Does My Horse Really Need A Massage?
Most likely, probably, without a doubt YES! Horses benefit from massage just like humans do! Any horse of any age, health condition, riding discipline, work load or breed will benefit in some way from massage therapy. Also massage can act as a preventative method for any horse of any age, breed or riding discipline so as they age, they are able to still move freely and be able to do their job into their senior years. The benefits of equine massage are endless and extremely beneficial to the horse whether they are actively competing, in a lesson program ridden by many different levels of riders or senior horses.
Below are just some signs your horse needs a massage (this is not a complete list - there are several more!)
- Not able to track up
- Can't change/maintain left or right lead canter
- Shortened strides
- Unable to bend from the ribs to left or right side laterally
- Throws head down when mounting
- Low energy, fatigued, depressed
- Cranky, sudden disruptive behavior
- Demanding training schedule & high competition
Human athletes can withstand long hours of rigorous training and the stress of competition and yet a single wrong step can lead to an injury that can limit or even end their career permanently. Behind every athlete is a team of experts - trainer, doctor, nutritionist, massage therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist - all making sure every system is working properly and at its optimal capacity.
The equine athlete is no different and whether you own a competitive hunter/jumper, dressage, eventer or barrel racer regardless if it's English or Western, there are demands placed on any equine body which requires a team of experts just like a human athlete. Most horses have a trainer, veterinarian, nutritionist, massage therapist, chiropractor and acupuncturist - maybe more maybe less than listed. Horses didn't choose to be athletes so it's our responsibility as humans to make sure the work we put upon them is enjoyable and pain free and to ensure their body and mind is functioning optimally so they can perform to our high human standards.
When something goes wrong, horses will try to conceal their pain as it is in their nature as prey animals to hide pain and discomfort and compensate for it by adjusting the way they use their body. So often we don't know something is wrong with our horse until it is very wrong - that's where an equine massage therapist comes in to get to the bottom of the problem. Regular massage therapy can resolve soft tissue issues before they become serious. It's normal for equine athletes to carry some muscle tension especially if they're working hard but if these muscle issues aren't addressed early on and maintained on a regular basis, they will eventually affect the way the horse moves which can lead to a common problem like lameness. Tension in the poll and TMJ may cause the horse to carry his head and entire body differently even affecting the sacrum or make him/her tense up the jaw muscles which affects his ability to bend properly and as a result starts to use their body incorrectly in a circle which can lead to tension in other parts of the body - tension in the left side poll can mean tension diagonally on the opposite right side hind end and vice versa which can lead to a vicious cycle in the horse's body.
*Equine massage is NOT a substitute for veterinary care