California Riding Magazine • June, 2011

Aligning The Facts
Equine Chiropractic Care:
Myths and Misconceptions.

by Terri Van Wambeke, DVM, CVA, CVSMT

Chiropractic care has widely become accepted in human care, but that acceptance took time and convincing of even the best medical professionals. Veterinary medicine, too, has come a long way in acceptance of chiropractic care. However, we encounter a number of myths and misconceptions in our daily chiropractic care of horses, even from veterinarians and other equine health professionals, about what chiropractic is and who can perform chiropractic treatments.
Contrary to popular belief, chiropractic care is not moving bones. Instead it refers to the moving of joints, particularly of the spinal column, within the normal range of motion. The noises elicited during a spinal manipulation are merely joints emitting gas, like when your knuckles crack.

The science of chiropractic is based on the interconnectedness of the spinal column, bones and joints to the nervous system. All joints contain special nerves that communicate information about balance and movement to the brain. Improper spinal joint movement alters this communication. Subtle changes in joint alignment also cause pain and inflammation, which is of particular importance because the numerous nerves surrounding the joints are in constant communication with the brain, central nervous system and even organs. This explains why joints that are not moving properly can have both local effects such as pain, stiffness and swelling; and distal effects such as referred pain or even organ and immune system changes.

With that information in mind, one can see that using brute force to manipulate a spinal column is not in the best interest of the horse and is not the proper protocol for adjusting an equine. But we do commonly hear the misconception that adjusting a horse's spine takes immense strength. In reality, chiropractors perform a manual adjustment using a short lever, high velocity, controlled thrust to help the body recognize what the normal range of motion is. A correct, effective chiropractic adjustment requires sensitivity and accurate and controlled quick motion. It is through these motions that chiropractors influence the nervous system, blood and lymphatic flow, even altering hormone and neurotransmitter levels, affecting the body as a whole. Chiropractic evolved as a way to maintain health by helping the body help itself. A good analogy is that chiropractic care is like keeping telephone lines in good repair at all times, not just attending to them after a storm has blown them down.

Another misconception we hear frequently is that animals need to be lying down for chiropractic adjustment to be effective. The equines we regularly work on are quadrupeds (four-legged) not bipeds (two-legged) like humans. The biomechanics and center of gravity are completely different between the two species and a true comparison is not even feasible; bipeds also can't carry a rider on their spinal column, let alone navigate a demanding jump course or cut cattle with precision. Chiropractic adjustment is very effective, proven and always done on a standing equine.

One of the biggest, and most important, misconceptions about equine chiropractic care refers to who can actually practice as a "Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapist." First and foremost, they must be a licensed veterinarian (DVM) or Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) to be eligible to attend one of the three grueling veterinary chiropractic programs that lead to certification. Certification is provided by IVCA, International Veterinary Chiropractic Association; or AVCA, American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, through written and practical examinations and yearly continuing education is required to maintain certification. Schools that offer training are Options for Animals, The Healing Oasis and Parker College of Chiropractic.

Your certified equine chiropractor has spent much time in long, labor-intensive, thorough and expensive chiropractic courses. For a veterinarian, this is on top of a four-year undergraduate degree, a four-year veterinary program and both state and national licensing. Becoming a certified animal chiropractor requires significant time and dedication. The consumer must be aware that there are many people out there claiming to perform chiropractic, or to be chiropractors, who are not properly trained, licensed and insured. These people may be doing harm to your animal inadvertently. True equine chiropractic isn't quackery or magic, it is a system of health management based on years of science and training.

Author Terri Terri Van Wambeke, DVM, CVA, CVSMT owns and practices out of TJ Holistic in Galt. For more information, visit