Melody wasn’t feeling well.  She ached, her bones felt wrong, her muscles didn’t feel right.  When she walked, it didn’t feel right and when she ran, that felt even worse. There was a lot that didn’t feel right and a lot of Melody to feel bad.

Melody is a 12 year old horse.  A bright chestnut Tennessee Walker with a sweetness about her that includes everyone around her.  Even her stable mate, the not-so-sweet tempered and jealous bay, Cupcake.

So, discovering that Melody didn’t like to be mounted and occasionally bucked, and not being able to figure out what was wrong, Melody’s owner Becky called in Ruth Mitchell.  Ruth is not a vet, she is a Physical Therapist and Massage Therapist for two-legged types and Equine Sports Massage Therapist for the horsey crowd who, some years ago, decided that she could do for horses what she did for people.  Even with twenty nine years of experience behind her, it took time, some serious study of horse anatomy, her love of animals and particularly horses, to get her to the place she is now – which is top of the horsey list of horse fixers.

With her training, Ruth has managed to transport her art across the species to work out the kinks, ease old bones, hydrate torn muscles and other connective tissues and loosen a tight one to give the animal she’s working with better mobility.

It was a hot July day when Ruth arrived at the Farm in Novelty, Virginia.  After a short getting-to-know-you chat with Melody, she asked the owner to take the reins and lead the horse through a series of maneuvers to demonstrate posture, symmetry and asymmetry. “Square her up.”  Was the first request.  This involved getting the horse standing evenly and squarely on all four hooves.  Melody had difficulty with that and the physical therapist, cued by the stance, began to look at the right hind leg.  The chatter between owner and therapist was full of words and phrases that meant little to a layperson but included such things as “Walk her for me…” and then “She’s turning in on herself…” and “…some skittering in the hind legs”.

An extensive and thorough examination that took nearly two hours followed and included eye, nostril and ear checks, palpating of muscles and abdomen as well as putting the horse through a lunging exercise (having her canter in a circle to observe the gait.)

At the end of it, Mitchell was able to give her assessment of the problem.  “Sometimes,” she said “the fascial tissue will lock down with scar tissue and the trick is to rehydrate the affected area and manipulate it to get it working again.” This means that muscles can tighten up due to an old injury which makes the muscle painful to work, and when it scars over, that tissue has to be treated to encourage it to begin functioning properly again.  Like people, a horse will compensate for an injury by using other parts of its body, eventually changing the muscular alignment and causing chronic pain.

The treatment Ruth Mitchell used is called Myofascial Release. It involves gentle stretching, compression and direct pressure on the affected muscle that transmits a request to the brain to “send fluids”.  It involves the circulation, lymph glands and nerves.

Melody loved it.  Her head drooped and she closed her eyes in total relaxation under Ruth’s ministering touch.  Cupcake leaned across her stall and pawed the ground, demanding the same attention.

After a while, Mitchell said that she could feel the muscle and connective tissue hydrating under her hands.

At the end of the session, the therapist said that four or five treatments should bring Melody back on form.  The degree of improvement will depend on the severity of the injury and the age of the animal.  But, following several therapeutic sessions with Ruth, Melody is greatly improved and almost ready to play.  Her favorite game?  Chasing deer through the woods.

On top of individual appointments like Melody’s, Ruth treats horses at a saddlebred barn where a lot of neck and back injuries occur.  She also treats the horses at Chatham Hall Girls School.  “Very often,” she says, “the therapy will include the rider.  If we see that the horse is not responding well to the therapy, we will take a look at the way the horse is riden and if necessary, correct any physical imbalance in the rider that may be causing the horse’s alignment to be off center. Treating both of them proves to be very effective and makes them both more comfortable.”

For appointments, Mitchell can be reached at 540-721-4545.

(Reprinted courtesy of Bedford Bulletin.)

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