Healing hands help free horses trapped by pain
When you have a horse with a badly trapped nerve, who are
you going to send for? For some owners it has to be the
Horse Back Man, as Jeremy Hunt reports
AS Bob Kendall runs his hands across the back of the chestnut gelding the muscles in its left shoulder immediately go into spasm. "There it is. I could see where the problem was straight away." To the rest of us standing in his stable yard at Brough in Cumbria the horses back gave no hint that anything was wrong. But not to Mr Kendall.
He pinpoints an area with his fingertips, firmly slaps the horse on its back in exactly the spot where he knows a nerve has become trapped and the spasm stops. He repeats it on the other side – feeling, shoulder spasm, slap.
"Hell feel better for that," says Mr Kendall. And he should know. The big gelding is one of just one of hundreds of horses – from famous racehorses, show-jumpers, eventers and even cherished family ponies – that are lucky enough to have come under his care. Hes known as the Horse Back Man and hes got the gift of healing.
The gelding hes just treated – known as Wheres Bob – is one of the team of point-to-pointers and showjumpers he owns with his wife Margaret – herself a successful rider on the north of England show jumping circuit.
But as well as running his yard, its as a horse back man that Bob Kendall is becoming increasingly well known. What started with a throw-away remark in a pub one night has not only brought pain relief to horses all over the country but has ended up saving lives as well.
Mr Kendall tells the story of an eventer that was brought to him recently after it had been on box-rest for a year with back problems. Despite everything the vet could do the horse was getting worse and at times was in so much pain that it could hardly stand.
The owner was just about to have the horse destroyed when she heard about Mr Kendall. The horse arrived in the yard and spent three days there.
Recalls Mr Kendall: "I phoned the owner and told her to come and collect the horse but she said she was too upset to have it put down herself and asked me to do it for her.
"I told her Id cured the horse and there was no question about having it put down. It had been suffering from two very badly trapped nerves in its back. They had been trapped for so long that the poor thing was in agony and had spent most of the time sedated."
Years ago it was jokingly suggested to him that because he was born under the birthsign of Scorpio he may possess the gift of healing. One day he decided to put it to the test. When the regular chiropractor couldnt travel to the yard to deal with one of the Kendall familys horses, Bob decided to put his own hands on the horse.
"I ran my hands along its spine and got a tremendous reaction through my fingertips. I could feel where the nerve was trapped under the vertebrae. I managed to release it which then sent the surrounding muscle into spasm. I gave it a strong slap which stopped the spasm and the horse, which had been in a lot of pain, was cured.
* Jumping better
"He was jumping fences that morning better than he had been for days."
In severe cases magnetic impulse therapy is also used to stimulate the blood flow after treatment but its Mr Kendalls hands that are still the most important tool of his trade.
"Quite often I can see a problem before I even touch the horse just by the way its holding itself or how its moving.
"You hear some people say that a horse has a problem with its pelvis when its the back thats the real cause. When a horse is in pain it will stop using the muscles that cause discomfort and that leads to muscle wastage. A horse can soon start to look cock-eyed when it loses muscle tone on its quarters."
"There are many thousands of horses being ridden today that are suffering from back problems and the owners dont know it. They know their horses arent performing as they should and theyll probably try a new bit or some other gadget or even think the horse needs its teeth attending to. "But its not the head end they should be looking at; they should concentrate on the back."
Mr Kendall reckons he can go to a show or a race meeting and spot dozens of horses with back problems.
"A jumper with a back problem will not stand-off his fence and arch his back to clear it in the correct way. The horse will try and get himself into the bottom of the fence and try to clear it by throwing his head back and going into a more vertical climb than an arch. Its the horses way of reducing pressure on his back muscles."
Mr Kendall regularly works with the successful Cumbria-based racehorse trainer Jack Berry keeping a check on horses before they race to ensure they arent harbouring any back problems that could affect their performance.
"With most horses, whether racing, hunting or jumping, the relief is immediate. At first a horse may lash out and try and kick me because its in pain. So its important to find the problem quickly. A horse that may have been climbing the walls of the box with pain one minute can suddenly become as quiet as a lamb once Ive freed the nerve and stopped the spasm."
Mr Kendall says anyone associated with horses should never underestimate the great strain that is put on their backs.
"It seems odd for me to say this but the horse is no different to any other quadruped and yet man has turned it into a riding animal. In its natural environment a horse does not go around jumping fences for fun.
* Twist and swerve
"The backs of all ridden horses are put under a lot of strain and we need to recognise that, particularly among competition horses that need to twist and swerve so much."
But he says any horse that is in "fit" condition for showing or competition work stands a higher risk of developing a back problem.
"A fit horse will roll a lot in its box and can easily get cast against the wall. This position is very likely to trap a nerve but it may not be noticed by the owner."
And he fears that the rush to get young horses broken as two-year-olds often leads to premature back problems. "In Ireland a lot of horses arent broken until they are five and national hunt horses are seven-years-old before they stop growing."
All in the touch:
has healing hands.