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.

Human, Injury Management

It is time to sort those injuries out

The end of the hockey season is upon us, our bodies are starting to feel the accumulation of all the hard work put in. Mentally and physically fatigue is starting to show, now is the time to allow yourself to recover and address any niggles or injuries picked up.

Recovery

Recovery is often overlooked by many athletes but is the key to making gains in physical and mental performance.

” Train smart not hard”

is something I say regularly to athletes I have worked with, especially endurance athletes. Often athletes believe that poor performance is due to not training hard enough, but often its because they don’t integrate enough recovery time into their training. Due to this athletes become stale and progress does not occur. However, by making sure recovery occurs in training on a regular basis will allow the body to adapt and adjust to the stresses placed on it during training. Further to this training volume and intensity need to also be adjusted to create stress on the body. If we did the same all the time the body would not get fitter and performance levels would not improve. This means that during the off season, in any sport, not just hockey, a good amount of recovery time needs to be scheduled in before training commences.

Once the season is finished it is okay to take a week off and not doing any physical activity. Yes you might loose some fitness but this can easily be retained in no time from a well constructed training plan. Low level activity can be reintroduced after a week to allow a gradual increase in volume with the intensity being relatively low. This begins to build a base for the rest of your fitness and it is always a good idea to build a broad endurance base. Taking up other sports like cycling or swimming are great for this. They have less impact on joints but build cardio fitness.

I slightly digress, so a bit of time out allows the mind and body to recovery from the high intensity hockey season. It reboots and refreshes the system, it is also a good time to see your sports therapist or physiotherapist, to address any injuries or niggles and allow them time to recovery.

Addressing injuries or niggles

During your down time it is good to pinpoint any injuries or niggles that have occurred throughout the season even if you feel you have recovered from them. Once pinpointed you can develop a strength and conditioning training plan, which you can implement during your off season. This will allow you to return to pre-season training with any weaknesses or imbalances addressed reducing your incidence of injury during the season.

Key areas to address in hockey players

Through my time working with hockey players I have identified three areas, that if worked on during the off season could help prevent injuries during the hockey season.

  1. Develop a deep core through specific exercises such as Pilates. I specifically haven’t used strengthen as developing deep core muscles is more than just strengthening them, it is often down to learning how to activate these muscles (transversus abdominis, pelvic floor and multifidus), and not using global muscles groups to perform these exercises. By developing the deep core allows the body to stabilise for any activity. This in turn allows you to develop stronger global muscles increasing global strength, power and speed. Without a well developed deep core you will sustain injuries as you increase the intensity of training.
  2. Work on releasing your hip flexors (Iliopsoas). So often hockey players come to me complaining their hamstrings are tight or their gluteals hurt. This is more often than not down to tightness in the iliopsoas. Hockey has a large amount of hip flexion causing the iliospoas to be in a contracted position, encouraging it to shorten. This causes anterior pelvic tilt, which subsequently puts the hamstrings on stretch as well as the gluteal muscles. This gives the perception that the hamstrings are tight when in fact they are not. In regards to the gluteals they feel tender because they are also in a stretched position. This causes the gluteals to not activate as well and therefore make it difficult to strengthen them. This creates more work for the hamstrings as they will compensate for the gluteals not activating. So the hamstrings have a pretty hard time playing hockey. By stretching and releasing the iliopsoas regularly you will keep the hamstrings and gluteals a lot happier.
  3. After releasing the iliopsoas the hamstrings and gluteals can then be strengthened. By doing this you will increase hip stability, reduce injury and allow a good foundation for speed and power to be built on. Including gluteal bridges and nordic hamstring curls can go a long way in reducing your injury risk.

The off season is a great time to get on top of everything so that you come back into the season stronger and better prepared that the previous one. This will help your performance and reduce your injury risk. So go out there enjoy the warmer weather and work on yourself.

Human, Injury Management

What is K-Tape all about?

What is K-Tape all about?

Most people have heard of K-tape (kinesiology tape), or at least seen athletes wearing it. There is a strong belief with some that tape is used for injuries (which it can be), and as a result don’t want to visibly give their opponent a psychological advantage. However k-tape has more uses than when injured.

For instance it can be used for the following

  • To help posture and proprioception
  • Improve recovery
  • Help prevent re-occurence of injuries
  • Reduce bruising, swelling, and pain
  • Increase flexibility

How can k-tape help posture and proprioception?

We are all being told about poor posture and that we need to be mindful to improve it. K-Tape applied in the correct manner can help remind individuals of a better posture. For example it can be used to help draw the shoulders back for those working for long periods of time at a desk so that they don’t slump. It can also be used in sport to remind an athlete on limb position (proprioception). A good example is with horse riders, it allows long lasting corrections to be made to a riders position and balance, which in turn allows the horse and rider a deeper partnership.

K-tape can help recovery, reduce bruising, swelling and pain

The way that K-tape works is that when placed on the skin it helps lift and decompress the tissues beneath. This is thought to help decrease muscle tone, allow easier movement between muscle fibres and increase circulation. This in turn allows for more rapid removal of inflammation, excess fluid and by products of exercise or injury. This is turn can help reduce bruising, swelling and chemicals causing pain. K-tape can therefore help recovery after exercise and injury making it very useful to have in your sports bag.

Increase Flexibility

Rocktape®️, which is the brand of tape I use on a regular basis, developed Powertaping™️. Which is meant to help develop neuromuscular function and movement along myofascial chains of movement. Myofascial chains was developed by Thomas Myers and is termed Anatomy Chains (which is a very interesting read if you want to learn more!). Powertaping™️ can potentially help treat pain, improve flexibility, delay muscle fatigue, and reduce imbalances. The way Powertaping™️ is thought to work is by the tape stimulating the sensorimotor system through cuteness afferent nerves. This in turn sends signals to the brain causing small adjustments to movement patterns to be made affecting proprioception. It is also thought that tape can alter the nociceptive pain pathways through the pain gate mechanism and lastly decrease tone in muscles allowing an increase in flexibility.

As you can see the way the tape affects the body interlinks and has several outcomes that are beyond just injury management. K-tape is a great tool to help injuries but can be used for so much more as stated above. Apart from massage I find it is one of the most useful treatment options to have at hand and works well with other treatment modalities. It is easy to carry round, apply and it can be used for up to 5 days. Rocktape®️ also have many colour and pattern choices, which also goes down well with clients. Lastly K-tape can be used on horses to help in a similar way to humans but I feel this is an area for its own post in the future, so watch this space.

Further information on Rocktape®️and how it can help movement can be found here blog.