Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury Management

Why get your horse massaged?

When I tell people that I am qualified to massage both humans and horses, I often get asked, “Why would you massage a horse?” I never get asked, “Why massage a human?” As a result I often want to throw back, “Why wouldn’t you get your horse massaged?” Let’s have a closer look.

I believe that I don’t get asked, “Why massage a human?” Due to the ability for people to understand how our body feels and are able to empathise with others when they feel stiff and in pain. I think sometimes humans forget that horses can feel discomfort like people do, and below are a few factors which can affect horses.

Horses are not designed to be ridden

Historically horses have been domesticated by humans for a number of jobs over hundreds of years. Horses were not put here just for human use and as a result have to adapt to the demands humans place on them. A horse needs to be broken in slowly and gently to allow adaptations to occur especially in the back. The vertebral column especially the base of the neck are the last areas of the horse to mature. By this, I mean the growth plates are the last to fuse. As a result skeletal maturation doesn’t occur until at least five and half years old. Further to this if your horse is taller, long in the neck and a gelding then fusion can take longer. You may be looking at eight years old before this has all occurred. Therefore, looking after the musculoskeletal spine is paramount too developing a strong and enduring horse for the future. Conformation of a horse can also play a role in developing tightness and stiffness, as certain conformations will predispose a horse to experience certain mechanical stressors. For instance, a horse with a long neck may experience more muscle soreness in the shoulder and neck, as they will have to work harder to stabilise. Regular massage, stretching, and exercises can help a horse to adapt, as they are developing and allow them to grow strong, flexible and supple.

Demands

Humans demand quite a bit from horses. Some have a job such as military and police horses. Others are competed at high levels in dressage, eventing, endurance, racing, team chasing and show jumping to name a few. All of these disciplines work the horse physically and mentally very hard, and as a result aches, tightness, and injuries do occur. A high performance human athlete wouldn’t go through a heavy training period without having regular massage, or treatment to help them train better and reduce the risk of injury. So why would we ask a horse too?

While I have discussed high performing horses all horses being ridden can benefit from massages. While they might not have the high demands placed on them as high perfuming horses do, they still get ridden regularly even at low level competition and as a result experience aches and pains. Horses also have to deal with us humans. We are not always the fittest or most balanced and horses have to compensate. More often than not if a human is stiff on their right side so will your horse. Both horse and rider receiving treatment at a similar time can help the partnership hugely. Imbalances and stiffness can be addressed as a whole entity rather than separate allowing progression to be more rapid and in tune. By having your horse massaged means you can have one as well.

Field, stable and
ridden antics

Horses like to have a frolic around the field with friends or solo and as a result can slip and pull muscles like humans can. This can also occur from spooking and isn’t just limited to the field but when ridden as well. Massage can help horses recover from soft tissue injuries, even impact injuries like a kick, where massage techniques and taping can be employed. Horses that are regularly stabled due to weather or other circumstances like box rest can also suffer sore muscles from repetitive actions like feeding from a hay net. They can experience fluid retention in their limbs due to reduced movement and as a result can feel stiff. Massaging can help relieve muscle soreness and fluid retention but can also relax a stabled horse and give them something different in their daily routine.

Old and young horses

Old horses, like older people suffer aches and pains as they age. Some of this can be due to arthritic changes in joins, a reduced healing rate or cellular turnover, changes in circulation and other health conditions. Massage can help increase mobility in joints, improve circulation and help with pain management making an old horse feel better.

While it wouldn’t be thought that young horses would experience aches and pains they do, but not in the same way an elderly horse might. Young horses are growing rapidly and may experience muscle ache or other problems associated with being young and growing. A young horse also has to adapt to the demands being placed on it such as accommodating a rider, which it has not experienced in its early years. The horse may then be expected to be ridden in an outline and jumped, which it needs time to adapt. Also a young horse is still growing when this is all going on so they need to get used to their own bodies. During all of this young horses can experience discomfort, stiffness, and tight muscles. Massage can help prevent compensatory movement, avoidance behaviour and finally injury.

Past injuries

Unless you have had your horse since a foal you won’t know all its history. As a result there are past injuries that may be still affecting your horse. When I got my current horse and had a bodyworker come and treat him, she said that he had probably had a fall at some point, perhaps into a ditch! It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to chat to a past owner that she confirmed this is exactly what happened. As a result of having a bodyworker (massage therapist) we were able to release this tension and work towards building up his strength. A few years on you wouldn’t know this had happened. Massage can help a great deal towards allowing a horse to function at a better capacity after an injury, as well as help prevent further injuries or compensatory movements. Through massage certain muscles can be released allowing other muscles to be strengthened, and further helping your horse to perform to their potential, be it a happy hacker or a top class event horse.

Well Being

Humans find massage relaxing, so why wouldn’t a horse! More often than not horses completley zone out when experiencing a massage. They relax, some even go to sleep. It allows them time out and a moment to recharge. Your horse will appreciate regular massages and you may find that unwanted behaviours may diminish, due to being relaxed and removing any discomfort. Horses tend to not be naughty in nature and often behaviours occur due to pain. I will admit some horses do have a sense of humour and you could deem this as naughty, but there is a big difference between this and avoiding doing something because it is sore. Horses can also be very good at hiding pain, due to being a pray animal and not wanting to show outward signs to a predator. This means as owners we have to get very good at reading the signs. A regular massage can help prevent this from happening and help your horses well being.

Horses are all very different, they experience muscle tightness and discomfort in different areas and ways, due to age, conformation, injuries, jobs, health conditions and environment. However, to reduce this and allow horses to perform better, in comfort and enjoy it, we can give them regular bodywork sessions. This can be a combination of massage, exercises, stretches, tape, acupressure and many more to allow horses to relax, release and reduce discomfort. Empowering horses to move more freely and naturally.

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