Equestrian Medicine by Dr. James Warson

Hippotherapy - Dr. James WarsonEquestrian Medicine is a new evolving discipline of medicine, yet its roots are ancient. Hippocrates was one of the earliest writers to comment on the effects that horses have on men, and the ailments common to those that rode them. The discipline as it exists today has two parts. First, it is the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases which are caused or aggravated by riding horses. The second part is the use of adaptive knowledge and technology in a manner so as to allow sufferers of various diseases to ride horses in order to participate in equine or hippotherapy.

I started down the path to becoming an Equestrian Medicine specialist many years ago, although I didn’t know where this journey would take me at that time. I was a Neurosurgeon specializing in spine care, and began to see riders with spine problems about 30 years ago. Back pain is the most frequent complaint of equestrians. Their physicians had told them to cease riding. They knew that I was active in the horse community and owned a training barn. In desperation these riders came to me to see if there was any way to get pain relief in order to continue riding. My knowledge of the spine and of riding allowed me to return almost all of them to the saddle. The word spread, and by the end of my operating career the majority of my patients were from the horse industry. Along the way, I started watching and independently thinking, since there were no textbooks that could enlighten me about the diseases of equestrians. The result was a body of knowledge that the folks at Trafalgar Square publishing convinced me to put in my first book, The Rider’s Pain Free Back. A lot of magazine articles and talks followed. Along the way I treated riders’ hips, knees (including my own), shoulders, and just about every other area of the body. I studied how riding affected these areas of the body, how diseases in these areas affected riding, and a discipline of medicine was born.

The horizons of Equestrian Medicine are almost infinite. We have bred and trained horses to almost an ultimate point, yet the other half of the equation, the rider, has been neglected. A recent check of a popular horse industry magazine issue revealed 112 advertisements for things pertaining somehow to horse health, and only 9 to riders. The horse has been refined about as far as it can go for competition. A look at times of major horse races supports this concept. Now the advances must come through development of the rider. Welcome to Equestrian Medicine.

What about the physicians?

Where are they?

My answer is that medical practice today is so all consuming that there are almost no physicians who have time for or interest in horses. I do occasionally encounter one, usually in dressage or jumping. These are solitary endeavors, and probably suit these physicians’ need for recreational solace. The social ones play golf. If there is to be a discipline of properly informed and motivated physicians, they must be trained de novo across the broad spectrum of the horse industry. It’s America’s third largest industry, and it deserves informed and responsible medical attention. An Equestrian Medicine tutorial is now available to address that need.

The gate is open. Ride on.



3 Responses to “Equestrian Medicine by Dr. James Warson

  • J. H. Kepler
    3 years ago

    Dear Dr. Warson,

    I hope you are still checking this blog entry for comments. In 1978, my 850 – 900 lb. half-Arab colt spooked, reared, and fell over backwards with me; he did not come straight over on top of me, but we landed sort of on the near side of his back, and then he rolled over and got up, leaving me on the ground. The left side of my pelvis and my abdomen right above it took the impact. Fortunately, nothing broke, but I had a hematoma on the edge of my pelvis for a while; however, I was wondering if such an impact has been known to cause some internal injuries to organs that might not have been apparent at the time of the accident, but which would remain for a few decades, such as scarring from blunt trauma? Thanks.

    • James Warson MD
      3 years ago

      This type of injury is usually seen in rodeo performers and is associated with bladder trauma, including ruptures! If there have been no symptoms recently, such as blood in the urine, it’s unlikely there are any hidden long term effects.

  • All I can say, is WOW. I’m inpressed and interested. I will give a copy of this to my primary care physician….I will google more of the tags above.