Dr. Rachel Heart on Animal Body Work….

RH2Many people are not familiar with the benefits that body work can have on an animal and rarely think their dog needs work if it is not in pain.  They are often surprised when after examination I find a slew of issues on a dog they consider ‘normal’.  In my practice and just wondering around in life I see very few dogs (or people ) that I consider to be normal or without some sort of structural limitation that is keeping them from being their best.  In general what we accept in an animal’s structure is rarely perfect and it is up to us body workers to be able to identify those more subtle indicators of musculoskeletal problems. The following discusses some other ways to identify problems in dogs and thereby assist you in recognizing when an animal needs work and how its treatment is progressing.

The last 10 years of my career has been doing integrated sports medicine on horses and dogs with a focus on structural alignment or animal chiropractic. I mostly work on working dogs that consist of show dogs, agility dogs, hunting dogs, hunt and field trial dogs and obedience dogs however the pet dogs have just as many, if not more issues. I have found chiropractic care to be an important component in keeping animals sound and happy and a great way to prevent injuries.  Our physical superiority is determined by how accurately aligned our bones are, how balanced our muscle development is and how readily our different parts can communicate. Breakdown of any of these areas can lead to injury or behavioral issues. Regardless of your modality every animal can be helped some.

As part of a team involving an animal athlete it is up to us to be their stewards and speak for them.  These animals will throw down their bodies and work through incredible amounts of pain. Most dogs will continue to work hard and show enthusiasm for their sport even when injured. This is why when behavioral or training issues do occur, it’s important to make sure pain is not a factor. A four legged animal has the ability to shift its body in ways that it can get the job done without physically limping. There is often a pair of limbs that are doing most of the work – you often see dogs (and race horses) pulling their hind ends along rather than pushing from the rear. I consider these to be compensatory gaits that modify the way the limbs and muscles are supposed to work. This is often a precursor to injury and may be more apparent in the pattern of muscle development than the actual gait of the animal. So how do we know if our animal is working through pain or perhaps refusing to work because of pain? Well the first step is to know what is normal.

Let’s start by saying there are not a lot of ‘normal’ animals out there so don’t be surprised if you find that most dogs do not exhibit all of these traits. Most of what I will be talking about is related to posture which refers to how you stand/sit. Any animal or person can have good posture which is different from conformation, a term more related to structure.

So how does a normal dog stand?  Free stacking or neutral posture is how a dog should stand when it is just standing there doing nothing.  I look for this posture when my dogs stop after running or playing: the front legs squarely under the dog with chest slightly raised and rear limbs out behind the dog with back flat (forelegs and hocks to the ground vertical).  A dog in a neutral posture will not require muscle to be in contraction and we should not see tight muscle development around shoulders and hips of working dogs when at rest. Many dogs that do not stand square will require muscle tension to stay upright or if a dog that is high strung and is constantly bracing against the earth it will also show tension. Most dogs do not stand neutrally and are more likely to stand with their rear limbs up under them a bit and may have front legs positioned asymmetrically. It is important that your dog has the ability to get into a neutral posture as this is the starting point for all of life’s activities.

A normal dog sit should also be square with hips tight to body and legs the same on both sides, butt should not be tucked under and the back should be flat and straight with smooth transition to base of tail. It is common to see dogs sitting to one side, sitting with hips splayed, sitting with their butts tucked under them or their chest sticking out. All of these postures are indicators of weakness or pain in the system.

Working dogs can carry a lot of tension in their jaw and neck from carrying things and also being on the left side of handler can create issues on the right side of the neck. If you look at these dogs from the front while sitting they will often have a tilt to their head (usually to the left) and the jaw (often the right) will appear higher on one side. A normal dog should be symmetrical. The jaw is an important component of the system that tells our body where it is in space and thus also has an influence on posture. Tension around the jaw, poll and upper part of neck can change a dogs way of moving and underlie an abnormal gait. Pain in this area can also create problems in training.

The posture of the dog when it stands or sits as well as head carriage are just three of many points of reference to let you know if your dog is balanced in their movement. A dog with a strong core that uses itself symmetrically will sit and stand square. Young dogs are often weak and should be encouraged to sit properly at all times to help build that strength. A dog that is sore after a competition may appear more compressed and hunched for a few days indicating body soreness. Some dogs stray far away from normal posture and sometimes have dramatic roaching or bending of their spines creating a lot of asymmetries. Most dogs fit somewhere between normal and this extreme. When you see dogs exhibiting these abnormal postures, make it your goal to figure out why rather than just accept if because it has always been that way.

Posture is one of the many ways that our dogs talk to us and a good place to start paying attention. How comfortable they are in their bodies is clear by the way they stand at rest. Core strength is shown by how they sit and also rise from sitting/laying down. A good sense of normal will help us know when musculoskeletal issues need to be considered before there is an injury. If we sense that there is weakness in the dog’s posture then perhaps the training schedule is modified to allow more time for development and conditioning.  If we see behavioral changes that coincide with postural changes then maybe pain as a source may be considered. It is important that we become aware of these more subtle shifts so we can help more animals before they get injured. Educating ourselves and our owners about what is normal is one way to identify problems before they become limiting.

About Dr. Heart:

RHDr. Heart grew up in the western suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts in a rural town called Lincoln. Due to family allergies, animals with hair were not allowed in the house. After tiring of fish and reptiles as pets, she eventually convinced her non-horsey parents to put a horse in the backyard. Taking care of her first horse “Flame” on her own was just the beginning of a life spent learning about these amazing animals.

Rachel graduated from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec with a BSc. in Biology in 1985. She went on to Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine located in Grafton, Massachusetts, receiving her DVM in 1991. Her career since graduation has been dedicated to working with sport horses all over the United States. Ten of these years were spent working on the backside at racetracks in California, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas, Florida, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This time was filled with opportunities to work with and learn from some of the top veterinarians and trainers in the country. In 2001 Dr Heart left the track to focus on other disciplines in the equine industry – a move motivated by the birth of her daughter Camille in 2000. She spent 6 years at a busy equine referral clinic in Illinois where she focused primarily on lameness. This move exposed her to the most advanced diagnostic and therapeutic techniques available in the sport horse industry. She was able to refine her skills in all imaging modalities and attend clinics devoted to lameness diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Heart began her training in Acupuncture at the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine in 2003 with Dr Huisheng Xie DVM, MS, PhD. She completed her certification in Veterinary Acupuncture in 2005. She is currently working on her Masters in Chinese Herbal Medicine at the Chi Institute. She obtained her certification in Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy (Also known as Animal Chiropractic) from the Healing Oasis Wellness Center in 2007 where she was trained by Pedro Rivera DVM. Rachel became certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) in 2008. She is currently completing a series of seminars on Postural Rehabilitation in Horses with Judith Shoemaker VMD and Karen Gellman DVM. She has also trained with Marvin Cain DVM (Acupuncture), Jean-Michel Boudard (Osteopathy), and Carl J. DeStephano (Applied Kinesiology/Functional Neurology).

It is the integration of this career path which has led Dr. Heart to the concepts of restorative healing. Success with cases have demonstrated the obvious synergy that occurred when problems could be treated in relationship to the rest of the animal. Each year brings more opportunities to further learn about and refine the techniques used to help the animals and their owners.

Equi-Tape and the Incredible Benefits It Provides

Equi-Tape is “Kinesio Tape” for horses. It is specially designed for sticking to horse hair, and withstanding the wear and tear from our four-legged friends. The sloganEqui-Tape_Blue-150x150 of the brand is “train harder, recover quicker”, and countless times this has proven true. There are specific taping patterns that have different purposes, from assisting a muscle to increasing circulation over areas of swelling. We can break its uses down into two main categories: athletic and therapeutic.


These taping patterns are meant to allow the muscles to better do their jobs. An understanding of anatomy is important with these patterns, as it depends on what result you want that relates to where you tape. Do you want the muscle to contract or release? Does the muscle need more help in lengthening or shortening? Circulation is also increased to the area, allowing the tissue to be bathed in nutrient-rich blood. This action allows the muscle to get rid of the “bad” and bring in the “good”, which promotes healthy tissue. When the tissue is healthy, it is best able to perform its job.


These patterns of tape are meant to increase the speed of healing damaged or swollen tissue. How the tape is cut and placed has a major impact on circulation and healing. A typical pattern is comprised of many thin strips of tape. This increases the amount of surface area of skin that is lifted to allow for the dissipation of congestion, as well as creating “channels” through which the material can “flow”. As with the athletic function, circulation helps to speed the rate of healing. By bathing the area in fresh, nutrient-rich blood, healing can occur.

Why Does it Work?

When you apply Equi-Tape to the horse’s skin, think about all the anatomical parts being impacted. The hair, skin, fascia, muscles, blood system, lymphatic fascia-skinsystem, nervous system, and the materials that comprise the cellular matrixes around these systems. These seemingly separate systems in fact all intertwine together, making it so that one piece of tape can affect many layers of the body. A simple cross-section of skin and underlying tissue will reveal how all of these systems interact intimately, especially in the various areas of the body.

Many Uses

When is the tape used?

  • During training to help the muscles work better to reach their potential
  • During the rehabilitation process of an injured horse
  • Any time to support an area of the body

Some taping patterns are able to be left on for days, and some are only meant for a few hours. It’s very important to understand the result you want, and have the tape on accordingly.

How to Become Involved

You can use Equi-Tape on a couple of levels. The first is simply purchasing the
tape from a retailer; you do not need to be a glutesveterinarian or equine professional to purchase the tape. The second way is to take the certification course offered by Equi-Tape. The course is a weekend class that is offered around the world as well as throughout the year. The benefit to taking the course is that you gain a much fuller understanding of how to use the tape properly, as there are key elements for using it. For more information on Equi-Tape, classes, and more visit www.equi-tape.com.

 Written by Callie Rulli of Skylark Animal Bodywork, LLC

Equi-Tape is never a substitute for veterinary care!  

Proper Positioning of the Saddle on a Horse’s Back


As horse enthusiasts and riders, we do all we can for our horses. We research feeds and supplements, analyze hay samples, agonize over training methods and try to choose the best living situation for our trusty steeds. Stall or pasture board? Shoes or barefoot? Is it too hot or cold to ride? Is the footing OK? Will this saddle fit my horse? Some of us have even purchased custom-made saddles, or had a saddle fitter adjust a saddle for a specific horse.

All of our meticulous research and well-meaning tack purchases may still cause problems, however. An improperly placed saddle can be very uncomfortable for the horse. The saddle tree is designed to distribute the rider’s weight over a large area of the horse’s back. The tree of the saddle – the hard framework that gives the saddle structure – should always rest behind the shoulder blade. Because of the weight applied to the saddle’s tree, the tree must not impede the movement of the horse’s shoulder.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of “treeless” saddles available to riders. While these may seem like the perfect solution for that hard-to-fit horse, the lack of a tree reduces the saddle’s weight distribution area and can also decrease stability. Many treeless saddles are made with a rigid pommel and cantle, a padded seat in between and a normal English or western rigging. For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the placement and potential problems of regular “treed” saddles.

Since appearances can be deceiving, your hands are your best tools for checking the placement of your saddle. Many western saddles have leather “skirts” or “jockeys” that extend past the front of the saddle’s tree, and some jumping saddles have flaps and knee rolls that extend onto the shoulder. These parts of the saddle are not weight bearing and will not put pressure on the shoulder. The easiest way to check tree position is to slide the fingers of one hand, palm side to the horse, under the saddle pad and over the edge of the shoulder blade after placing the saddle on the horse. If using an English saddle, the tree points at the very front of the saddle should be behind your fingertips. On a western saddle, the front edge of the tree is usually marked with a concho, rosette or screw at the base of the fork. This “marker” should be placed behind the end of your fingertips.

Even the best-fitting saddle can cause pain and damage to the horse’s withers, back and shoulder if it is placed too far forward. Often, this positioning will cause the saddle to “bridge” on the horse’s back. Bridging occurs when all of the pressure from the saddle is placed at the very front and rear of the saddle, instead of distributing the rider’s weight along the entire length of the saddle bars or panels.

A saddle that is placed too far forward not only impedes the movement of the shoulder, but can also lead to muscle atrophy and pain. As the muscle atrophies, the saddle can fit even more poorly, which can lead to additional muscle problems, pain, lameness and training issues. If your horse begins exhibiting behaviors such as refusing jumps, bucking, trouble picking up a canter lead or “girthiness”, it could be a saddle fit or placement problem.

Occasionally, the saddle is placed on the horse correctly, yet seems to creep to an incorrect position on the back – a symptom that the saddle may not be the best fit for this particular horse.  The tree could be either too wide or too narrow or the billets/rigging are not aligned with the horse’s natural girth line. Any saddle, no matter how well it fits the horse’s back, is going to move on the back until the girth or cinch is perpendicular to the ground. Most of the time, the billets or rigging are forward of the horse’s natural girth line, which will cause the saddle to be pulled forward onto the horse’s shoulder. There are English girths available that have offset buckles to allow the girth to rest in the horse’s natural girth line and still line up with the saddle’s billet position. Some Western saddles have multiple rigging options which allow the rider to customize the cinch’s location to the natural girth line of their horse. There are also many saddle pads available that help with saddle slippage. Be cautious, though, that your slipping saddle is not trying to tell you something about the saddle fit or placement on your horse.

There are many factors that affect saddle fit. Your best option, should you have questions or concerns about your horse’s saddle, is to seek input from a saddle fitter. Most major saddle makers have a fitter or representative in your area specially trained to evaluate fit and function of their saddles. Often, these reps are available to help evaluate other saddle makes. You can always ask your veterinarian, trainer, instructor, equine massage therapist or acupuncturist for the name of someone that they trust. English or western, competitive rider or pleasure and trail rider, your saddle fit and placement are important to your horse’s comfort and soundness.

Cindy Dulaney

Red Horse Saddlery, LLC


Cindy is a lifelong horse lover. She graduated from Kansas State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science, and is the owner of Red Horse Saddlery and an authorized representative and fitter for Custom Saddlery. She resides in Elizabeth, CO, with her husband, three horses and one dog.

Keeping Your Pets Safe This Summer!

Summer is here and every year, dogs suffer and die when their guardians make the mistake of leaving them in a parked car—even for “just a minute”—while they run an errand. Parked cars are deathtraps for dogs: On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to between 100 and 120 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 160 degrees in an hour. According to research on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website (www.avma.org), cracking the windows does little to nothing to keep pets cool. During these warm month, ask yourself,”Does my pet really need to come?” It can be a matter of life and death for your pet.

funny_dog_pictures-2Something else to consider is what time of day you are interacting with your pet outdoors. Exercising with pets should be done during the cool hours of the day– early morning or later in the evening. They, just like humans, are susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  Another thing to consider is how hot the surface is that you are walking on! Dogs have thick and calloused pads on their paws, but these can still easily burn. Sidewalks and asphalted roads can quickly reach extreme temperatures in the morning, and hold onto heat from the day. If you aren’t sure if the pavement is too hot, feel it! If there’s even a doubt in your mind that it’s too warm, don’t subject your pet’s paws to it.

Remember that panting is your dog’s primary method of staying cool. They also dissipate heat through the pads on their paws. Another way they stay cool is by their fur–this may seem counter-intuitive, but fur acts as insulation against the heat as well as the cold. Making sure your pets have access to shade, fans/air flow, and clean water are imperative, especially if they are outside.

When travelling with your pet, have a full water container (bottles, gallon jug, etc.) and dish/bucket for them to drink out of.

Some other things to keep in mind are:

-having unscented baby sunscreen for dogs with pale or pink skin and thin hair around their face

-having a child’s play pool (small plastic shallow type) filled with clean water for dogs to play in while supervised

-having a wet towel or cloth available for the pet to lie on outside

-using a spray bottle to mist water over your pet when out and about on warm days (if they tolerate it)


Written by Callie Rulli- Skylark Animal Bodywork, LLC

Up to my chin

Oh me, oh my, Oh how the snow grows tall... (Image: Sandi Martinez)
Oh me, oh my, Oh how the snow grows tall… (Image: Sandi Martinez)

by Sandi Martinez

Oh how the snow grows tall

I wag my tail and it drags

Across the frozen ground

Oh, my coat is covered in snow

And my paws too

How to get warm,

And stay warm?

Please, give me tons of blankets

A sweater and coat

And those cute snow shoes

Just because I’m a dog

Doesn’t mean those I couldn’t use

Oh, and a nice massage

Yes… right there near the shoulder blades

And around my belly

Thank you my dear human

I am all ears as you tell me your troubles

And you rub me behind my ears and remember

To fill my bowl with unfrozen water

And a bit more food too…

Why? Because that’s what humans do

For their animal counter-parts and because I love you too,

Thank you for extra love and kisses because this winter hasn’t even begun

And the snow is up to my chin!

Fall into Grace

Fall is the time when we ask ourselves, I’m ready for that change, but am I ready to make the jump? (Image: Sandi Martinez)
Fall is the time when we ask ourselves, I’m ready for that change, but am I ready to make the jump? (Image: Sandi Martinez)

by Sandi Martinez

Fall is a time of preparing for the quiet, and stillness that winter brings. It is a time when we take stock of what we have, what we’ve had, and do we want to have it into the future? Do we need it? If we keep it, where will we put it?

Fall is the time when we ask ourselves, I’m ready for that change, but am I ready to make the jump? Fall is when we risk tripping the most – leaves, twigs, and the unexpected. It is an intricate time; summer is ending, winter is around the corner. If we wait too long, it gets too cold, and if we don’t do it during the summer, it’s too late. But as we get closer to our deepest desires and the things that will make us ecstatically happy, one thing is clear – we are much more courageous than we give ourselves credit for. It’s the beginning of a transformative time when we can ask these questions, and truly want answers. Whether or not we are mentally, physically, spiritually, or psychologically ready for answers. It is a time when we can honestly be given credit to having some grace amid chaos, confusion, doubt, or stagnation.

Perhaps it’s during these times when we tell ourselves, if I must trip, then I will land gracefully

On the other hand, tripping may not even happen. Fears have a way of tricking us into staying in stagnation mode. Ego plays its role by feeding us negativity and pointing out all the things that can go wrong. Ego also plays a part in telling us we don’t deserve to be happy.

But RMSAAM congratulates you; you are on the first steps; the right path, to following your heart. There is no greater joy, no greater satisfaction than being the conduit in which humankind, teams up to blaze new trails in creating health, well-being, and unconditional love to animal-kind. So, will you keep looking at the clock or calendar, and asking when is the right time to do this? When we listen to our heart, the only right time, is the time we heed its call.

A small rescue with HUGE results

I wonder who actually rescued who on that Saturday. (Image: Sandi Martinez)
I wonder who actually rescued who on that Saturday. (Image: Sandi Martinez)



By Sandi Martinez

The weekends are days we usually take care of things that get backed up during the week, things we forgot to do during the week, and things that we do just for weekend’s sake! In the midst of going, going, going, and gone… we sometimes run into a bit of a surprise along the way.

So on my way home after running errands on a fated Saturday, September 27, just last month, with the help of my mother, we spotted a tiny dog trying to cross a busy interstate, in a small line-up of villages called, Chile. You Chile lovers out there, I’m talking about Chile, New Mexico… And yes, for your information, there is plenty of Chile that has been harvested, roasted, and prepped to sell in pounds, Ristras, and… Oh, wait, I’m talking about my small rescue!

So, my mother gasps, and says, ‘Poor little dog, it’s going to get run over!’ and I say, “What? Where?” I’m driving, mind you, so my mind is on the road, yet, it’s not – because I just didn’t see the dog. So she points across the median, where the brave little dog has made it safely and barely across successfully – alive. Worse yet, it could have been me that might have taken her life.

I finally see the little dog, zig-zagging around the median trying to figure out what to do next. I make a U-turn at my next opportunity, swing around, get out of my car, and walk carefully over to the sweetest little brown and white-spotted Chihuahua I think I’ve ever seen. I call to the pup (I can see the dog is still very young) and call out softly and reach down to pet comfort the frightened dog. By some miracle, she stays still. I am able to pick her up and carry her over to the car where my mother gently holds the darling pup. Before we drive off, we ascertain the pup is female. I point my car towards home; the dog is coming with me.

She is terrified; shaking and somewhat sluggish either from exhaustion and trauma, hunger, or thirst, or all of the above.

I wait a few days, and take the pup in to the local animal shelter to see if anyone has tried to claim her by putting up a flier. No one has claimed her, she is not chipped, and so therefore, on that fated Saturday, after seven months of pining away in grief for my dog Samson, who I lost back in February of this year, I now have a new companion, who I never expected and have fallen deeply in love with, Azra.

I wonder who actually rescued who on that Saturday.  RMSAAM wants to hear your rescue stories, so please, share them with us!