Pelvic Flexion Reflex

Horses with lordosis (swayback), back muscle pain or hypertonicity, or lumbosacral stiffness benefit from this spinal reflex.  Active trunk flexion is required in collective movements and horses with poor hind limb coupling or lack of impulsion will benefit from this exercise.  The goal is to strengthen and stimulate coordination of the muscles that lift the back and produce flexion of the lumbosacral joint and pelvis.

Position the horse with its feet placed squarely under its body on a flat, level surface.  Begin by safely standing to one side of the horse, alongside the pelvic limbs and not behind the horse.  Locate the muscular groove between the biceps femoris and semitendinosus that lays one hand-width lateral to the base of the tail.  While facing the same direction as the horse, place the fingernail or tip of your index finger in this muscular groove and apply sharp pressure by scratching both sides at the same time.  Movement down along this muscular groove may be required to identify a site that produces the most effective induced movement.

Diagnostically, one of several responses occurs due to digital pressure applied over the croup region:

  • Normally, a horse will actively flex the lumbosacral junction and elevate the caudal trunk. The amount of induced trunk flexion should at least produce flattening of the thoracolumbar spine.  Optimally, a prolonged, steady kyphotic posture of the caudal thoracic and lumbar spine should be produced to induce maximal stretching of the epaxial musculature.
  • A horse with poor neuromuscular coupling or obvious back pain, muscle hypertonicity or stiffness will not respond to the applied pressure.  Since this is an unusual stimuli, some horses may not respond initially to the applied pressure, until they learn the desired response to the applied stimulus.
  • A horse with notable lumbosacral or gluteal pain may have an exaggerated response and can buck or kick out on the hind limbs.  It is always best to begin with very light digital pressure and gradually increase the digital or fingernail pressure until an avoidance response or active spinal movement is noted.
  • Other horses will produce active lumbosacral flexion without any elevation of the trunk or elevation of the trunk but no active flexion of the lumbosacral junction.

Therapeutically, if the horse has a weak, slow or minimal response to the applied pressure, then repeated application of this exercise is indicated.  If, after several repeated attempts, an exaggerated or painful response is consistently noted, then referral to a veterinarian for evaluation of underlying back, lumbosacral or pelvic pain and hind limb lameness is indicated.

Caution: Some horses will kick out if they are sensitive over the croup region. Do not stand behind the horse when doing this exercise.

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