Physiotherapy is known to be hugely beneficial to both humans and animals and we at Here4Horses are fortunate to have an excellent therapist to support us.
However, the field of equine therapy can be a bit of a minefield when trying to find the correct professional for the job.
For many horse keepers, finding the right therapist with the right qualification can be extremely challenging and often ends in following advice from a neighbouring livery or riding teacher.
Titles vary enormously; from Massage Therapists, Sports Therapists, Animal Therapists, Veterinary Physiotherapists, Chiropractors, Osteopaths and ‘The Backman’ – no wonder it is difficult to make the right choice.
It is important that before you engage the services of anyone to treat pain or injury, that you discuss plans with your Vet first. Unfortunately, horse keepers often fail to do this.
We also hear of instances where a Vet lacks concern for this process and people simply take matters into their own hands to book a therapist.
We at Here4Horses believe that both instances represent a potential risk to horse welfare, particularly if a serious underlying problem is not identified.
If you are unhappy with the level of attention your vet gives to your concerns, then discuss this with them. It is important that you trust the judgement of your vet and work with one that you feel has the interests of your horse at heart.
A good equine vet should have therapists they are happy to refer your horse to – and it is important to follow the professional advice you trust.
Massage alone can be very therapeutic for both horses and humans – and can be a valuable addition to a wellness regime for both of you, if finances allow.
However, when injury or pain are affecting performance and behaviour, it is very important to appoint a practitioner who has the further expertise, training and supporting qualifications required.
The terms ‘Veterinary Physiotherapist’ or ‘Animal Physiotherapist’ are unfortunately unprotected titles. This means that anyone can choose to use these titles with minimal, or even no training or qualification at all .
However, the terms ‘Physiotherapist’, and ‘Chartered Physiotherapist’ are protected by law and can only be used by those who have studied to a high academic level.
You can see from this baffling use of words, how easy it is for people to become very confused.
The word ‘Veterinary’ in particular, is quite understandably misunderstood as a high level of qualification for therapists, when in fact it may not be the case.
What to look out for in a Physiotherapist
There are various recognised qualifications which, are acceptable to both vets and insurance companies.
These include, the National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists (NAVP), International association of Animal Therapists (IAAT), and The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT).
The above recognised qualifications apply different training approaches and assessment criteria, however, the ultimate aim of any therapy should be to promote well-being, aid in rehabilitation, and improve performance.
Given that this is a hot topic for discussion and there is often widespread misunderstanding, we at Here4Horses thought it may be beneficial to ask two practising therapists how they came to follow completely different routes to quite similar, successful careers.
The ACPAT Physiotherapist.
A BSc (Hons) in Equine Science, enabled me to step onto a two-year MSc degree course, in Human Physiotherapy at Teesside University. After qualifying, I worked purely within human physiotherapy for three years, gaining invaluable experience and knowledge in many related fields including musculoskeletal, neurological, respiratory and biomechanics.
Having gained Chartered status as a Human Physiotherapist, I had the pre requisite qualification to become an Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT), veterinary physiotherapist, which was my ultimate goal.
This therefore led to a further two-year, Postgraduate Diploma in Veterinary Physiotherapy at Liverpool University.
To get to this point is both a lengthy and costly process, which understandably puts many students off but is one I feel is incredibly valuable. Students gain an in depth understanding of all aspects of anatomy, physiology and rehabilitation.
They also have time to develop a sharp eye, in order to detect movement abnormalities and the most appropriate means of managing the horse in future.
Qualifications are however, just the tip of the iceberg. Gaining respect from both colleagues, vets and clients wishing the best for their horse, takes time and dedication and is something which I strive to achieve each day.
Additionally, the learning process is endless and as research improves, I enjoy keeping up to date with the most effective means of rehabilitation.
As a professional member, I must also remain up to date with the latest research and techniques by undertaking continued professional development (CPD) each year.
What makes my job so worthwhile is knowing that I am providing the most appropriate and up to date rehabilitation programme possible, to aid the recovery and maintain the health of our equine friends.
Helen Frampton at work
Find an ACPAT physiotherapist in your area.
ACPAT physiotherapists can be easily located on the ACPAT website by searching in the “find a physio” section, and typing your location into the search engine.
The IAAT Therapist
My entry into the world of Animal Physiotherapy came via an alternative route.
As the owner of a busy, equine rehabilitation and training yard, I had not previously trained as a human physiotherapist and entering into full time education was going to be impossible for me.
I therefore opted for a Diploma in Animal Physiotherapy via the distance learning route.
This involved study and examination on a variety of modules including animal Anatomy and Physiology, Related Professions and Communication.
I was required to complete twenty, practical shadow days, three weeks in a Veterinary Practice and a comprehensive research project, before successfully qualifying.
I am required to undertake a minimum of 75 hours of Continued Professional Development in any three-year period, which are audited.
This is an essential requirement of membership of the International Association of Animal Therapists, which is my chosen governing body and I operate within the same legal requirements of Insurance and Veterinary referral as an ACPAT physiotherapist.
My equine experience is extensive – spanning over three decades.
I have watched, listened to and had my hands on literally hundreds of horses and I believe that this experience has proved invaluable. The mutual respect I now enjoy with the Veterinary Industry and clients old and new, has been earned over many years.
I founded Equine Physio UK on the back of this broad experience and expertise and am still teaching, learning, listening to and above all respecting our beloved horses.
Sarah Robinson, Equine Physio UK
In conclusion, the Physiotherapist, regardless of the qualification is essentially a movement expert.
Many years of experience are required to gain the ability to identify and successfully treat movement abnormalities. It is important to find a therapist who is able to work well with both you, the owner/handler and your horse.
The Physiotherapist specialises in biomechanics, gait, and movement dysfunction. They are trained to a high standard to be able to identify problems, understand why they might occur, and have treatment methods to bring about improvement.
Factors such as pain, muscle tension, muscle weakness, and joint dysfunction often occur as a result of biomechanical imbalances which can considerably affect a horses’ wellbeing and performance.
Horses are however, very well equipped to disguise painful conditions – it is part of their survival instinct. A talented and dedicated Physiotherapist should be able to identify any imbalances and use appropriate treatment techniques to bring about improvement.
All Physiotherapists, regardless of their qualification are required to gain veterinary consent prior to assessing and treating any horse. This allows for a close working relationship with your Veterinary Surgeon to determine the suitability of treatment.
For your horses’ sake, please always question whether this process has been followed.
Equine Physiotherapy Q & A