Laird Burke helps equine athletes with  Equine Kinesiology.

Just like their human counterparts, the equine athletes succumb to muscular injuries.  Most of the competitions and shows have strict rules about drugs and their use is prohibited in most associations. What can be done for the sore muscles and stresses in order for the equine athlete to perform without using drugs to alleviate the pain?  Chiropractic techniques are non-invasive and drug free.  They can be just as effective in restoring the horse or mule to peak performance.  Horse owners are in need of someone to help in this alternative health treatment.  Who are they calling?

Laird Burke , a Kinesiology practitioner, spends his days helping equine athletes regain their strength through chiropractic techniques.   You can find him at the Quarter Horse Congress, The National Reigning Horse Futurity in Oklahoma City, the Quarter Horse World Show, the National Cutting Horse Futurity and many more events where competitions demand that the horses be in the best shape for their performances.  Laird is there to give a helping laser and a knowledgeable adjustment.  He's there to relax the stressed equine competitor and adjust vertebrae to alleviate the symptoms of stress and soreness that interfere with performance.

Just recently, Laird has added to his client list a few mules and one donkey in the North Texas area.  Laird observes that while mules seem to have basically the same muscle structure as horses, their muscles seem to be flatter.  Laird feels mules should be better off then horses and not be as susceptible to injury, but he does not feel they would be immune to it.  He noticed they tend to be more uniform and stronger overall.  Being a little longer backed may or may not make them subject to more back problems.  Regardless of their conformation, however, the more mules are being required to perform the same as horses, they will begin to succumb to the same athletic injuries that plague the horses.

What is Chiropractic & Kinesiology?
The theory behind these disciplines is that the nervous system can be impaired by the misalignment or "subluxation" of the vertebrae bones.  Subluxation results in the animal being less flexible and less able to perform.  Misalignment or "getting stuck" results in the misdirected information being sent by the spinal column.  This "central computer" brain and nervous system, as Laird calls it, affects the rest of the body.  Housed in the spinal column, the nervous system sends information through its network to the rest of the body.  Messages leave the vertebrae by way of the nerves that branch off from the column to all the muscles and organs of the body.

Misdirected information from the central nervous system resulting from misalignment creates havoc in the athlete.  Even the slightest misinformation sent from the central nervous system to the organs, muscles, tissues can result in interference with movement, healing and pain alleviation.  Muscles wind up in a spasm and the equine begins to compensate for the pain by engaging in avoidance of the painful movements that cause the discomfort.  Consequently, an animal with a sternum problem may begin to work very heavy on the front end.  The animal with a shoulder problem may begin dropping that shoulder to the inside of the circle at a lope.  In some instances, an animal may completely refuse to engage in certain tasks because it is too painful.

Muscle Spasms
Muscle Spasms result from strain.  The body tries to protect the injured muscle by "splinting" it with muscles, tendons and ligaments.  A knot forms around the muscle as the body responds to the pain.  The muscle function is impaired and the body demands a rest for its injured part.  The mule's body is only acting as ours would to protect itself.  Lactic acid builds up and the spasm results in soreness and pain. This soreness and pain is designed to limit movement so that healing will occur.  All this spasmodic reaction to an injury greatly limits the range of motion.  As the rider continues to ask the mule to engage in the motion, the more the mule's body reacts in pain and the more it tells the mule to rest that part until it is healed.  The mule begins to show symptoms of avoidance of movement because it is too painful.

Laird's treatment involves finding the spasm.  Dissipating it with direct pressure and establishing the necessary conditions for the body to respond and speed up healing.  Once the spasm is dissipated, the body can be encouraged to heal itself again.  Regeneration of the muscle occurs.  Laird uses a small laser to encourage regeneration and healing.  The laser is a non-invasive technique applied to acupuncture points.  The laser applied at these points stimulates the body's own production of endorphins (the body's form of morphine for pain) and cortisol (the body's form of cortisone for inflammation).  It also stimulates the nerves to encourage more rapid healing.  The intent of the treatment is to give the body every opportunity to quickly heal itself to restore the mule to his former athletic level before the injury without the use of invasive techniques and drugs.

Laird points out that nutrition is very important to muscular health.  The muscles cannot be expected to repair themselves if the animal is not maintained properly with adequate nutrition for his performance expectations.  Muscle spasms have restricted the oxygen carrying blood flow to the muscle resulting in muscle "starving" to occur.  This restricted blood supply results in restricted nutrition to the muscle.  So, proper nutrition enables the blood supply to carry healing nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and speed healing.

What Causes Subluxation?
What causes subluxation?  There can be many factors that make the equation.  Conformation is one of the factors to look at.  The animal's age, improper conditioning for the level of performance, trauma by way of slips, falls, kicks, poor shoeing techniques, trailering for lengthy periods without rest.  In addition, as Laird points out, certain disciplines seem to encourage certain chiropractic problems.

For example, Pleasure horses seem to have more neck and back problems.  Perhaps the way of going so popular in the show ring and rewarded so much is actually hurting the animal.  Reining horses have more hip and shoulder problems.  What do reiners ask the horse to move constantly?  The hips and shoulders!  Hunter Jumpers suffer from should and lumbar problems.  Perhaps the trauma of landing and having a rider land heavily on their backs create a weakness for them.  Laird seems to be treating the same conditions repeatedly in certain disciplines.

Should You Call a Practitioner?
How can you tell if you may need to have a chiropractic done on your mule?  There are a number of ways.  First, subluxation reveal themselves in altered posture, unusual gaits, shortened strides, evidence of pain, reluctance or refusal to perform, poor balance, ear pinning, lameness, tail swishing.  The most common symptom is pain.  Pain may cause the mule to do something unusual to compensate for the pain.  Sometimes, if  your veterinarian is opened to the idea of Chiropractic, he or she will recommend this kind of care.  Sometimes a vet cannot find out what's wrong.  Rest is recommended.  The rest, as Laird tells us, works.  But, as soon as the animal gets to the same level of fitness at which the problems occurred before, they reoccur.  This is an indication that there may be a problem with the central nervous system and messages it's able to send to the body.

Knowing your mule and being alert can help you greatly in determining if there is a problem.  Too often mules are suspected of being "stubborn" and "difficult".  When, in fact, they may actually be in pain and unable to perform the task.  Possessing that mule "self-preservation" outlook on life, he just refuses to engage in painful and debilitating maneuvers.  The mule, certainly more than the horse, will begin to invent evasions to what you are asking him to do to avoid the pain.  Tempers rise!   And sometimes the response to a mule is that we will make him do it!  If he's not capable of doing something you ask because of pain, all the forcing and coercing will not accomplish anything.  It will only result in a battle that you will not win.  At least, you will not win it without compromising your mule's health and soundness.

Performance related symptoms are the keys to chiropractic problems.  Does the mule drop his shoulder into the circle?  Does he become stiff and resistant to the lope on the left lead?  Has he become heavy on the front end?  Is he no longer giving at the poll?  Does he wear his shoes or feet unevenly?  Has he been irritable, cranky or lethargic lately?  Has there been a bout with lameness?  Has he suffered an accident recently?  If you answer yes to these questions, chances are the limited range of motion the mule is exhibiting is due to a chiropractic problem.  Some misalignment has occurred that has resulted from any number of causes.

If you are aware of your mule experiencing any predisposing situations, suspect a chiropractic dilemma.  Before you go to a harsher bit, a tighter martingale, a smaller circle, or a good spurring session, try to remember an event that could have led to an injury.  Realize that avoidance of pain may be the only infraction your mule is guilty of.  If you persist in demanding a certain level of performance from the mule that he is incapable of giving, the lessons you will be teaching  will be those of avoidance rather than cooperation.  If forced to learn avoidance and evasion due to pain, the mule will learn to continue this behavior whenever he feels he cannot comply with the rider's requests.  At least, consider having the mule examined for a chiropractic problem.

The Examination
Laird begins an examination at the head and neck, "the central brain computer", and moves backward down the spinal column to the hip.  He looks for heat or pain along the back which indicates a vertebrae may be out of place., In some instances he can actually see the vertebrae out of alignment as they appear higher than the others along the mule's back. He also observes the mule from the rear looking for asymmetry in standing posture.  For example, is one hip lower than the other? Laird palpates the acupuncture alarm points to determine parts of the head, neck, shoulders, sacroiliac, pelvis and legs for weakness caused by muscle spasm and pain.  This signals the problem areas to worked on.  This evaluation leads Laird to the determination of what bones and muscles need to be worked on to restore the proper movements.  He then begins to get the mule "unstuck" and help re-establish the proper alignment needed for performance.

Adjustment is an art that requires skill and competence.  The affected parts are re-aligned so that the nervous system can begin to heal itself.  The neck, shoulders, hips or back of the mule may need work.  A short rapid thrust is applied to the subluxation to return it to the normal alignment.  If you have visited a chiropractor yourself, you are familiar with this feeling of relief and generally you can see it in your mule's eyes as things begin to fit back into place.

Recovery takes time as we are allowing the body to heal itself after the adjustment allows the proper functioning of the nervous system to stimulate healing.  Generally, recovery is quick, but there are some factors which may affect the recovery time.  Speedy recovery depends on a number of things.  If the problem has persisted for  any length of time, the recovery may take longer because, not only has the pain been present for awhile, but also the compensation behaviors developed by the mule to cope with the pain have also been present.  It may take awhile for him to realize that he does not have to drop a shoulder to avoid the pain that has been there for some time. Once he realizes things are working again, he will gradually quit engaging in avoidance behavior.  But that realization may take a transition period. 

Of course, older animals heal slower than the younger ones.  The extent of the damage done to tissues may be extensive and require more time to regenerate.  And, in some injuries, the recovery may not only be slow, but minimal, depending on just how and what has been damaged. 
And, of course, the speedy recovery depends on the kind of nursing the mule receives.  The owner is crucial in this part of the treatment.  The mule will not recover and mend if he is not given the time and the nursing required to do so.

Laird recommends a couple of days rest after he works on the mule before returning the mule to work under saddle.  But after that, he can be brought back slowly to his previous level of performance.  Sometimes one treatment will be sufficient, but Laird has found that most of his clients benefit from a regular treatment plan that can be preventative in nature.  It's kind of a "tune up".  The schedule of adjustments will vary with each animal and each injury.  Most animals are seen more often at first.  But the, most need to be seen with increasing intervals between visits.  Eventually, it is hoped, that the adjustments maintain themselves with only maintenance visits.
Of course, young mules in training may benefit most, since the demands on their performance is rigorous and they aren't seasoned athletes and may not use their bodies correctly causing more stress.  And, as mention before, Laird had found that certain disciplines result in the same recurring chiropractic problems. And the same bad riding habits will result in the same injuries to the  mule's back.

Laird cautions that chiropractic is not a substitute for traditional care.  It is meant to augment and compliment the work  of the veterinarian. It is part of a holistic approach to maintaining the health of the mule. The chiropractor, the veterinarian, the farrier, the trainer, the owner - are all involved in the mule's health.  All work together to provide the best possible prevention and car for the mule.  If problems are found that require surgical or medical attention or farrier work, then the mule should also be under treatment from these professionals.

If you are interested in finding out more about chiropractic,
contact your veterinarian.