Illnesses 13 of 25

Keep Those Ribs Moving Freely

In my practice I continually see all kinds of horses hindered by problems in their ribcage so this month I’m talking about the importance of keeping a horse’s ribs moving freely.

The horse’s ribcage is as important as any other part of the body. It protects the heart and lungs and supports the motion of respiration. The ribcage must be both structurally sound and mobile, which is a difficult task to accomplish. The structural part of the thorax contains 180 joints, which allows it to protect and maintain mobility, and each of these joints goes through 20,000 respirations every day.

In addition to aiding respiration, the ribs also have muscles attached at the outer edges, which cause the ribcage to bend and move the body forward over the front legs during each stride. The diaphragm attaches to the inside of the ribcage.

Considering these important functions, a fixated or stuck rib can cause major problems for the horse, including sensitivity to the girth, inability to bend, and exercise intolerance. Rib problems can occur from:

Trauma – falls, kicks from other horses, or rolling over stones in the pasture

Surgery – scars which affect the fascia of the thorax and abdomen will affect the mobility of the diaphragm and the ribs to which it is attached

Gynecological – pregnancy or scars from gelding incisions can cause a pull on the fascia connected to the inside of the ribs

Visceral problems – any organ inflammation such as a stomach ulcer can affect the ribcage through the change in normal shape and mobility that affects connective tissues around the organ. These connective tissues are part of the fascia that suspends all the internal organs within the thorax and abdomen

Infections – every infection will to some extent cause adhesions and scar tissue which will cause restricted motion of the ribcage

Unfortunately, once a rib or section of ribs is fixated the horse cannot correct the problem on his own. Fortunately horses can cope with ribcage pathology because they have a large number of joints, which allows for adaptation. However, osteopathic or chiropractic adjustment is needed to correct rib pathology for your horse to be able to perform at his best.

Finally, when riding your horse it is important for you to sit to the outside during your turns. This allows the ribs on the inside of the turn to come up under your inside seat bone without restriction. This freedom of movement will allow your horse to perform more easily, plus he’ll really appreciate it!

About the Author

Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy.

Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.

She has authored several books and publishes at her blog.

Madalyn Ward DVM