I began massaging horses over twenty years ago, and the benefits of this therapeutic technique have proved themselves to me and the horses, time and time again. I began with a book by Jack Meagher, who, to me remains the pioneer of this creative and hugely beneficial method of helping horses. He said his primary concerns for any athlete, whether human or horse were:
- To be as good as possible
- To be as safe as possible
- To last as long as possible
Equine massage provides this in numerous ways, which will be detailed later. But by spotting and locating small issues, tight spots and knots early on, can prevent injury, damage and time off work later down the line.
After I qualified with ‘Equinenergy’ in 2000 my real journey of learning, growing and developing my own style began. It continues to this day, and each new horse brings me insight, new observations and surprises. The horses really ‘show’ you how they are feeling, if they are happy with what you are doing, if they prefer another area to be treated or even how much pressure you should be using. They can be quite particular at times!
Some of the numerous benefits of regular equine massage are as follows:
- Increased flexibility
- Psychological Issues
- Relieving poll tension (One of my favourites!)
- Muscle Recovery
- Improved balance between horse and rider
The use of massage can have an incredible effect on the horse. Massage allows a horse to “let go” of past trauma, tensions and suffering. It can even bring about a change in personality, fearful or timid horses, can become more confident, aggressive horse’s calmer. It helps to keep muscle hydrated, supple, flexible and in good condition. How? Well, the various techniques used work by eliminating toxins, waste (lactic acid for example) towards the lymph nodes, and the body’s own system can release them as waste. Very often your horses table will be filthy the day after a massage, they will often drink lots more water as well. Don’t say you wasn’t warned… ???? This elimination of waste, helps to prevent muscle cramps, fatigue and encourages hydration and aids muscle recovery.
The Poll is an area where a lot of tension can accumulate and cause issues, such as holding the head to one side, head shy issues. Even leading to biting and avoiding being touched. Gently releasing the tension with the use of various massage techniques can bring much-needed relief to the horse. When the tension is freed, the horse can respond a variety of ways, such as yawning, lowering of the head, or stretching. This one I feel has the greatest emotional effect on the horse too. changes in temperament are often reported. The use of massage can have an incredible effect on the horse. Massage allows a horse to “let go” of past trauma, tensions and suffering. It can even bring about a change in personality, fearful or timid horses, can become more confident, aggressive horses calmer.
As massage therapy removes tightness in the muscles, the coat can become more conditioned and shinier. These free muscles are now able more easily reached by nutrients which allows them to more easily grow and develop along with their workload. It (massage), allows oxygen to flow freely through the blood cells, and restore torn muscle fibers.
Often the horse compensates for any rider tension, unevenness or one-sidedness. I have found that if a horse has a tight shoulder, or lower back, the owner has reported feeling the same. And, no, I don’t massage people, I often feel I should have trained in that area as well…. But I do recommend you find yourself a good massage therapist too.
Ultimately Massage is not a standalone cure-all. It should be used alongside proper veterinary care, a suitable diet and exercise regime for your horse and his needs. His training should reflect the workload expected and above all, he should be treated with respect, compassion and kindness.
As the mighty Jack Meagher said, “Every horse has the right to feel free”.