We can’t always connect the
It should never be assumed that foot pain is a minor issue. There is always going to be some
level of compensatory damage. Horses give us 200%. Most are so stoic and will give until
they fall over and die. When a horse hurts and you ask for more from him, he will figure out a
way to move his body in a way that allows him to continue doing as you ask and yet avoid the
pain. This continues to lead to more soreness and injuries. More often than not, by the time
you actually recognize a lameness issue, the horse has been sore for a very long time.
This cycle of compensation is true not only with foot pain but also mouth pain. Hooks, poor
alignment, poor chewing surface contact, TMJ pain, abscesses, gum disease, wolf teeth, all can
cause the horse to have pain and will affect his movement. We want a supple mouth, a soft
poll, a relaxed neck, a working comfortable back, and an engaged hind end. If the horse hurts
in the mouth, none of this is possible. Tension sets in and the cycle begins.
As an equine bodyworker, it is vitally important for you to have an understanding of the internal
foot and mouth so that you can address these things first. If you are able to explain to the
owner that the toes are way too long, for example, and are causing stress to the laminae...and
what that can lead to, that owner will be able to communicate to the farrier why those toes need
to be backed up. If you are called out to see a horse that has been suffering with lumbar pain
and you ignore the fact that the horse has been balanced poorly and the bony column is
obviously off, you try to fix the back issue without even acknowledging the origin of the pain, you
are putting a bandaid on the issue without addressing the root cause.
Start with a foundation of nutrition and the health of the foot & mouth and you will be much
better set up as a well rounded equine professional that has an excellent understanding of the
horse as a complex sentient being who depends on us for everything! I don’t think anyone
wants to add to the problem that sadly exists out there today of horse’s greatly suffering, being
sold when they can no longer meet the owner’s expectations and ending up moving from one
home to another with no relief from the original pain. This is the sad reality. Let’s step up and
try to really help these horses. They give so much.
Want to learn more? Check out our online Holistic Anatomical Studies of the Equine Hoof and Mouth Course!
This certification course takes a holistic view when teaching the anatomy and physiology of the horse's hooves and mouth (bonus material). Bring your equine practice to the next level by learning how the foot of the horse can impact their health and wellbeing.
The course includes high quality photographs including hoof dissections and explains the importance of having an in depth understanding of the internal and external hoof and mouth anatomy. The horse's feet plays a large roll when it comes to their soundness and overall wellbeing. As an equine bodyworker, expanding your knowledge of equine anatomy will allow you to make more educated decisions when creating individualized treatment plans for your clients.
Dr. Angelique Barbara is the founder of Angel's Animals LLC, a company that has developed online animal bodywork courses for both owners and professionals. Dr. Barbara's unique teaching style along with the dynamic layout of the courses allows people of different educational backgrounds from all over the world to benefit from her knowledge.