Horse books

Equine Physical Therapy: Consultations with Doris Kay Halstead

Renowned expert on horse-rider assymetry problems, myofascial release on horses and author of Release the Potential will help you to resolve your horse's issues.


E-mail consultations with Doris Kay Halstead are available for $40 each. Questions must be related to evaluation you have done on your horse, as per Release the Potential and/or Symmetry in Motion.

To get the best results, you must have evaluated and worked with your horse yourself, as outlined in Release The Potential. Only then will you have a reference to what is working and what is not working, and only then will the answers be clear and usable.

Each question about technique must be accompanied with your evaluation of the problem related to that physical area.

The E-mail consultation fee covers one detailed exchange with Doris, plus a short follow-up if desired. If you have further lengthy questions, you will need to pay for a second consultation.

Directions: Click on the BUY NOW button below and make your credit card payment through our secure service. Then with your questions. She will know you have made your payment and will be expecting your e-mail.

Following is a transcript of a typical evaluation and response. Note that this example is a single consultation. The questions and corresponding answers have been broken into segments by Doris in order to make the answers more clear:

Owner: History: George is an 18 yo appendix quarter horse gelding that I adopted 6 yrs ago. At that time George had a grade 4 lameness in his right front foot, which was severely contracted and upright. (He had been lame for at least 3 yrs when he came to me. He had been shown on the hunter circuit for several years prior to that. ) Range of motion in his right hind limb was extremely limited and his right hip appeared atrophied.

Doris: This sounds like a congenital club foot. I have seen several horses with same. If and I mean IF you have a really good farrier, they are not a problem although need regular and good attention. This problem tends to make a horse develop his opposite diagonal more fully than the other. His rider would have to been very astute as to HOW to get him to strengthen equally and they are RARE!!! You can catch him up if you work regularly on his strengthening program. Usually doing shoulder in to renvers to shoulder in at the walk with horse in self carriage especially with the weak hind that would usually be his LEFT side toward the wall will get it going. However you describe a RIGHT HIND problem so I would practice evenly on both sides. Progress to adding trot work that way. If you are not a fairly good dressage rider you will not be able to do this. The other thing is lots of hills on trail making sure he is EVEN in the bridle, with base of his neck kept in balance evenly between the shoulders.

Owner: George has appeared totally sound for 9 months now thanks to natural trimming (barefoot). George continues to be toed out with his right front foot so we keep his lateral wall a little lower than the medial to allow him to land heel- toe instead of landing on the lateral wall and rolling his foot in. Range of motion in his right hind limb has improved about 90% primarily through using TTouch bodywork and groundwork in combination with light riding. His right hip now appears only slightly smaller than the left.

Doris: This toeing out is from the shoulder, you need to do some shoulder freeing up work with him. Shoulder lifts, stretches and immediate retraining of shoulder movement they are all in Release the Potential. I trust we are getting more on this Right hind problem later.

Owner: George is turned out all of the time and does not wear blankets. Equipment: I ride in a saddle from Balance International which allows his shoulders to fully rotate back as much as they are capable. My saddle fit was checked by Carol Brett of Balance 2 months ago. I use either a Parelli hackamore or a bridle with a fulmer full cheek snaffle when I ride. I do not use a nose band and I do not use any devices (side reins, martingale, draw reins, etc.). I use a full length girth with elastic at both ends. Dental: His teeth were last checked about 6 months ago and my dentist is a graduate of the Equine Dentistry school in Idaho – I have thhe utmost confidence in her. George has never had any significant problems with his teeth that I am aware of. Standing posture: He prefers to stand on his left front and right hind. If I square up front, he will stand with his left hind behind him. He will sometimes unweight his left hind and point his right front foot even though he now appears sound on the right front foot. (this was his constant posture for many years.) He often likes to stand with his hind feet touching if he does square up. He appears left eye dominant and always stands with his neck turned to his right.

Doris: If all else fails, an easy way to get him to change this diagonal stance habit is to tape 1/2 of a heavy foam baseball or softball (NOT NERF but a dense one) to the bottom of his feet L front and R hind Put the flat side inside the edges of the shoe and duck tape away. I would start for a few hours and progress to 1/2 day then to every other day. This will change his habit of which diagonal pair he uses. They do not like to continually stand on squishy things that are different. I did this once with a driving pony who drove nicely but had a disturbing scoliosis that the driver could not help but seeing. After a week of this she drove perfectly straight AMEN. If this works, an occasional repeat of the foam ball routine may be necessary if the diagonal dominance seems to return.

Owner: Gaits: He carries much of his weight on his forehand. He likes to walk off with his front legs first. Knees and hocks appear symmetrical to me. Shoulders and hips have some limited range of motion. His ribcage bulges to the left regardless of the direction he is going but this has improved greatly over the past 2 months. I have been working on this in hand and under saddle, asking him to move his ribs over with my hand/leg. With regard to the canter, left lead is easier for him.

Doris: All horses carry their weight on their forehand. Their center of gravity is just a little behind their shoulders. Unless a very talented rider did his initial training to encourage self carriage (which is truly very rare) He has been taught to get his balance off the reins and actually compounds this forehand problem. Where are you? Perhaps there is someone that has a clue near you that could help you understand and coordinate yourself to get him more focused on his hind. You can help a great deal just making your mind focus on his hind end and KNOW when the right and left hit the ground each and every step he takes while you are on him. Every transition should come from your thought of the hind end doing the slowing down and the push off. YOUR FOCUS there will make him focus there. All importance of the rein giving these signals should be forgotten. They are there ONLY for you to assist him in maintaining his head and neck perfectly balanced BETWEEN his shoulders never to one side or the other even in turns and especially in transitions. That does not mean to not have bend, just that the bend has to be equal all the way to the HIND and the neck has to be CENTERED BETWEEN the shoulder blades. If you can do this consistently you will have a totally new and incredible horse! MANY PEOPLE SAY THE WORDS I HAVE SAID, ALMOST NO ONE ACTUALLY HAS A CLUE HOW TO DO IT

Owner: Evaluation: Head: His head appears tilted with his nose to his left and poll to his right. I can see this when I face him and also when I ride he tilts his nose to the left even if I am circling right. Head and neck junctions feel symmetrical, though.

Doris: Try holding his head as high up in the air as you can and keep it there several minutes, nose up neck in straight line with his poll to nose You can hold on to either side of the halter if it fits him well and does not lift into his eyes when you do this. He will tend to tip his head to his favorite side at first and just let him. After about 2 minutes he can be convinced to try tipping the other way. This will be more difficult for him and he may make you let him shift back and forth but after a minute or two he will allow the stretch fully into the restricted range. Unless you are unusually strong in your shoulder girdle you will fail at this as it is really hard to hold your hands over your head that long. If you spread your feet apart far enough to allow you to extend your elbows fully you have the best chance to do this. I have held this stretch for 10 minutes at a time on many occasions. Owners have tried to repeat it when their horse started getting uneven again and could not do it at all. So you may have to work up to the strength needed to help him. If you are quite tall or he will let you stand on something and rest his head on your shoulder you may be able to make inroads to the stretching he needs that way. His tipping likely started because he leans on the bit one sided to assist his weaker diagonal.

Owner: Pelvis and hips: Right point of hip is in front of and below left point of hip. Gluteal muscles feel tight.

Doris: The muscles will relax soon as the fascial restriction release allows them to. Place the right foot well forward of the position of the left. He should rest it on the ground so there is full relaxation. Then you guide the right hip pointer UP till you feel it glide into balanced position. You might be able to attain the same result if you place the L hind BEHIND the position of the right and guide the Left hip pointer down. The rule is if it is down push it up, if it is up push it down etc. Often you cannot tell which one is the primary and if one does not work try the other., If you try one and it did not work do not consider that a failure, just an extension of your evaluation, (Must have been the other one that needed to change.) Positioning to make the move easier is good in any of the techniques. Think about how the leverage of the limb would rotate the pelvis. "Hard core" Chiropractic uses this leverage to change the pelvis but to the point of damage at times. We are just gently positioning as a hint in the right direction, then encouraging the horse to do the rest. This ALWAYS results in more lasting change because the animal has a prayer of KNOWING that he changed for the better. Best to you., Doris P.S. sometimes doing the "wrong" thing helps them change correctly anyway. These techniques are gentle enough so you can try any of them. If they do not need it they do not change. The body is always trying to move into homeostasis if we give it a chance.

Owner: Neck/Shoulder junctions appeared the same, but left shoulder appears larger when I stand at his tail, on a stool, and look down his spine.

Doris: You are likely seeing the difference in strength L / R that you describe. We also over develop that muscle group by constantly mounting from the left. From now on, get on from a mounting block unless you have to do otherwise, like on a trail ride then you can still at least find an uphill side.

Owner: Thoracic and Lumbar spine and tail: Did not notice any problems. Ribs: Did not notice any rib subluxations but entire ribcage appears postioned more to his left.

Doris: I bet he has a slightly rotated thoracic vertebrae some where near the apex of the bend of that bulgy rib cage. Run your fingers down his rib cage like you are playing a glissando on the piano. There will be a spot that feels like a traffic speed bump. Put your hand ON that rib and lean into him. Use his lead and tail to coax him into bending around you so the corresponding rib on the other side has room to float back out and the two ribs will de-rotate the thoracic vertebra.

Owner: Gelding scar felt cold. Tehniques used and questions: 1. I used the C7 release on his left side, which he allowed for 6 minutes. How often should I do this technique? I am assuming it is only used once per session.

Doris: This release usually takes me over 15 minutes to get lasting effects. If you get it fully released, then rock him left right at the shoulders while still holding his neck slightly left, encouraging his even neck bend to the side you released until HE can continue to maintain the head neck position and let you switch his weighted leg, by rocking him from one leg to the other, at the same time. Then IF you ride him symmetrically, you will never have to do it again. That is the beauty of fascial release done well.

Owner: 2. I tried to adjust his atlas, (since his head is tilted,) by cupping my hands over his poll and hanging, but since he has been taught to lower his head away from pressure, he would not press against my hands, he just lowers his head. His poll does not appear sore or tender at all. Could there be another cause of the head tilting since his head/neck junctions seemed symmetrical? Are there any other techniques to correct the head tilt? I did not notice any thoracic vertebral rotation, which I noted might cause head tilt.

Doris: See above, I answered this already

Owner: 3. I did the release of the shoulder blade muscle restrictions but could not get my fingers in very far. How often can this be repeated? I also did the shoulder lift and circumduction.

Doris: Sounds like you need to do this again but do it AFTER you get the C7 balanced and the rib cage straight. You can do these techniques often as you like, but when you get all in the right order and ride evenly, you do NOT have to keep doing them unless he slips on the mud, knocks a hip on the doorway etc.

Owner: 4. I did the gelding scar release for about 20 minutes. I am not sure if I did it correctly though. I held it, applying pressure to it between my thumb and fingers, i.e., lightly squeezing it. It still feels a little bit cool and there still feels like there is a tight rubber band running front to back from his sheath to between his hind legs, but I could not feel it pull up when his head moved up and down or right and left, and the scar area felt quiet with leg movement. Should I continue to work on that tight band that I feel?

Doris: That band is normal. The bands you want to get rid of are the ones reaching up into the tissues of the abdomen. If there is scar tied to the cremasteric muscle, which is a slip of the lateral abdominals, then they have a hard time engaging their abdominals for self carriage. and when releasing the scar you can feel the connection up into the abdominal muscles each time they move a hind leg.

Owner: 5. For his pelvis, I held the right hind leg up, which he seems to greatly enjoy, but after less than a minute he insisted on putting it down and then immediately unweighted the left hind. How often can I do this technique and should I repeat it more than once in a session if he cannot seem to hold it for very long? I plan on trying the alternate technique in the book, too.

Doris: Here too see above, I already answered this one too

Owner: 6. I tried doing the psoas release but found it very difficult to hold any significant pressure on the area due to my lack of strength, and the angle at which I was working. Does one push up towards the top of the hip? or push outward towards the inside of the horses leg? And how much pressure does one apply?

Doris: The psoas is so deep you have to release it primarily by intention. Though I do not think this is a primary in your horse. Do check the adductors, (muscles on the inside of the upper leg) and if they have any tight bands, release them with direct pressure that he is not disturbed by, just holding for several minutes.

Owner: I also wanted to note that I have been working on my symmetry with a PT and Rolfer for the past year and truly appreciate the importance of including rider symmetry in your book!

Doris: Great. It is so true, We not only put our body asymmetries into our horses but a response of our EVERY thought. Have you gotten so you can pick stalls equally well and symmetrically both left and right handed? Also mounting from either side? We cannot expect our horses to be any more symmetrical than we are.

Hope this helps. Doris

To consult Doris: Click on the BUY NOW button below and make your credit card payment through our secure service. Then with your questions. She will know you have made your payment and will be expecting your e-mail.