Vet's Role in Physical Therapy

The health and soundness management of any horse--regardless of his level of use or the problems he might be encountering--horse owner or trainer's responsibility. The person responsible for the diagnosis, prescribing the treatment, and assessing progress and the effectiveness of the therapies is the veterinarian. The horse benefits from the cooperative efforts of everyone on the "team"--owner, veterinarian, trainer, groom, physical therapist, farrier, and any other care providers. Everyone's goal is to make the injured horse's recovery as quick as possible, and as complete as possible, and to keep the horse as comfortable and happy as possible during the course of his career. Each person involved must make sure that his/her specific therapy is addressing the proper problem or problems and not interfering with other modalities.

The owner must identify the goals for his/her horse. Then he or she must seek a veterinarian who has expertise in that specific endeavor or has resources available regarding expertise in that field. The owner must communicate to the veterinarian the goals and the planned route. The veterinarian must understand and respect the owner's position and be willing to be a part of the team. This approach is necessary to achieve the goals in an efficient and safe manner.

The veterinarian is the one person trained and qualified to scientifically assess the basic and protracted health status of the horse. This information is used to establish any current diagnosis and important points of reference regarding the horse's health and soundness. The diagnostic information is critical for everyone on the management team. With the proper diagnosis established, various modalities of therapy might be considered. In addition to the routine veterinary medical therapies, the physical therapy modalities might add significant advantage in the recovery and should be considered in the everyday case management. Each modality must be considered and evaluated on its own merits. Many of these therapies are of greatest benefit after the routine veterinary treatments have been instituted. An example is a horse with a sore back secondary to sore hocks. Physical therapy of the back will be much more beneficial once the hocks are being managed.

Today we have the luxury of many different physical therapy options generally involving more than one practitioner. The veterinarian must help evaluate these procedures and act as an advisor to the owner. The veterinarian is in a position to judge whether or not the combined therapies are synergistic and beneficial to the horse, and he/she is the team quarterback.

To be able to do his/her job well, the veterinarian needs to be aware of all the therapies being applied to the horse. He/ she needs to understand the various modalities and their advantages and disadvantages. Most owners appreciate and expect the veterinarian to accept this role and make the correct adjustments and recommend changes as they become important.

Keep in mind that not all of these procedures have a solid scientific background. To be considered, they must at least have strong anecdotal evidence of effectiveness and show minimal detrimental effects or risks to the horse.

It is important for the owner and the veterinarian to maintain an open and congenial line of communication. Also, it must be recognized that expense might be a factor and will limit the use of physical therapy by some owners. Again, the veterinarian is the person best suited to help the owner review and consider the various options.

You should talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about physical therapy options for your injured or healthy horse. As the leader of your horse's health care team, he or she can greatly assist you in keeping your horse healthy and happy in his discipline.

About the Author

Terry Swanson, DVM

Terry Swanson, DVM, a partner in Littleton Equine in Littleton, Colo., is a former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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