Adjusting Mya’s Atlas

This afternoon I gave my pony Mya a massage.  She was kicked in the head several months ago, and while she’s much better, it has seemed like she hasn’t been holding her head quite right.  The massage seemed to help, but after I’d finished I went back and gave her a chiropractic adjustment that seemed to make the biggest difference of all.

After I’d finished the massage, I realized that I’d forgotten to test Mya’s lateral flexion (touching her nose to the girth area.)  This is a common exercise in natural horsemanship to test a horse’s willingness to give its head, so I forget that it’s also useful to assess the alignment of the atlas and axis, the first and second vertebrae of the neck.  Sure enough, Mya was fine on one side but very resistant on the second side.  She was also sensitive to the touch on her poll.  I sprayed a homeopathic spray there; it helps release underlying tension.  Her sensitivity was greatly reduced and she even seemed to enjoy me rubbing the spray in behind her ears.  She was also able to bend her head around on the second side, but she still did so at an angle that told me her atlas and axis weren’t quite right.

When I received my certification in equine massage, one of my instructors seemed to be obsessed with adjusting horses’ atlases.  She showed us the technique, which involved putting the horse’s head on your shoulder, clasping your hands across the poll, and then moving laterally and vertically in a coordinated fashion.  It was immediately clear that this was easy for her and hard for most of the rest of us.  First, she’s tall enough that she can put most horses’ heads on her shoulder and still reach across their polls and accomplish the necessary movements.  And second, her mother was a chiropractor, so she grew up with an innate understanding of the underlying physiology of bodies, whether human or horse.

While it is second nature for Barb to do this particular chiropractic maneuver, I have to consult Dr. Daniel Kamen’s book The Well-Adjusted Horse every time to figure out where I’m supposed to stand and how I’m supposed to move.  I’ve even added my own notes to the book to quickly tell me what to do.  I have another pony who benefits from this maneuver regularly, so I’ve come to understand Barb’s obsession with it.

I was happy to see Mya respond well to the massage and even happier when the Release™ caused some improvement in her lateral flexion, but neither could hold up to the change in Mya after I adjusted her atlas.  In addition to noticing that Mya wasn’t holding her head quite right, I had had a vague sense that she was missing a brightness in her eye.  She wasn’t necessarily sick, but she wasn’t right, either.  We’ve been best friends for more than a dozen years, so I’ve become quite accustomed to the looks she gives me, and they hadn’t been normal.

Because the maneuver required for adjusting the atlas is so difficult for me, I pay close attention to how a pony responds after I complete the movement.  In the instant after I adjusted Mya’s atlas today, it seemed like her eyes flashed and then the brightness that I’d been missing returned.  That she immediately licked and chewed confirmed that I’d done some good.  I’ve observed her closely several times during the rest of the day, and it seems like she’s still brighter in the eye than she was before.  I’ve been taught that it takes a full two days for the benefits of a massage and adjustment to take effect, so I will continue to watch Mya closely.  I am very hopeful.

One of the problems I have with the atlas adjustment is that I tend to put my back out when executing it.  I didn’t have that problem today, perhaps because Mya is shorter than my other ponies.  Tomorrow I’m headed off to the chiropractor, though, so perhaps I’ll go see if my other pony needs an adjustment.  If she does, at least I know I can execute the maneuver and then go get myself adjusted, too!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2011



About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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