What is horse massage?
Horse massage, also known as Equine Sports Massage Therapy, is the therapeutic application of hands-on deep tissue techniques to the voluntary muscle system of the horse. Whew! That’s a mouthful! Essentially, the massage therapist uses their hands to work on the muscles of the horse in order to:
- increase circulation
- reduce muscle spasms
- relieve tension
- enhance muscle tone
- promote healing
- increase range of motion
Finding an equine massage therapist?
At a minimum, an equine massage therapist receives many hours of in depth training in equine anatomy and physiology, treatment of conditions and massage techniques. At the completion of their training, the student usually receives a certificate stating qualifications. Exact certification laws vary by state, so you’ll want to be familiar with requirements where you are and find a qualified therapist.
In addition, if you’re looking for a massage therapist, you should find someone that really cares and listens to the needs of you and your horse. A good massage therapist will help you learn how to detect and locate soreness as well as teach some techniques to help the horse between treatments. And they’ll help keep your horse feeling and performing to the highest level.
How does a therapist determine and address the needs of the horse?
A skilled equine massage therapist, such as my friend Linda Ghent, talks to a client to find out what’s happening with the horse. Are they moving normally? Having difficulty picking up a lead or turning that they didn’t have before? Are there new behavior problems?
She then considers the overall build of the horse; the directly related muscle groups and the muscles as a whole since the muscle groups are all interconnected. She may pay extra attention to the problem area, but will still perform a complete massage. A problem in one area causes tension and stress to the other areas of the body, so massaging the whole horse is important.
What issues can an equine massage therapist help with?
The goal of a equine massage therapy session is to relieve stiff and sore muscles. This allows them to do their job more effectively and efficiently and helps muscles heal.Linda says that each horse is different and each breed has some differences as well. Their needs are going to depend on their conformation (the way they’re built) and their job. For example;
- A barrel horse would be prone to having lower back issues due to those hard turns
- A race horse might have chest muscle soreness from pulling themselves forward
- A dressage horse could have neck and back soreness from collecting
In order to help your horse feel and perform their best, you should watch for areas of soreness, especially in muscle groups that get worked extra hard due to the activities they’re involved in. Knowing your discipline can help you watch for problem areas. When you see a potential problem, it’s time to get a massage for your horse (maybe you too, but that’s another topic).
Keeping your horse feeling good with horse massage
Regular massages, in conjunction with chiropractic treatment, is ideal. I’ll talk more about chiropractors in a future post, but for now chiropractic treatment helps keep the skeletal system working its best. If a horse is out chiropracticly, a massage before the treatment will help relax the muscles, allowing the chiropractor to put everything back into place. If alignment isn’t bad, a massage after the chiropractic treatment will help hold everything in place.
Most horses are pretty stoic, so they may not show that they have a problem. If you think they’re sore, they probably are. You can get familiar with the feel of your horse. Run your hands over them and be aware of what is normal. Knowing your horse and working with a good massage therapist to detect and treat issues can help your horse be much more content in their job so they can perform it well.
My friend, Linda Ghent, helped provide me with information for this post. She was an equine massage therapist for several years. She trained under Jackie Nairn in Colorado and worked on many barrel horses as well as horses from other disciplines. She’s ridden barrel horses for many years. She now has an amazing photography business featuring wild horses and nature settings. See @lindaghentphoto on Facebook to check out her work.
Has your horse received horse massage? Tell me about it in the comments below!