More about Massage for your Horse
Author: Mel Betts, McTimoney Equine Therapist
About the Author
Mel Betts is McTimoney Equine Therapist based in Hereford. Mel also has an ITEC Diploma in Equine Sports Massage as well as an ITEC Diploma in Holistic Human Massage Therapy. For more information see www.horse-massage.com
How Can Massage Help Your Horse?
By Mel Betts, McTimoney Equine Therapist
Have you ever had a massage? When the stresses and strains of modern life take their toll, if done well, massage is the most luxurious therapy that relieves all sorts of muscular aches and pains, leaving you happy and relaxed, with a sensation of genuine wellbeing.
It is the same for horses.
In the wild, horses graze and roam naturally up to 20 miles per day to find food and water. However, the practicalities of keeping horses in today’s world, means they are necessarily contained in stables and paddocks. We also ask our horses to perform – often repetitive – tasks which they were never really designed to do. Is it any wonder then, simply the physical effort of carrying a saddle and rider results in muscular discomfort to many animals really only designed to roam and eat grass?
Just as massage can benefit humans both psychologically and physically, it can help our horses cope with the requirements of the modern day demands we put on them.
How Does Massage Work?
Around sixty percent of the horse’s body is made up of muscle. Massage – and I am referring to equine massage techniques based on the traditional Swedish therapy – warms the tissues through repetitive strokes and compression techniques. In-turn, this increases the blood supply to muscles, as repetitive rubbing raises tissue temperature. Because the body thinks it is too hot, blood is sent to cool the area.
Elevated blood supply to muscles is advantageous because it allows muscles to be cleansed properly following inevitable toxin build-up after exercise.
Blood within veins is not pumped by the heart, but relies on a ‘milking’ action created by skeletal muscles and a complex system of valves to prevent the blood flowing backwards. Massage helps this venous system to transport waste laden blood away from muscles – keeping them healthy.
In a wild horse, any muscular toxin build up after a burst of speed for example, would be naturally be cleansed by the ‘milking action’ created by skeletal muscle movement as it walks around to graze. Horses that are stabled after work can’t do this and so therefore benefit greatly from post exercise massage. It is also why warming down is so critically important.
As well as improving circulation, massage can also perform a pain relieving function. The stimulation of muscles through massage releases opiates – the body’s natural pain relieving chemicals – into the body which allow sore muscles and muscles in spasm to relax. Blood flow can circulate more easily in a relaxed muscle than in one which is in spasm. The muscle can then be fed with nutrients and oxygen contained in the blood which are necessary to maintain health.
Massage can also be helpful prior to exercise – particularly at competitions for example as its tissue warming function can help prevent injury.
As with people, massage is also very relaxing for the horse. I recently worked with two box walkers who both stopped their respective ‘stable vice’ for up to eight hours directly after massage therapy.
Proper feeding, management, tack fitting, dentistry and hoof care all play an important role in keeping your horse healthy and allowing him to perform to his best ability. However, massage is now also becoming widely accepted as a way to enhance performance in the horse. It can also play a vital role in relieving tired and aching muscles which are doing a job they really were not designed for.
Relieve muscle pain
Increase the rate of healing
Decrease post-exercise muscle soreness
Help prevent muscle strain
How Can You Help Your Horse?
Spend sufficient time warming up
Always warm down after exercise – walk the last mile home
Let your horse roll in the field directly after exercise – this is his way of having a good stretch
Only do stretching exercises when your horse is warm after exercise or after a massage
Avoid pulling your horses leg forward to stretch the skin under the girth when your horse is cold
Ensure your horse is fit enough for the task required of him
Make sure your stirrups are the same length – do measure them!
Always use a mounting block or get a leg up
Change your diagonal regularly when out hacking – every 10-15 strides
Have your saddle fit checked every year by a professionally qualified saddle fitter
Have your horse’s teeth checked at least every year by a qualified equine dental technician (EDT)
If in any doubt about your horse’s health CALL YOUR VETFollow us Share this