Sacro-iliac damage is fixable in both horse and rider, although in this blog, we’re just focusing on the horse.
Laura wrote in with a Question for Jenny. She said “hi, I have a nine year old thoroughbred just diagnosed with damage to S1 and I was wondering what you would recommend for a recovery program?”
Because I spent so much time answering her question and it’s SUCH a common injury in horses, I decided to make a blog out of it. 🙂
For those not in the know, SI is the sacro-iliac joint, where the spine meets the pelvis (the far left hand arrow in the top photo of Milly and is the most common damage I see in horse’s backs.
My Answer: Well Sarah, that’s a BIG question, because sacro-iliac damage has many causes – falls are one cause (specially a fall that has them landing hard on their side); jarring of the joint from jumping in a “bad” posture is a common cause and emotional stress is a BIG cause of it too. I’ll explain more about that in a minute.
But take heart, it IS fixable AND you and your horse will enjoy the fixing. 🙂 I would recommend a multi-faceted approach:
- Some body work, like Bowen muscle therapy – there’s lots of good stuff out there, it’s just that Bowen is the one I’m most familiar with that’s effective.
- Good riding where your seat is seriously stable and your riding position makes you sensitive enough to feel your horse effectively. (Don’t worry if you’re not a good rider yet, we have a pathway for that too! 🙂 )
- And your happy horse being in the correct posture to actually heal the joint. Sounds simple? But it’s BIG. 🙂
These are the three ESSENTIAL ingredients for healing this injury. The correct posture so that the body CAN heal the joint (and the lack of that good posture in most horses) is the reason that most professional people, vets, masseurs etc think that this injury is not fixable, only manageable.
The correct posture means that your horse has to be in self carriage – with their back lifted up. That combination of YOU being in your version of self carriage with a beautiful riding seat and your horse being in HIS self carriage will strengthen his back with the joint in the right place, which will enable it to heal. There’s a few articles around my website here explaining that in more detail. Click here for one about “Does riding hurt my horses back?.
Now here’s the big deal. Self carriage – SELF carriage (not framed up by hands and legs and reins) is not common in the horse world and yet if we are going to ride our horse without damaging them, it’s critical.
Now here’s the good news. Self carriage is achievable even by beginner riders in a very simple way – by having their horse in their comfort zone, filled with feeling good, filled with feelings of mental, emotional and physical well being. That sounds simple and it is – but it takes commitment to THE WHOLE of the horse’s life, not just the riding. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s a clear pathway to both horse AND rider’s mental emotional and physical well being in our on line program Fast Track to Brilliant Riding. You can see more about that in my training programs here.
The reason people struggle with this injury to the point that most vets consider it incurable, is that the horse’s emotional state isn’t taken into consideration in the healing process. And if the emotional state isn’t taken into account, then the horse cannot be in true self carriage.
Picture the physics of this in your mind as I explain. In self carriage, all the joints are acting together kind of like a spring, every bone and muscle contributing to a body that is flowing in the way it was designed.
So… when there’s emotional stress, muscles tighten up. When there’s CHRONIC emotional stress (a state that sadly MOST horses are in to some level or other), muscles get damaged by that chronic tightening and subsequent lack of blood flow to the tissues. Then when the muscles are tightened, the way that the horse carries themselves is affected.
You’ll know this feeling yourself, when you’re stressed, those muscles across the top of your shoulders tighten up and you start to hunch over a little and then the rest of your body has to compensate for that.
Just like the horse, your posture will be out of whack and OTHER muscles and joints have to tense up to hold the body in this less than perfect place. If that stress and the subsequent muscle tension goes on for too long the jarring of your joints will eventually cause some kind of joint damage of your own – maybe sacro-iliac damage, maybe arthritis.
Now… when you read that phrase above “When there’s CHRONIC emotional stress (a state that MOST horses are in to some level or other” I bet it flicked across your mind “oh no not my horse, they know I love him or her and I would never hurt them.”
It doesn’t have to be anything you’ve done, it can be the emotional stress from something that happened in the past – the way they were first caught and haltered, their first saddling, being held down in side reins to “bit” them, the first rider not being empathetic enough to listen to their fear and confusion, maybe even bullying them – in my experience those stresses can come from some unusual places too, almost always caused by the human either not listening or not able to listen.
ALL of this is stress is changeable / releasable / fixable when you listen to your horse – REALLY LISTEN TO THEM – and when we work with them in the way that we work with them here.
And then the posture that promotes healing just corrects itself naturally.
THAT is the magic of it – remove the emotional stress, release the stuff from the past, re-learn a better way of doing it and pfft (that’s the sound of something happening really fast! ) 🙂 and pfft the posture that promotes healing just happens naturally.
That’s just one of the things that we do here with our kind of work and I’m GLAD that we have a pathway to fixing all these things like sacro-iliac damage and arthritis and a whole heap of other problems normally considered unfixable. There’s a links to a bunch of healing stories and more explanations of how we go about the lovely integration of healing and horsemanship and riding in the various programs that are on the Training Page here.