Posted: Tue Apr 20, 2004 8:23 pm Post subject: Hamstrings and Pooping in Buckets
I had a question about my comment:
I read recently that a horse backing up to (and pooping in) buckets hanging off the wall, could be a symptom of a problem in the hamstring (the muscle on either side of the tail); backing up to something hanging off the wall apparently presses right against it and helps to relieve the spasms/tension.
Reader asks for more information on hamstrings, and if a horse rubbing (and groaning happily) against a wall might she showing signs of a hamstring problem.
Hey! I perfectly understand wanting to wrap your horse in cotton wool They can be so fragile...and they can have hidden issues which suddenly pop up. It's nice when we can spot warning signs from a long distance off. I don't think your horse's bahavior is a warning sign, though.
The hamstring is actually a set of three muscles; they are all running from the spine, down on either side of the tail, to a little above the hock. Horses (and riders, too) use the hamstring quite a lot. As a muscle develops, it gets stronger and stronger; it will also get tighter and tighter, unless effort is made to keep it flexible. In horses (and in riders too) sometimes the hamstring gets so strong, or is overused, that the tightness becomes uncomfortable.
This isn't a problem just in the hamstring; it can happen anywhere on a horse's body. When people get really tight and uncomfortable, typically we can figure out something to relieve the pain (pressing on a cramp, stretching a tight muscle). There we have an advantage over the horses, who can't even express discomfort...
If you look at he area to the left/right of the tail, the muscles slope out and down to a point, after which they slope in and down. That point is a boney area; the tip of the pelvis (the ischium), also called the point of the buttock (there is also a point of the hip, point of the shoulder, etc where the tip of the bone comes close to the surface).
The specific action that I was talking about in my post is when a horse backs up to a bucket, pressing his hamstring (buttock) against the bucket right below the point of the buttock. This acts as a relief to a spasm in the hamstring, much as we'd press a hand up against a "stitch" on our side, for example. The horse can lean that way until the muscle relaxes a little, at which point he's likely to poop.
So...long post to say...it sounds like your horse is just scratching himself It's pretty common for horses to be itchy there. I think it's rather like (for people) leaning up against a doorframe and scratching your back. If it gets excessive, it's probably worth checking to see if he has pinworms or if his sheath needs cleaning--but that would be if he were really rubbing hair off his tail.
If he were just pressing and leaning, like the pressure itself were relieving a painful muscle, that might indicate a hamstring problem. Rubbing just sounds like a perfectly normal itch
If you are concerned about tightness in the hamstring, you can help your horse in a number of ways:
1) equine sports massage therapist could evaluate your horse's whole body, tell you where he's tight and where he's under-developed. An ESMT can also help relieve that tightness and work on getting the muscles in terrific shape.
2) you can try to manually stretch the hamstring yourself, which is actually quite a difficult stretch. It takes trust and relaxation from the horse, and strength! You take the hind leg by the bulb of the heel, and try to straighten it at the same time as you draw the leg forward toward the fetlock of the foreleg. I suppose that it goes without saying that this also puts you in a vulnerable position; you must also have a trustworthy horse.
This will stretch not just his hamstring, but also his big gluteal muscles at the top of the rump. It is VERY important to make sure that you are working with a warm muscle when you stretch. A little bit of lunging or riding can warm up a muscle, or stretches could even be done after riding.
3) A lot of horses have undeveloped quads; the hamstring acts in opposition to the quads. If the hamstring is tight and the quads are not, then the muscles are pulling on the joints unevenly. This can be rather painful (such muscle imbalances can lead to a lot of different joint problems, in people as well as horses--in people, notably spine problems). A lot of stifle problems can probably be traced to just this uneven development, because...
The quads are the muscles right at the stifle. They are responsible for lift and extension of the hind leg; dressage horses are probably the most likely of all disciplines to have well developed quads. However, if the muscle around the stifle area (right where the hind leg joins up with the body, at the front of the leg) is loose and floppy with little muscle tone, it could use some development.
Cavaletti work and backing up (in moderation) can both develop the quads.
Incidentally, the hamstring and the quads are also usually unevenly developed in riders; the hamstring brings the leg in toward the horse and moves the leg for seat aids; the quads bring the leg up and out, so are almost totally unused in riding. Keeping your own hamstring stretched/flexible can at least help a little--uneven pressure between the quads and hamstring can cause knee problems (the stifle, incidentally, is the equine "knee").
Most muscle problems are subtle; you don't know they're there until they become an extreme problem. If it never becomes an excessive problem, you will never know. That doesn't mean that the horse is comfortable.
A horse can't say, "Hey, I'm suffering from intermittent tightness and some numbness down from my shoulder to my elbow"--but he can certainly pinch the nerve in his shoulder if the muscles across his shoulderblade are overly tight (which will cause just that feeling).
It's not like such a minor symptom would make him noticeably lame or off. It might make him annoyed, but how likely are you to connect annoyance with discomfort? Most riders don't.
A horse can't say, "Hey, when I clench my jaw on the bit, I get severe tension headaches." How would you know if your horse had a headache? He might be irritable...if your horse has a tendency to irritability, what would you see different? If your horse has a tendency to irritiability, how do you know that he DOESN'T suffer from chronic headaches?
There are some things which are easy to see. For example, if your horse has extremely tight muscles (very hard) to the left and right of his forelock, then he very likely does clench his jaw--just like many people do. If he's got visible veins behind his eyes, then he probably clenches his jaw.
How would you know? He can't tell you and it doesn't make him lame or sick, which is all most riders look for.
Muscle tension is not something which is obvious from the outside, unless it is severe enough to make a horse lame. Things that make people very uncomfortable, like muscle knots and spasms, are not enough to make a horse lame, just unhappy.
So it's rather important to keep an eye on things like pooping in water buckets, which can be an indicator of a low-lying problem in the hamstring. It may not be an issue causing immediate problems, but it might well be worth investigating to see if there is something there.
Sorry I jumped on you then I'm just still overwhelmed by how much I am finding, on so many horses, that isn't visible and doesn't cause anything noticeable. It's astounding me. How do you know? If you're not looking...
Hopefully now I have asked the site to remember me I'll not keep coming in as guest
I guess so long as the horse is healthy we assume that there is nothing wrong. Rhi usually lets me know if soething is wrong and can be ery persistent i.e. When she hurt her foot I was looking at the wrong one (even though I had checked them all as I am still learning to recognise the signs of which foot and leg if there is nothing visible) and she kept giving me her inside fore. One of the more experienced girls on the yard yard then pointed out that it was the inside fore she was having problems with and was in fits of laughter as Rhi had kept lifting it up and I was telling her to put her foot down.
With her back she did not feel right although showed no signs of discomfort until I got on her back. Again nothing pacfic was showing but I had the feeling she was dipping slightly. When someone else got on her to check it out I could then see that she was certainly unhappy.
You sound like me though if there is anything I have not heard of and it goes wrong with my horse or a close horse then I start to research it. Although I do not class myself as more knowledgable than our riding instructor I find that some people come to me and ask for my advice