How to become a chartered equine physiotherapist
Ever wanted a career as a Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist and wondered what a typical day would include? Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist Kirsty Haines specialises in treating animals and equine clients make up about 75% of her caseload. She has been riding for more than 20 years and owns an Arab and a Shetland pony. She gives us an overview of what it’s like to be a Chartered Veterinary Physio below.
To qualify as a veterinary physio it’s strongly advised that you pick a scientific study when you go to college. It’s then recommended that you attempt to get familiar with some standard physiotherapy, as understanding the human body isn’t much different to animals. You should also get yourself recognised as a member of the CSP, HPC and ACPAT so that you can be a registered physiotherapist. You don’t have to take a full undergrad course, many universities offer shorter, part-time courses. You can then move onto animal physiotherapy - we expect the process to take around 4 to 5 years.
The Reality of Equine Physiotherapy
Ask anyone why they would visit a physio and some may say “bad back” but many will describe specific conditions such as tennis elbow, groin strain or arthritis. Some may have had the pleasure following a serious injury or operation.
Ask a horse owner why they would phone a physio and most will ultimately say “back’s out”! For many years, “the back lady” has visited yards up and down the country at varying intervals to keep our equine athletes on the road. But how many realise the truth behind the muddy car, oodles of paperwork and sometimes quite amusing implements wielded at unsuspecting equines?
Well for any Chartered Physio the skills learnt to treat humans are ultimately the same as those used to treat horses, give or take. Yes, the equipment may look different – is not as fancy and less, well, breakable. Knobs and switches kept at a minimum. But the equipment you can’t see from the cogs constantly turning, analysing, piecing together, collating information, to the exceptionally well tuned, highly sensitive fingertips, constantly searching, testing, relaying to the cogs, that’s where the years of training have gone. The hours spent in hospitals and clinics, prodding and poking human clients, refining the touch and learning to listen to what’s underneath. These are skills brought to your horse that should be exploited for all they’re worth. The knowledge of injury and disease, the appreciation of what’s happening in the muscle, ligament or tendon tissue, the ability to think outside the box for all those nonconventional, that try as we might just won’t conform to what we want.
So although the first thought might be “he’s not right in his back”, think more about what’s going on elsewhere. The hindlimbs, the forelimbs, the head, neck and tail. Chartered physio’s look at them all. Searching the tissues for any clue, building a picture, making a plan. A hindlimb lameness, a band of scar tissue, a restricted joint. Tendon strains, muscle tears, joint problems. Wounds that won’t heal. All may produce a stiffness, one-sidedness, lack of impulsion. All can prevent reaching potential. All can be managed by physiotherapy techniques widely used in human therapy.
But that’s where the hard work starts. Following the advice and carrying out daily exercises, stretches or movements. That’s where the owners come in. That’s what makes the difference. That’s what gives the lasting effect and brings about a long-term change.
The Qualification Process
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how to qualify as a Chartered Equine (Veterinary) Physiotherapist, so here’s a whistle-stop tour but hold on because for most it’s a bumpy ride!
The first thing to point out is that technically, we are qualified to treat all animals, which is why most people refer to themselves as a Veterinary or animal physio. After all, you wouldn’t hear of an equine or canine nurse, it’s just veterinary, simple and all-encompassing.
Choose Science at A-level
Now for the hard part. For most the deciding factor is a day, around the last week in August when they turn up at school full of fear and trepidation, to be handed an envelope! This moment decides which A-Levels you can take and that’s the key. To be a Physio, most Universities want A and B grades at A-Level, and they want at least one science subject (normally biology) but it does vary and some may stipulate 2 science subjects. University degrees are 3 or 4 years of hard graft, lots of lectures (no late starts or days off) and when placements come about, that’s proper work, out in the real world with real patients and their families.
Now, if you make it to graduation, the next step, before your mortarboard has hit the floor and the ink’s dried on your certificate, is to gain some experience in human physiotherapy. Easier said than done with the current job situation but it really shouldn’t be underestimated how vital it is to consolidate and refine your skills before embarking on Veterinary Physiotherapy training. Registering with the Health Professions Council (HPC), Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) and Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT), our professional bodies and licensing organisation, are also essential and costly.
Hartpury College, part of The University of West of England, Bristol (and my old stomping ground) is currently the only UK based Veterinary Physiotherapy training provider for Chartered Physiotherapists pursuing a career with animals. The course is 2 years part-time (one weekend in 4 as a rule), with a set number of placement days in addition to gain practical competencies, which may take you the length and breadth of the British Isles.
Realistically, from entering Human Physiotherapy to qualifying as a Veterinary Physiotherapist is a minimum five years. Like I said it’s not an easy ride by any means, but the rewards at the end are sweet. Most Physio’s combine human work with Veterinary, not least because of the need to keep a reliable income. Working outdoors in the beautiful countryside, managing your own time and answering to yourself. Just remember the 3 spare pairs of waterproof trousers, the first aid kit, flask, oh and have a breakdown company on speed dial.
For information on more equine related professions, you can take a look at our Working with Horses section - an extensive guide to the most prolific equine jobs on offer!