Equine Massage is still a relatively new field that very few people outside of the horse world know about. I often get asked about the types of horses who would benefit from a massage. 60% of a horse’s body mass is comprised of muscles (compared to 40% in people). As a result of this, horses in general respond very well to massage unless there is a direct contraindication (check back next week for When not to call the Massage Therapist).
Many of the horses I work on are show horses, and in their case, massages are largely a training tool during the off season. When muscles are relaxed and trigger points are released, training becomes more correct and easier. These horses are athletes and they work much harder than the typical pleasure horse – some areas of increased tension are unavoidable in an intense training program. During show season, massages are a natural and legal way to enhance a horse’s performance. At shows horses are working harder than at home, but typically getting far less turnout. Add to that the stress of a long trailer ride as well as showing itself and a well timed massage can definitely help a horse perform better. Every horse is different and some are quite relaxed for a few days after a massage while others can get quite fresh, so it’s ideal to try this out before arriving at a show!
High level competition horses aren’t the only ones who benefit from massage. I work on many horses who are used for pleasure only. Often the pleasure mounts receive massages for purposes very similar to competition horses. Just because a horse is not showing regularly, it doesn’t mean the owner does not have training goals. Massage often helps assess how the horse is feeling and how effectively they use their body and this is just as important schooling at home or on the trails as it is in the show ring. It’s also important to remember that sometimes the horses who don’t train 5 days per week are not quite as fit, so a long trail ride or clinic can make them a more body sore than the horse who is more fit.
Massage is also a helpful tool during rehabilitation and this applies to horses of all levels and ages. Keeping muscles supple while the horse is on stall rest and decreasing compensatory issues can help make the return to work more smooth. Once the horse is slowly returning to work, keeping an eye on muscle tension helps to determine if the horse is using its body correctly which can help decrease chances of re-injury, or a new injury altogether.
There are also benefits to getting older horses massaged more regularly. Arthritis and muscle loss often bring with it postural changes that cause excess tension in certain areas of a horse’s body. While a massage will not help with the arthritic changes themselves, it can certainly alleviate some of the negative side effects.
While summer is my busiest time of year due to show season, there are many owners who call me more often in the winter. As the weather gets cold and damp, and the ground goes through many freeze and thaw cycles (especially here in the Lower Mainland) many horses suffer from more muscle tension and stiffness, these are often young, healthy horses who are just particularly sensitive to temperature changes. Arthritis symptoms are also often aggravated in the winter which can cause increased muscle tension as well.
Finally, some people choose to get their horse massaged once in a while at least partially because they love to see how much their horse enjoys it!