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Physio Tom - A Horse's Best Friend

Mar 22, 2016

Training racehorses at the elite level requires a whole team of equine professionals these days – with a common goal to have your animal feeling happy, healthy, fit and as sound as possible so they can perform at their best.

One of Snowden Racing’s weekly visitors is Equine Performance Physio’s Tom Simpson. After finishing a degree and working in human physiotherapy, Simpson – otherwise known as‘Physio Tom’,completed his masters in 2005 with the aim of treating thoroughbreds where he’s since grown the business exponentially treating equine patients of all shapes and sizes for many of the Australia’s leading stables.

Working closely with respective vets, equine physiotherapy is a scientific, evidence-based approach which has become a celebrated practice of natural treatment in horseracing and equestrian performance sports worldwide – particularly in the USA and UK.

For a racehorse this involves pre-race checks, post-race assessment and treatments for recovery on a weekly basis which involve soft tissue manipulation, manual therapy, stretching, and strengthening exercises, plus a range of modalities including dry needling and acupuncture, ultra sound and electrical nerve stimulation – all of which professional human athletes require on a regular basis too.

Yes, some of this may sound intimidating but horses absolutely love it (tell tail signs include poking their tongue out, licking, and yawning) because all of these treatments offer a natural form of pain relief and remedy, as explained by Simpson.

“Treating a stable of horses is no different to treating a sports team; all athletes will reach a certain stage of their career when they’ll require extra manipulation, treatment and therapy.

“Things like muscle imbalance, joint restrictions, muscle spasm and tightness can be found – especially in the hamstrings, the wither area and the back, so physiotherapy can make a positive impact to the welfare and long term career of a horse.

Aside from physical stretching, icing, massage and electrical nerve stimulation, dry needling is another powerful form of treatment which involves inserting extremely thin needles (the same ones used for human acupuncture) into specific points, known as trigger points.

“Dry needling is super effective and often achieves quite remarkable results when used to treat sore and painful muscles, allowing normal function to return.

“The signs of pain release and enjoyment are obvious with horses because either the lip contracts, they start licking, poking their tongue out and some will even yawn.

“While the general principal of using needles may be the same as acupuncture, dry needling is different in that it’s based on Western neuro-anatomical and physiological principles and focuses on treating the immediate site of pain or muscle dysfunction, rather than 'channels' as acupuncture will do.”

Simpson will also regularly educate stable staff and trainers on different forms of stretches, exercises and how to use ice versus when to use heat, should the horse require it and will monitor the race performance of each horse he treats.

"I believe that physiotherapy is a small cog in a large wheel of understanding more about the horse's range of motion, its capabilities to race and the treatments a horse may require to increase overall performance.

“I love my work because it’s all about taking preventative measures and seeing horses benefit, so when a trainer like Peter calls to say how much of a difference the treatment has made to one of their horses, well, it’s the ultimate compliment."

Words: Sarah Peatling Image courtesy: NeedForSteed

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