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CASE STUDY:  Resistant Bending Left on a Circle, Short in Right Front Going Left on a Circle and Short in Right Front in a Straight Line.

Problem in Motion as Reported by Rider:

Carla was a bit upset when she was lunging her horse to the left and he appeared short in the right front on the circle. Following the lunging, she rode him in a straight line and asked him to do shoulder in to the left. He felt short in the right front on a straight line, and resistant bending to the left. She immediately thought he might have a high suspensory problem or some other soft tissue problem behind the lower leg. Carla typically jumps to the worse case scenario first, rather than going from a simple problem and solution, to the most serious on the continuum. I think she does this because she is in vet school and see’s more serious lameness issues.

Carla called me stating “I am going to start with you first because I cannot face the probability that the problem is a deeper soft tissue structure behind the lower leg, requiring months of rest”. I assured her that if he was not lame, and just a bit short, we might want to rule out a muscular problem first. If after I worked on the horse and he did not resume a normal gait or was lame, then her vet needed to be called. I suggested it may very well be of a muscular nature because when a muscle is tight it is resistant to a specific movement. Good motion should come easily. If there is any resistance or shortness, then I usually suspect simple muscle tightness as the cause of the motion problem.

Evaluation and Assessment:

I carefully looked at the horse’s body and legs to see any evidence of an injury including swelling or cuts. I did not see anything that suggested an injury. I then asked Carla to walk her horse in a straight line away from me and then toward me. I get the best view of muscle function at the walk. The slower the horse moves, the more muscle is used without momentum. After I listened to Carla’s description of the motion problem, I began assessing the horse using palpation of the major muscles with my hands.


At the walk, I could clearly see the horse was short and labored in bringing his right leg forward. He was not bringing his leg back or forward freely. He looked short at the point of the right shoulder. I felt severe tightness in the right lower neck where it joins in with the point of the shoulder and forearm. The muscle is named the brachiocephalicus muscle. <illustration> It has a big name, and a big job. It ‘s job is to bring the leg forward when the head and neck are straight, as well as flex, or bend the neck to the same side of the contraction. After thorough palpations, I found compensatory tightness in the horse’s left gluteal muscles. Since the dynamics of motion occur on a diagonal, it is common to find the opposite hind leg tight in relation to limited motion in a front leg. The horse will always tighten the opposite hind leg to balance and adjust to the compromised motion in the opposite front end.

Solution and Treatment:

After determining the specific muscle tightness, I applied the Wilson Meagher Method of sportsmassage. I started with compressions along the entire brachiocepalicus which lies chiefly along the entire neck from the poll to the point of the shoulder. It is found near the base of the neck and not up toward the mane. Since the muscle was so tight, I initially used compressions with a very loose fist to separate the muscle fibers and bring more blood to the area in order to soften the muscle. If I used direct pressure and cross fiber friction, two of the other techniques of the Wilson Meagher Method, first, the horse would feel pain and discomfort and resist the treatment. I then used cross fiber friction where the neck meets the point of the shoulder. I needed to use soft and slightly flexed finger’s as this area was extremely tight and uncomfortable. I gently crossed the muscle fibers back and forth at the base of the neck softening and widening the fibers. After a minute, this lower part of the muscle softened and the horse seemed relieved. It is important to observe the horse’s reaction to the application of the technique. Horse’s behavior will always instruct as to how much pressure and which technique works best. If a horse moves away, or tries to bite or kick, then it is too much pressure, too intense, or too painful. If this behavior occurs, then back off, and work somewhere else on the horse where the treatment is tolerated.

With a soft and open fist, I used compressions on the entire neck, and specifically on the brachiocephalicus. Never use knuckles or an elbow because the pressure can be too intense and you cannot feel with knuckles or an elbow. It is important to feel the tissue change and soften. Once you feel the tissue soften, stop the work and work elsewhere. It is like the Law of Diminished Returns. If you overdo, and work the area too hard, with too much intensity or too long, the horse may become sore and uncomfortable after the work. Less is more.

After working on the brachiocephalicus, I worked on the entire horse particularly on the compensatory tightness in the opposite left hind leg. The compensatory muscles were the gluteals and hamstrings of the left hind. Using an open hand and with the heel of my hand, I performed compressions on the entire hind end and rest of the horse. Compressions are a rhythmical pumping action similar to cardio pulmonary resuscitation. Always work down toward the ground applying the compressions toward the bone where the muscle is attached.

Once the horse’s muscle’s felt softer and more pliable, I stopped the treatment and asked Carla to follow up by riding the horse after my work, in a long and low, but connected frame at the canter. When I say connected, I mean riding the horse from back to front and in to your hand and not just flopping loosely on the forehand. I do not want the horse to be collected for this exercise. The canter is the most concerted exercise at lengthening all of the muscle groups. That is why the trot always feels better after the canter. I wanted the horse to canter because the exercise becomes part of the treatment. The canter and exercise further lengthens the muscle fibers and brings more blood and oxygen to the tissue to complete the treatment. The Wilson Meagher Method of Sportsmassage prepares the muscles to be used. It is sports massage therapy. It is not meant to rest the horse. However, it is not a perfect world. If a person does not have time to exercise the horse right away or until the next day, that is fine. It is the second best solution. We all usually do the best we can for our horses.

Cause and Summary:

The brachiocephalicus’s job is to advance the leg forward when the head and neck are straight extending the shoulder joint, and to bend the head and neck toward the same side. Muscle tightness is caused by an injury, overuse, or diminished oxygen. Carla’s horse was tight in the right brachicephalicus causing the horse to be resistant bending to the left. Also, the tightness did not allow the front leg to move back and forth freely. Muscle tightness effect’s the release process, or the letting go, of the muscle. For instance if a muscle’s job is to bring a leg forward, then the muscle must be loose enough to allow for the leg to go backward. In Carla’s horse, the muscle in the right neck was so tight, it was not releasing or letting go, for the neck to bend to the left. Also, since the brachiocephalicus muscle brings the leg forward, it was not releasing for the leg to go backward easily so the horse appeared off in the right front. When the horse was on a circle traveling to the left, the right brachiocepahlicus was so tight, it did not allow for the horse to bring his leg around and bend freely to the left with his neck. Therefore the horse looked short on the circle in the right front going left.

Carla and I discovered why her horse was so tight in the right neck. The horse had a habit of pawing with the right front leg. Carla had been to a competition for three days and the horse sat in the trailer each day for many hours while Carla competed her other horses. The horse simply pawed most of the time he was on the trailer. He was on the trailer for six hours each day. This was enough to create tightness in his neck which created the shortness in his right leg and lack of flexibility and bend to the left.

After Carla rode her horse, she was beaming. He was moving evenly in the front and was able to bend in both directions freely. She was so relieved it was not a deeper problem, she suggested we have a toast with a glass of wine! With another four more horse’s for me to work on, I had to refuse the offer, but it sure sounded like a good idea!


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