Equine Osteopathy or Physiotherapy?

There is such a wide variety of equine therapists that it can be difficult knowing who to choose. Listen here to me on Radio Winchcombe with local Veterinary Physio to see the similarities and differences between Physiotherapy and Osteopathy for horses.

What's the Difference?

Osteopaths use their hands to work on the muscles (soft tissue massage) and joints (mobilisation and manipulation) to reduce tissue tension, joint stiffness and increase blood flow. They aim to look at the horse as a whole and identify the cause of the dysfunction rather than just treating the site of pain. Typically, Physios will use electrotherapy on muscles and tendons to stimulate healing and increase recovery as well as massage. The site of pain is usually the focus and there is greater work with rehabilitation post injury or surgery. These are generalisations and are not restrictive. Many osteopaths will work in rehab and many physios will treat the whole horse, its just about finding the right one for you. Equine Kinesiology tape is a new treatment modality which improves muscle function and support with elastic tape. This can be done by an osteopath or physio, depending on whether they have done the course or not. 

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which professional you choose, so long as you find one who you like and works well for you and your horse. My qualifications include a full time 4 year undergraduate masters in Osteopathy (Distinction, Oxford Brookes University), a year Post Graduate Diploma in Animal Osteopathy from the Osteopathic Centre for Animals and I am currently studying a 3 year Masters in Strength and Conditioning from the prestigious St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Osteopath is a protected title and all members must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (my Reg. Number is 8951). To be an equine osteopath you must first be a human osteopath. This requires specific insurance and 30 hours of Continued Professional Development per year. Veterinary Physiotherapy is not a protected title and so may be adopted by any member of the public. There are, however, regulatory bodies which most are associated with. A Chartered Physiotherapist has undergone a three year degree in human physio before undertaking a masters in animal or equine physiotherapy and are part of a registered body.

The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1996 Section 19 states that veterinary permission must be given to treat an animal. This is a requirement; if you have not been asked to do this before, your horse may have been at risk and the practitioner was not acting in accordance with this Act. It would be unwise to trust an equine practitioner who did not ask for veterinary consent.

So, whether its McTimoney, Sports Massage, Physio, Osteo or Bowen, find a person who you like, trust and is respectful towards the horse. However, be aware that the term "back person" is very limited and covers a wide range of people and qualifications. I would recommend putting yourself and your horse in safe hands by always asking your therapists qualifications and insurance.