Bodywork for horses

Massage is the oldest healing modality known to humankind

The foundations of massage remain largely unchanged, and modern therapies continue to emerge and refine the practice of massage but the proliferation of equine massage therapy throughout competition venues worldwide is a testament to the efficacy of manual bodywork.

What is bodywork?

Bodywork therapy requires the practitioner to identify areas of muscle tension or restrictions by evaluating tenderness, texture, temperature and tone using palpation techniques.

Any slight abnormal muscle function can cause the body to work out of sync, limiting the healthy range of motion and functional length of the muscle which eventually creates discomfort and can eventually cause unneccessary deterioration and detrimental compensatory movement patterns.

Bodywork therapy uses a unique combination of massage and manual therapy techniques to address muscle dysfunction

Benefits of Bodywork

Enhanced muscle tone

Bodywork helps prevent and reduce atrophy (muscle loss) particularly in aging horses or those recovering from illness or injury. Increased range of motion bodywork can help your horse to move more comfortably and efficiently.

Reduced Wear and tear of joints, ligaments and tendons

Through better movement, your horse is able to enjoy a longer performance life. Improved stamina Increased range of motion allows greater efficiency and therefore improves stamina

Improved comfort for injured muscles

If your horse has had an injury and the vet has given the go ahead for bodywork – massage, stretching and correct exercises can help to ensure scar tissue is laid down in the most functional way possible and prevent muscle atrophy and compensatory movements to ensure your horse can return to normal work as healthily as possible

Improved circulation

massage helps to improve circulation and encourage elimination of waste products from the body. Coat health will improve with regular therapies as well as incidences of swelling.

Enhances learning and training

Mental acuity and learning benefit from increased blood flow and restored balance. Increased emotional and mental relaxation and blood flow to the brain lay the groundwork for mental clarity, and thus, improved learning and training.

Reduced tactile defenses

bodywork can help horses that are fearful or reluctant to be touched or have negative past experience with human handling. It can help adjust them to regular handling, wearing tack and rugs etc and has been known to help in cases of head shyness and help provide positive emotional experiences around humans and human touch.

Improved disposition

some horses are very good at demonstrating discomfort – bucking/pinned ears/tail swishing/refusing jumps/freezing/bolting are all signs of discomfort or pain, which can be mistaken for a behavioural issue or ‘naughtiness’. Some horses may not show their discomfort quite as obviously.

The session

The session will last for roughly an hour, please allow up to an hour and a half for an initial session as I will carry out a complete static and dynamic assessment of your horse’s body the first time I visit. I like to see your horse walk and trot if possible so that I can identify any areas of restriction, asymmetries and evaluate his gait. The treatment usually starts with red light therapy which provides a form of energy to the muscle cells to warm up the tissues and relax the horse prior to the massage. A few checks are performed to identify areas of sensitivity or tension before carrying out the massage. A typical session includes a general full-body massage with special attention to any areas of sensitivities or restriction. In addition to targeted manual techniques, you may also see me perform stretches and range of motion exercises. Throughout the treatment I assess the health of each muscle and watch for subtle signs of pain, discomfort or sensitivity as well as the horses reaction for indications of tension relief. I record my findings during the session and produce a report, which I email to you following the session, identifying the specific muscles or locations where issues were found and addressed as well as providing advice on adjustments to training and exercise to encourage healthy movement and conditioning.

Addressing Luna’s poll at Positive Horse Training Spain Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Sheedy

Before your appointment

For the therapy to be most beneficial please ensure you follow this guide:

. Your horse must be dry and (ideally) clean-ish! Avoid using products such as coat conditioner or sheen.

. Bodywork is most effective if your horse is relaxed so be sure to tie your horse in a place they are comfortable eg – where field mates can be seen if your horse gets anxious when separated and try to arrange a session during quieter periods on the yard

. If your horse has had any recent veterinary visits or lameness or is on any other treatment shedule please first obtain advice from your veterinary surgeon – massage therapy is usually very beneficial for a lot of physical conditions but there are some contraindications.

. Do any intense training at least an hour before the session as immediately following the session only long, loose, light work is encouraged. . If you do ride your horse before the session, please allow sufficient time to cool down and dry off prior to my arrival

. Make a note of your horse’s behaviour, diet, mood and performance in between sessions as any changes may be due to a physical issue which I could help to address

A bit of history

 The benefits of massage for animals parallel those for humans. In fact, historically, most research into the benefits of touch and massage therapy has initially been proven with lab animals. Animal experiments evaluating the physiological effects of massage began as early as the 1800s. In the 1980s, Touch Research Institute began their investigation of the importance of tactile stimulation using young rats as their subjects. And at present, studies are being conducted with animals to investigate the biological process of touch. The Chinese have produced numerous studies documenting the effects of Eastern modalities on animals such as acupressure points, energy meridians and trigger points which are all considered during a bodywork session. Only by continuing studies on humans, researchers have provided tangible evidence of the many benefits of touch and massage.

Treating the hindquarters of a horse during my training with Equinology ANZ in New Zealand.