How Do You Keep Your Horse at Optimum?

You’ve done the training for the competition or you’ve planned the awesome trail riding vacation or maybe you’re just looking forward to that time with your beloved horse in the saddle…. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world when everything falls into place and you and your horse are floating as if one entity. It’s magical.

When something goes awry and your horse is hurting or stressed or off…. It can throw all of that planning and preparation out the window. Not to mention how much it sucks to see you friend in pain. And suddenly nothing else matters so much, you just want it to be better. I get that. I’ve been there, who hasn’t?

So what do you do to keep your horse feeling, performing and being his/her best?

There any number of routes and none of them are mutually exclusive. From a highly specific nutrient rich diet, to forms of workouts to various types of bodywork, it all has an impact. Just like it does for us humans.

Enter, Mary Traverse, Graduate of Parker Chiropractic College, Certified in the Practice of Animal Chiropractic by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. She’s worked with dogs and horses in particular with great success.

I came to know her through her work as a Doctor of Chiropractic. She helped me with a chronic hip issue I’d been struggling with. I’d already tried a bunch of other stuff and it kept coming back. My husband recommended her, and her technique, Network Spinal Analysis.

The technique is subtle and so soft that I wondered at my first treatment how it could be doing anything at all. The moment I stood up from her table my hip was different and felt better than it had in months. “Ok,” I thought. “If this is the placebo effect I don’t really even care.”

It worked.

One of the elements that convinced me to give it a go in the first place was hearing stories of how Mary, in a role outside of her Chiropractic practice, has helped dogs who were paralyzed walk again. She’s gotten real tangible visible results for clients who don’t know a thing about any placebo effect.

She was kind enough to sit down with me and discuss her work with non-humans. Specifically, horses.

We spent some time talking about our backgrounds. How I’d been drawn to horses from a young age, riding lessons being the first thing I can remember really wanting to do in any meaningful way when I was 5 years old.

“I was 2.,” She said, “I was 2 years old when I was called to work with horses.” That’s a deep and beautiful thing, and reminds me I’m in the right place. She gets it. She’s ridden and worked with horses her whole life.

Here’s part of our conversation:

NSH: I’ve seen and heard what you’ve been able to accomplish with dogs and I know that you also work with horses, what does the type of body work you do look like with them?

Mary: Well, horses are so sensitive when I tell people that I adjust horses they ask me how I can manage that, because I’m not a big person. Cause everyone thinks that you’ve got to get in there and really force things. But that is the opposite of the truth, or at least my truth with it. Because they are so sensitive that tiny little light touches change everything for them. They are more sensitive than humans. The contacts I make on a human are very similar to what I’d make on a horse. Just the lightest touch, like pressing on your eyeball with your eyelid shut, where you just want to feel it. That’s very similar to the amount of strength that’s needed to really help a horse change.

So, it’s very obvious when they change because they’ll snort, they’ll lick, they’ll yawn and they’ll shift their legs and they’re whole profile will change. You can see a horse’s’ top line change with one or two contacts.

NSH: I believe that, a horse can feel a fly land on them in a windstorm…

Mary: Yeah they have that panniculus response where they can do that! And sometimes that works against me. You know, I have to be very specific about it. They are extremely sensitive creatures.

NSH: Is that an issue when you work with them? Like you’re trying to create a contact and something else interferes?

Mary: Yes! Yes, I have to teach the owners not to touch the horse while I’m working on them, or the dog, because I want the brain to be completely with me and what I’m doing. It’s subtle. But If I get the brain’s attention it makes a lot more of a difference.

NSH: How did you come to this type of work with horses?

Mary: Well my work with people is Network Spinal Analysis, I’ve always dabbled with adjusting animals but I became aware of what was called Animal Chiropractic at the time through Parker College in Dallas, which is where I went to school and got my chiropractic degree. Their head of basic science and my anatomy teacher there, Dr. Gene Giggleman, is actually a veterinarian.

He’s always had a little animal adjusting clinic just off of campus. So he trained teachers and got professors together and he now runs the program. It is taught annually as a post graduate program to veterinarians and chiropractors.

Now the irony is that in the state of Texas the chiropractic board doesn’t acknowledge that there is such a thing as animal chiropractic. They say that chiropractic is performed only on the human spine.

So for me to do what I do, what I’m allowed to say that, I, Mary Traverse – not Dr. Mary Traverse – but Mary Traverse is a graduate of Parker College of Chiropractic and I’m certified in the practice of animal chiropractic by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. Now is that a mouthful or what?

But I did the post graduate course, the 8 month course. It’s about a 240 hour course at Parker [College of Chiropractic], and then I also did the national boards through the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. It was a really fun course because it was chiropractors and vets together and we were swapping skill sets like mad, you know. It was really a fun course.

NSH: Awesome! So how do people find you?

Mary: Well, mostly word of mouth. You know I don’t advertise much because of the sensitivity with the board. There are some older articles about me online that people run across sometimes. But I don’t put anything else online. It’s not on my website for my practice. I don’t mention adjusting animals. But I am certified through the AVCA website, the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association website and I am active with them. They are based in Oklahoma, but I have our Texas board to deal with. And because I DO have that certification I am allowed to say that I have it through them.

So it’s really funny. Just like any NEW field there are growing pains and everyone is trying to figure this out. And the chiropractic board is under a lot of pressure from the medical board. There’s just a lot of stuff going on with that.

And I do very well with just word of mouth, especially with my horse people. You know, horse people are always looking for what they can do to help their horse. Especially performance horse people, but even backyard – pleasure riding horse people.

One of the problems I have a lot of times is that I’ll work on a horse and I’ll see that it’s the rider really needs work as well. You know if the rider really has a lot of tension in her body, the horse is really going to feel that. And sometimes they’ll pay to get the horse taken care of but not themselves. It’s a common thing with horse owners.

NSH: It is. I’ve seen that, horse owners will feed their horse the best top thing they can and then eat crap themselves. Even at a show. I used to do that. You take better care of you horse than you do yourself.

Mary: I realized it when I was taking a dressage lesson a number of years ago and my starter dressage horse is a great big 17.3 hand American warmblood, a big clunky Percheron – Quarter Horse cross. And it’s hard to get him in frame sometimes. It’s hard to get him really rounded and soft and everything that’s supposed to happen with that. I was struggling with that, I was at a trot and I was struggling trying to get him in frame. My riding teacher at the time was this very smart woman who knew quite a bit about human anatomy as well. And she said, “Mary. Find the muscle on the right side of your spine between T3 and T8.”

NSH: [laughter] Oh, my! But you knew exactly what she was saying…

Mary: Exactly. As soon as I put my attention there, as soon as I did, the horse went right into frame. It was the most amazing thing. It was amazing and I realized, Oh My gosh, these people that are walking around with a high hip or a tight shoulder or all kinds of cervical problems or whatever it is… Their horse can’t possibly perform well.

So one of my favorite things is to work on the pair.

I actually do clinics like that. I actually work with a trainer that knows students that hold tension in their bodies. And I like to do that. I like to adjust the horse and then do chiropractic on the person.

NSH: That’s perfect.

Mary: Oh yeah. We video tape before and after and it’s pretty amazing changes.

NSH: What does that look like? What is one of the most extreme case that you’ve worked on with a horse or horse/rider combo and what were the results that happened?

Mary: Well, I worked with some ladies that were older who were western pleasure riders who were having trouble keeping their balance and the horse didn’t seem to be functioning very well. She would say to me, “Well, I’ve got one leg longer than the other, so my right stirrup is 4 inches shorter than the left.”

And I know from my work with people that, that’s just a matter of soft tissue tension aggregating some place in the body. Very few people actually have a short leg, like ½ of 1% of the population… maybe.

So usually with a touch or two of the Network adjustments, the legs even out. Even if someone thinks they have a short leg. People walk out and throw away their heel lifts. Basically that’s what happens.

This one clinic I did, we were able to even this lady’s stirrups out to be the same on both sides. And instead of tipping forward and losing her balance and being insecure in the saddle, she was sitting up on her sit bones. She’d looked like she’d just taken a year of dressage lessons. You know, western and dressage are kind of similar in a lot of ways, in the alignment of the rider. So suddenly she was back on her sit bones and she was balanced and she was happy and her legs were the same. And of course, the horse was MUCH happier. So things like that are pretty cool.

NSH: That’s awesome. So it sounds like the most extreme cases are… people.

Mary: Well, yeah. People are horses’ biggest problems usually. But there are a lot of horses that really benefit from all kinds of this sort of attention. Body work, there are a lot of people doing really good work on horses: massage, osteopathy, adjusting. There’s a lot of range in it.

Now again you were asking about how much pressure is necessary, or we were talking about it. One of the things that I’m very sensitive about is because horses are very large and we think that maybe as an adjuster that you have to put a lot of force into their system… it scares them. I find that sometimes they feel like they’re being punished [with the forced adjustments]. I’ve seen it happen. The only time I’ve been around a lot of structural adjusters like that was in my classes, when we were doing practicals. And sometimes those horses were so freaked out, because.. “Oh my god, here he comes and he’s just going to wale on me…and what did I do … and I don’t want to do this”. You know, horses are WAY more sensitive than we give them credit for.

You know about HeartMath?

NSH: I’ve heard the term, but I’m not familiar with it.

Mary: Check out Heart Math…I sort of think about HeartMath as some sort of 1970’s Hippy PhDs trying to prove the power of love scientifically. And they have established that the natural resting state of a calm peaceful human, that the frequency that the heart is emanating, they call it coherence. Natural calm, loving state. It’s also been established that horses live in coherence when they are left alone. When they aren’t damaged by us.

Except that their field is 9x stronger than ours. So this is why people say, “I just want to hang out with my horse, I don’t even need to ride her. I just want to be with him, because being there makes me feel so much better.” Well, yeah. You’re getting your field brushed and smoothed and conditioned. Their field is 9x stronger than ours, so talk about a resonator, a pattern resonator. All we have to do is be in their presence and we change.

NSH: Yeah, I’ve always looked back at the time I’ve spent with horses as some of the most healing times, and most healing work.

Mary: Yes, absolutely. And they’re just happy to do it for us, you know?
Lizzy Myers’ stuff is really cool, because her approach to horse therapy is she’s set a massage table out in the pasture and lets whichever horse decide they wanted to come… She used to be in Houston and she’d get inner city kids from Houston and sit ‘em out in the pasture and say, “Stay there.” And see which of her 6 or 8 horses would come to that child. THAT’s the way to do Horse-Equine Therapy, is give the horse a choice. Let the horse decide, “I’m resonating with that, or I can heal that, or I feel that or I need that…” If you give a horse the opportunity to come forward and do therapy that’s much different than, “Hey, here’s a halter, and you’re going to take care of this kid.” It’s a very different situation. And therapy horses tend to burn out in a couple of years.

Mary sees her role as helping the horses overcome stress, helping horses overcome burnout. Horses, like people, are stuck with an outdated mode of response to external stimuli. We’re built to respond to stress as if each stressful situation is an issue of life and death, fight or flight even when there is no need to (like a deadline at work or an angry email from a client or your boss). Horses are the same, if not more so. They’ve been prey animals for over 50 million years and only in this domesticated partnership with humans for the last 4,000-6,000 years approximately.

“It’s fine if the horse is stressed after the first adjustment, but if it happens again, we need to address it. And it could be any number of things. It could be a change in their environment or feed, or not liking their pasture mate.” One of the greatest roles she plays is helping the horse let go of stress and tension and recover from or even help prevent burnout.

And that’s what we strive for isn’t it? Operating at our best, physically, mentally emotionally. Horses, dogs, humans we all perform better when we are in a relaxed, supple state. Some folks call that “flow”.

Riding there is the dream and there are some people that spend their whole life chasing that feeling. And that is noble pursuit. Not just for the joy of it and the resonance of that ride, but for who you as the rider has to become to maintain that flow for your horse. The horse that is willing to give you everything.

And who you become for your horse affects every area of your life, from your relationships to others to your work to your own contribution. No wonder we seek out the best for our beloved horses, it’s a reflection of who we are and what we are capable of. They give everything and inspire us to do the same.

Take care of yourselves out there. Happy riding!

Network Spinal Analysis:


To reach Mary Traverse for you horse call her here: 512-653-0450

In Austin, TX you can reach Dr. Mary Traverse to address your human needs here: at The Wellness Studio

Mary Traverse is a graduate of Parker College of Chiropractic and I’m certified in the practice of animal chiropractic by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association


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