As I read through the pages of this post, the wisdom of the proverb ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ came to mind. The basic premise upon which this post is written is that many unsoundness issues of horses have an insidious onset involving a developmental stage when signs indicative of an impending problem can be recognised if the observer knows what to look for. Therefore, early recognition and appropriate therapy may avoid progression to an overt lameness or performance issue. The reader learns how to detect and interpret subtle, and not so subtle, changes in the horse’s posture and demeanor that may be a forewarning of a developing problem. An attractive feature of this book is that it’s punctuated throughout by interesting examples to illustrate the relevance of the factual information.
As prey animals, horses are adept at hiding the signs of pain from their predators but, if you learn what to look for, it is possible to detect many problems that lie in the grey area between soundness and lameness. The authors draw our attention to the importance of static (standing) and dynamic (locomotor) posture as valuable indicators of musculoskeletal pain or dysfunction that have, perhaps, not received sufficient emphasis in the past. Early identification of postural problems allows early treatment which can often prevent the progression of a minor injury into a full blown lameness problem.
Having been a teacher of veterinary anatomy for many years, I appreciated the functional anatomical approach; knowledge of muscle structure and function is the cornerstone upon which to build an understanding of equine movement and athletic performance. The text is enhanced by clear and beautifully drawn illustrations that are the work of the second author, veterinary surgeon Alexa McKenna. It is particularly informative to see the muscles displayed individually which facilitates the reader’s appreciation of each muscle’s attachments and actions. In addition, an ample number of good photographs illustrate various aspects of equine performance and performance evaluation techniques, including thermal images, pressure mapping and motion analysis.
Topical areas in research and practice, such as saddle fitting and hoof care, each occupy a full chapter and rightly so since these are two of the most important aspects of management to be addressed in caring for an athletic horse. As in other sections of the book, the reader is guided through the relevant anatomy and the chain of events that is set in motion by back pain or foot pain. It then becomes obvious why signs of dysfunction are often manifest in a different part of the body than the initiating cause.
Preventive and rehabilitative care are addressed by the use of passive and dynamic stretches and proprioceptive awareness techniques. The latter are used extensively in human physiotherapy, especially during athletic training and performance, and there is growing enthusiasm for their use in horses. The potential value of equine proprioceptive techniques lies in improving the horse’s awareness of body position and movements and in enhancing muscular activation and coordination, which are highly relevant both to athletic performance and to rehabilitation.
Congratulations to the authors for compiling a book that is both interesting to read and relevant to current training practices. The information herein will be useful for analysing, interpreting and improving the performance of our equine athletes.