As an equine massage therapist I often find that people are still unclear when and why they should use massage on their horses.
So firstly what is massage therapy? Massage therapy is a modality where the therapists hands alongside some manual tools, are used to move the muscle and soft tissue to increase circulation, range of motion and flexibility with a view to assisting in healing, and creating relaxation. This is very important both in pleasure horses and performance horses, why? because fitness is a double edged sword, you see the unfit horse is more likely to be sore due to overworking unconditioned muscles and becoming sore, a bit like when you join the gym or go back to training at the start of the footie season, but by the same token the very fit performance horse becomes sore due to the level of its training and the introduction of more difficult exercises such as lateral work or the increased size of fences.
What might you see in a horse who requires a massage?
- Not wanting to do movements that they have never complained about before
- An uneven stride
- Inability to strike off on the correct canter lead
- Head shy
- Works more easily on one rein than the other
- Doesn’t like being tacked up, when normally it isn’t an issue
- Dipping there back away when being groomed or tacked up
- Biting or kicking when touched in a certain area
- Reduced flexion
Think about it when you see interviews with top athletes and they talk about their routine and team members, they often talk about their massage therapists, physios etc. All the top football teams travel with a massage therapist, they are encouraged to use them whenever they are sore. When I worked in human sports therapy, we covered some of the top football teams and they all received pre and post match massage, the main reason for this was because players who receive bodywork have a much lower incidence of injury.
Massage is often considered to be a luxury but I think people are starting to realise that the benefits are worth every cent, we must remember that you are not going to change a years’ worth of issues and tightness overnight, it may take a couple of sessions to feel a change, but believe me your horse will thank you and in return you will have a happy healthy and safe partner.
Remember before you pick up your phone, make sure you are employing a qualified therapist, this is easily checked through the ETAA (equine therapists association of Australia) or the IEBWA (international equine body workers association) also check who they have qualified with, a google check should tell you the level of their training, I am seeing more and more people claiming to be qualified when all they actually hold is an owner’s course designed for individuals to massage their own horse.
So why not give it a go, I promise you you won’t regret it.