When working with horses, I always check the parotid glands. I notice that the majority of (rehabilitation) horses have swollen parotid glands to some extent. When I ask the owner/rider about this is usually get either one of these answers
1) I haven’t really noticed
2) He/she has always had it, it’s no big deal
3) It’s something that started in the last couple of weeks/months
It is important to keep track of the parotid glands of your horse as it provides information about the general health of your horse, general relaxation and your way of training.When the parotid glands are swollen, it has an impact on your training. It will influence the horse’s acceptance of the bit/bridle. It often hinders relaxation and tenses up the jaw area. Swellings near the throatlatch can also limit or compress the airway when the horse is asked into a more flexed position.Energy can’t flow all the way through so other parts of the body will get stiff and stressed as well due to interconnection. Tension in the jaw area is visible all the way back into the hind.
So what are the causes? Swellings in this region can be caused by multiple things:
1) Parotiditis: Also know as ‘grass glands’. when the swellings only appear in spring/summer it could be a histamine reaction.
2) Dental issues: from teething bumps to infections and even fractures. There is a wide range of dental problems that can cause swellings in the jaw area.
3) Melanoma: In grey horses it is not uncommon to find big melanoma around this region
4) Lymph nodes: The submandibular and retropharyngeal lymph nodes are part of the immune system and respond to any reactional processes such as infections.
5) Training: The parotidoauricular muscle is encased by the parotid glands. Certain practices will lead to overdevelopment of this muscle, resulting in over crompression of the parotid glands. If a horse is trained correctly, the space in the parotid glands will become ‘hollow’ and increase instead of ‘narrowing’ and ‘bulging’ out.
If you look at the first picture, you’ll see a horse with quite severe swollen parotid glands. This horse came to me for a 3 month period of rehabiliation and experienced a lot of tension throughout the body. At the second picture, you’ll see that this area improved A LOT after just 3 (!) months of proper rehabilitation training.
Again, as with my previous posts, I can’t tell you WHAT specific excercises / action you and your horse needs in your specific situation straight from paper. However, there are a couple of general things to note to create/keep healthy parotid glands:
- ANY backwards motion of your hands will NARROW the space
- ANY overflexion will results in BULGING of the parotid glands
- Training without FULL RELAXATION is ineffective. So if your horse is tensed in the jaw area, it will work all the way through the hind. ALWAYS prioritize to relax your horse fully before you start working.
- Your horse is ALWAYS right. So if you experience any signs of: Pulling the reins; tilting the head; rearing / bucking; ‘against’ the bit; uneven rein pressure ‘leaning’ into your heads.. the horse is TELLING you something is wrong. What you feel in your hands is a reflection of what happens in the body.
- Energy should flow ALL THE WAY through from hind to front
- It is NEVER just training. It is always a combination of good management, nutrition etc.
- Keep breathing. Don’t get frustrated if it takes a while. You’re doing this for longterm health for you and your horse. Remember: it’s not about the result, but the journey!
So look at your horse. Feel your horse. Ask for help or guidance if you’re struggling with this. Your horse will be thankful.