Full-body massage therapy treatment for a horse may sound unessential and perhaps a bit excessive, but research has shown it can greatly aid the muscular and physiologic systems.
Hands-on therapies, including massage, acupressure and joint mobilization, are one of the fastest growing equine therapy categories. Many schools offer certification programs in the areas of animal and companion massage, and many are approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (be sure to ask for credentials before hiring a massage therapist for your horse).
Equine massage uses the hands, fingers and elbows of the therapist, as well as other tools, including tennis balls. During the massage, the soft tissue is manipulated with the goal of loosening tight muscles, joints, tendons, scar tissue and edema; increasing blood flow and lymphatic activity; and reducing stress. Equine massage is used in exercise warm-up and post-injury or surgery rehabilitation, and will give a skilled therapist great insight into the state of muscular problem areas.
It is always advisable to have a veterinary consultation regarding any injury, however it is not feasible for your vet to spend an hour or more massaging your horse. A skilled and certified Equine Massage Therapist can help determine the root cause of muscular problems and offer valuable information to your vet or other equine care providers.
Here are a few of the benefits of equine massage therapy:
• Relieves tension and muscles spasms.
• Dilates blood vessels and improves circulation, which promotes more rapid healing of injuries.
• Enhances muscle tone and range of motion, and stretches connective tissue
• Increases potential performance and endurance.
• Reduces inflammation and swelling in the joints.
• Increases the production of synovial fluid in the joints.
• Lengthens connective tissue and breaks down/prevents the formation of adhesions.
• Helps extend the good health and lifespan of a horse.
• Helps drain sluggish lymph material.
• Lessens stiffness and swelling.
• Has a stimulating or sedative effect on nervous system.
• Brings awareness to the area being massaged.
Although massage can greatly benefit the lives and health of all horses, it’s especially needed in horses that exhibit the following symptoms or behaviors:
• Head tossing
• Refusal to pick-up correct lead
• Unexplained lameness
• Difficulty with lateral movements
• Girthing or “cold back” problems
• Lack of forward impulsion
Aside from its physical benefits, massage speaks to the nervous system in such a way that a horse will experience a significant state of relaxation and mental clarity as well. Any horse in a constant state of mental stress will never perform to its full potential.
Annual massages do not address underlying issues, and the horse never reaps the benefits. Regular massages not only benefit the horse, they benefit the horse owner in these ways:
• A decrease in vet visits, saving you time and money, and increasing time in the saddle.
• A competitive horse that moves more efficiently, with less pain, can achieve more on the track or in the arena.
• A horse that recovers more quickly from workouts provides you with a willing horse to ride.
• You may have a much happier horse with a better work attitude, making your daily ride a pleasure rather than a fight.
Whether you ride for pleasure or performance, equine massage is a simple addition to your horse’s health care program. It may seem luxurious and expensive (a 90-minute massage averages about $150, depending on the provider), but science has shown that horses respond well to initial treatment, while consistent massage builds positive effects over the long, happy life of your horse.