Pulling Back When Tied:
The Hidden Damage

By Tracy Vroom

Foals and young horses, whose bones have not completed their growth, can suffer life-long issues if they pull back while they are tied or being led. Photo by Kevin Maxwell

Q: If a horse, after 'pulling back when tied', appears to have no physical damage, can his core link still be adversely affected, and why/how?

A: If a horse pulls back when tied, the core link can be affected even if there is no obvious physical damage. There are variables, so it's a challenge to determine what has been affected without evaluating each individual horse. For example - position/type of halter, force of the pull, condition of the core link prior to the event, did the horse fall when he pulled, did he pull straight back or to one side, did he go up and back, etc. In general, there can be compressions or restrictions within the soft tissues and/or bones in all of these scenarios. When there is a compression or restriction, the cranial rhythm can be compromised and the trauma may be held in the cells that were affected. The force of this type of impact is powerful, with such a large animal throwing his full weight against the halter/rope, which doesn't give or gives minimally.

Some possibilities:
If the halter is positioned near C1, C2, C3, it could compress the atlas and cause issues with the neck and the Temporomandibular Joint or TMJ. Issues at the atlantoaxial joint (C1-C2) can manifest as root problems in the TMJ. This is called Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction or TMD. (Maureen Rogers' article that appeared in Natural Horse, Volume 4, Issue 6 is an excellent resource for in-depth information about TMJ and TMD.) If the halter is higher on the neck, near the base of the ears, the temporal bones may be affected causing issues like tinnitus, TMD, headaches, balance issues and other issues relating to this sensitive area. If the impact affects the occipital bone (base of the skull), this can in turn impact the parietal and temporal bones, and potentially any bones they articulate with. This type of injury can also affect movement in the pelvis.

The symptoms will vary but here are a few: "off" in their work with no obvious cause, headache, trouble extending the neck to graze or groom, trouble chewing, changes in eating habits, inability to bend and turn, balance issues, head-shy or light-sensitive (and wasn't prior to this), grouchiness, overall mobility issues - unable to move through, collect or work on the bit.

In foals and young horses, the bones have not completed their growth. When a pullback happens, there is even more chance of moving those delicate bones and tissues out of position. This type of injury can result in a lifetime of chronic issues depending on what bones, tissue and nerves have been affected. Pulling back can happen while they are being led, not just tied.

Recommendations: always consult your veterinarian and in cases of TMD, consult your equine dentist. If your horse is still exhibiting symptoms like those listed above, a qualified professional can offer solutions based on the specific needs of your horse. Methods to consider include acupuncture, craniosacral work, Equine Touch, massage, myofascial work and TTouch.

About Tracy:

Tracy Vroom is a certified equine and small animal Craniosacral Practitioner. She is the founder of The CranioConnection offering private sessions as well as group trainings. Her horse clients include racehorses: Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds/ harness racers, performance horses in a variety of disciplines, and pleasure horses. She is certified in the Tellington Method (TTouch,) and has studied TTEAM training with Linda Tellington-Jones and is working to achieve her certification in this method. Tracy continues to expand her knowledge base by studying visionary skills work and taking complementary classes that will enhance her practice.
The CranioConnection
Tracy Vroom
Manalapan, NJ
917-913-1676, 732-780-7939