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  • Elisse Miki

Why I Don't Tie Horses During Therapy

Often we see pictures of horses receiving therapy while simple tied or cross tied but for me, this is non-negotiable and I will explain why here.

My body of education and therapeutic philosophy revolves around horse-centred care. This means, receiving all aspects of a symptom picture, including behavioural feedback. The essence of the osteopathic practitioner is to see, feel, and investigate the whole being not just individual parts that make up the being.

If the horse is tied, I am unable to receive the valuable feedback that accompanies the assessment and treatment. Palpation is only one tool in the metaphorical kit and is essentially meaningless if we are unable to correlate what is felt with what the horse communicates in relation. Removing the horses ability to communicate is very far out of the realm of a permission based treatment and one in which I feel strongly against.

The problem with cross ties in particular compounds the situation further. When assessing or applying techniques, it is critical that the horse be able to drop in and relax which is essentially impossible with the common height of cross ties maintaining the head, neck, and mid-thoracic spine in extension. If the head is elevated and unable to drop into flexion, there is maintained compression through the spinal column. This is also why training horses in this manner is equally destructive. When the spine is extended, the facet joints (those are the joints on the back that allow movement) are positionally closed (i.e. compressed) which creates force on the vertebrae and potentially all the nerves that exit there! Extension in itself is a natural movement for humans and horses but sustained static positions are never recommended for either species.

Feedback is equally crucial here too so that I may know if what I am doing is causing the horse stress or discomfort. Again, more valuable pieces to the whole horse approach.

If we were to compare this to my human practice, I would lose my license if I forced people to receive treatment without the ability to communicate pain or discomfort. Can you imagine if my human patients were not allowed to move or provide feedback? So why then is the industry perpetuating a practice that would be deemed illegal and unethical if applied to humans? This is not patient-centred care.

𝐁𝐮𝐭 𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐈𝐟 𝐌𝐲 𝐇𝐨𝐫𝐬𝐞 𝐂𝐚𝐧'𝐭 𝐒𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐖𝐢𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐁𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐓𝐢𝐞𝐝?

That is the next question that usually follows. My answer is, if your horse is unable to stand with a human, then we have a more primary need being unmet. There are many reasons a horse may be uneasy to stand without being tied and requires careful investigation of root cause. Whether it is due to previous trauma or physical pain these are questions that need to be examined first. Perhaps the horse requires veterinary intervention for pathology outside of the realm of manual therapy or perhaps the horsemanship practices need to be adjusted.

Of course, working with horses in a free choice manner presents its own set of safety parameters, however, well practiced therapists are excellent readers of body language and feedback. This means we typically receive the subtle cues loud and clear before they turn into larger more aversive communications.

For all these reasons, you will never find me working on horses tied. When we can recognize communication for what it is, which is just feedback, we are able to provide a more thorough, whole-horse, assessment and treatment.