Articles  |  Dents and Dings

Dents and Dings

Are RedFlags not jsut blemishes!
Patricia Bona, D.C.

Unfortunately we often are more concerned about the dents and dings we see in a car we are driving or looking to buy than the dents and dings that are seen on a horse. Commonly these "surface defects" on a horse are thought of as “blemishes” and are completely ignored or not even seen.  I refer to these sites as RedFlags, as they should stick out like a sore thumb. These RedFlags are "historical" signs at the site of previous traumas related to deeper soft tissue restrictions often causing lingering compensations in posture and movement.

First and foremost the skin is the largest organ of the body, horse or human.  It is a sensory, eliminatory, temperature regulating, protective organ highly innervated to function for survival to performance.  The skin is the horse’s clothes. For comfort and function we want our clothes to fit well.  We need to be comfortable in our own skin.  Much like wearing a pair of leather gloves that are too tight, your nervous system subconsciously and consciously restricts your movement. The body goes to the path of least resistance, harm and pain, automatically, impart via neurologic feedback from skin, soft tissue and joints.

Dent and ding RedFlags are commonly seen on the front of the shoulders, the chest muscles as well as at the point the buttocks, as horses get kicked there or bang into objects like fences, stall doors, trailer posts.  Other areas are on top of the pelvis and spinal areas from other horse’s hooves, ouch!  The dent actually is retracted scar tissue most often from a deep bruise (hematoma). As the hematoma resolves and the swelling goes down we often forget about the injury and then a few months later we may never notice the dent or correlate it to the trauma.

NOW YOU KNOW these defects RedFlags are myofascial restrictions that need to be found and addressed. You as a horse owner/rider can do this yourself!  You can help improve the health and function of the skin and soft tissue to help improve health, posture, performance and longevity of your horse   Other RedFlags are white hairs, area of loss of hair, Scars from stitches, abrasions, saddle rubs, and bubbles (dents that the skin raised away from).  

((((Hollow creased spine is a tight restriction too quite often related to an injury on or close to the spine so gets up on a mounting block and investigate.  ))
((Prophets thumb)))

Observe the horse standing quietly and assess the horse’s skin on his body and across his muscles.  Is the horse looking tight and tense, or is the horse looking soft, smooth and relaxed?  Use a soft eye and soft hand, to stroke the horse’s topline starting at the pole all the way to the tail. Your horse's skin should move smoothly under your hand as when you stroke the skin on the back of your own hand.  I like to say the skin should give the fluid feel of pushing water off of a glass top table.   Do you feel restriction under the skin, is there any heat? Does the horse flinch or tense in certain areas?  How does your visual assessment correlate with your gentle palpation?

Do not underestimate any restriction, irregularity or ”blemish” you may feel or see. No RedFlag is too small.  An analogy of some of these restrictions likened to that bit of hair or two tugging in your pony tail on your scalp. These RedFlags may be touchy, sensitive, or outright reactive as the tension and inflammation lingers from the previous trauma and current compensations. Depending on the horse’s tolerance and your hand strength and dexterity you may use some implements to help and release these areas.  I use my fingers and my groomer.  Start by first loosening the adhesions between the skin and the muscle layer using a cross fiber massage. Cross fiber simply is massacring across/perpendicular to the grain/fiber of the muscle to break up the restrictions and help realign the tissue.   Massage firmer when possible to start and break up some of the deeper restrictions found in the muscles. Each session will have a cumulative effect to help the body to restore the tissue to a more normal alignment, function and health for overall improved posture.

As you release especially sensitive or happy sites give the horse a little time to integrate and for you to observe the horses overall presence and posture.  Good signs of integration and relaxation by the horse include, head lowering, a good head shake or body shake, deep breaths, licking and chewing, yawning, eye rolling, sighing, gut sounds and passing gas or defecating.  These are subconscious responses of the release of the fight or flight stress from the nervous system allowing relaxation and healing.

Work within your safety and comfort and the horse’s tolerance. Anticipate some of the above signs of relaxation at your first session of addressing these RedFlags.  Deep areas of atrophy, knurly, knotted, ropy stringy areas will be found, seek and erase the fascial restrictions away. The initial releases may have a profound affect so acknowledge the response with your horse as well.  And as the horse relaxes the skin relaxes and you will often find more RedFlags as you release the fascial restrictions that are more than skin deep.  "Be happy with the skin you are in"