Massage therapy on humans and animals has been widely used for thousands of years. Massage works the soft tissues and muscles to help improve mobility, flexibility and aid the healing process.
Massage therapy on horses is a commonly adopted form of therapy within the equine community benefitting horses recovering from an injury or as part of their ongoing wellbeing.
Whether your horse is a pet horse at home or a grand-prix level sports horse, providing them with regular massage therapy has shown to create significant benefits to their ongoing health and wellbeing.
In this article we look at the benefits of professional massage therapy as well as learning basic steps for you to carry out on your own horse. We also look at products and treatments that work well alongside massage therapy.
Why horses benefit from massage therapy
Horses are made up of about 60% muscle and have adapted genetically to carry the weight of the rider on their backs.
Just as with us, horses can develop a variety of muscle strains, tears, adhesions or fatigue through their physical activities or daily lifestyles.
A horse with a muscle, tendon or ligament injury will be subjected to a period of recovery and rehabilitation time. Box rest for some injuries can be for as long as 12-18 months! Massage therapy, often alongside physiotherapy, can play an important role in achieving a full and speedier recovery.
In many aspects of horsemanship owners are now regularly turning to qualified massage therapists to assist their horses physical wellbeing as well as improving the horses mental wellbeing.
Equine massage therapy has shown to prevent injury in your horse and as with humans many horses will be visibly relaxed when being treated to a massage.
Massage therapy claims to support the prevention of numerous illnesses and is regarded as one of the most effective therapies in maintaining the musculoskeletal system.
We look at the main benefits in horses receiving regular equine massage therapy:
1. Increase the horses flexibility
As horses begin to get older or experience physical injuries their overall flexibility may be reduced. This may also apply to sports horses who lead an active lifestyle.
Equine massage therapy has shown to reduce muscle fatigue, inflammation with the structure of the muscle, or tightness within the muscle or tendon.
Through targeted stretching and specific massage techniques the horses alignment is improved and rehydration of the muscle fibres are improved. This increase in muscle hydration improves the muscles elasticity allowing the muscle to stretch further and hence increasing flexibility.
2. Improve the horses suppleness
Similar to increasing the horses flexibility, massage therapy for horses can also show an improvement in suppleness. Suppleness directly relates to a combination of unrestricted movement within a horses muscles, tendons, ligaments or joints.
Massage therapists will focus on the horses range of motion and provide a service which directly effects the free movement of the horses joints improving the animals suppleness.
3. Assist the horses recovery process
Equine massage therapy is a wonderful method to aid muscle recovery in a horse.
Providing your horse with massage therapy will help free the body from muscle fatigue and cramps by increasing the oxygen within the blood and helping to replenish and repair any damaged muscles or tendon fibres.
As the message therapy begins the muscles begin to warm and this increase in heat helps blood flow which in turn can lead to improved recovery times.
4. Providing pain relief to the horse
Massaging encourages the release of endorphins which in turn provides the horse with a rush of positive hormones. This has shown to help short term relieve pain.
As well as providing pain relief; massage therapy can also help reduce lactic acid build up which in turn will reduce soreness and cramping muscles.
5. Improve circulation in the horse
During a massage session the pressures applied within the treatment will help increase circulation within the system helping muscles to receive better nourishment, oxygen and hydration.
Massage therapy has also been shown to impact the lymphatic system by helping to eliminate waste toxins and reduce fluid build up; often associated with thoroughbreds and horses who are not regularly mobile.
6. Prevention of injuries
Often when caring for our horse we react to the now-and-then. It is widely viewed that providing an ongoing program to your horse aimed at preventing an injury is an important step to maintaining a sound horse.
Massage therapy - as well as other treatments such as physiotherapy or pulse-electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) - can significantly help prevent certain types of injuries.
It is common for horse owners to apply a variety of alternative equine therapies aimed at preventing injuries and conditions such as stifle injuries, navicular, windgalls, equine joint issues, laminitis, ringbone and much more.
7. Help to diagnose an injury
As well as treating an injury or condition, equine massage therapy can also be an effective way to diagnose a problem area in a horses body.
A professionally trained equine therapist can play a vital role in helping a vet diagnose an exact injury and play an important role in carrying out an effective treatment plan.
8. Help to effect the horses psychological issues
Providing horses with specific massage techniques which relate to the horse’s poll and neck has shown to transform a horses demeanour and behaviour - in some cases created impact on the most timid or fearful horses in just a few sessions.
9. Help keep your horse in 'tip-top' shape
During the daily rigours of managing a horse there are many steps you can take to help reduce post-exercise pain or soreness - massage therapy being one. Massage therapy plays a key role in not only supporting recovery and rehabilitation but also enhancing a horses athletic performance.
Many of the highest level competition yards and professionals have their own massage therapist who provides regular and ongoing treatment to individual horses - aimed at keeping the animal in tip-top shape.
10. Help to keep your horse happy
Ever had a massage yourself? If you have you will know the relaxing feeling you have shortly after the treatment. The same effect can been seen on horses following a session with their massage therapist. Many horse owners will provide regular massage sessions to their horses to help them relax and stay happy!
Common conditions or injuries effected by equine massage therapy
The most common injuries which equine massage can benefit are muscle, ligament and tendon injuries, sore muscles, splint injuries, back and neck injuries and even equine arthritis.
It is worth mentioning that massage therapy should be avoided if your horse has a fever or has low blood pressure; both of which are effected by massage therapy and could lead to further complications.
Seeing a fully-qualified massage therapist
Whether your horse is a pet or competing in competitions - the benefits of providing them regular massages is well documented. Including massage and regular stretching into your ongoing routine can play a significant role in keeping your horse in tip-top shape.
Professional trained massage therapists are highly trained individuals who offer hands-on one-to-one massage services to your horse. Their extensive training can help pinpoint any specific injuries or issues your horse may have and work with you and your vet to design the best treatment plan moving forward.
Although there are no legal qualifications required to provide equine massage therapy services there are a variety of professional training courses that therapists can undertake to become a recognised (and credible) qualified therapist.
It’s worth noting that qualified therapists are allowed to treat any horse without informing the horses vet as long as the horse is not receiving or currently under veterinary supervision. If they are receiving veterinary treatment, permission from the vet is required.
In the majority of cases vets will look towards a massage therapists accreditation level before agreeing to allow any treatment to be carried out on the horse.
Using a credible therapist is important; research their accreditation and ask to see endorsements or case studies on previous horses they have worked on.
Giving your horse a massage
Although massaging your horse is a wonderful way to 'be-at-one' with your horse and does provide a level of support to their muscles; providing a massage yourself should not replace massage therapy from a fully qualified equine therapist.
A few key things to remember when massaging your own horse is to start at the base of the skull and work your way towards their hind end.
The following key areas can be worked on by yourself and are relatively easy to carry out.
- The neck (including the mane)
- Their shoulders
- Their back
- Their hind end
There are many techniques you can deploy but ideally you should start any massage therapy by administering light pressure at first and increasing the pressure level as the therapy continues.
Many horse owners will look to provide their horse with a massage both pre and post exercise.
Pre-event massages are highly useful in getting the horses neuromuscular system working efficiently and often use techniques which are vigorous to help stimulate the horses muscles and often focussing on the major muscle groups which are used in the event. Just as an athlete does before competing, providing pre-event massages to your horse can lead to improved performance, greater endurance and flexibility and is widely respected at helping to prevent new injuries occurring.
At the end of an event many horse owners now provide their horses with a post-event massage alongside helping them cool down and to rehydrate themselves - an important part of their ‘recovery process’. Post-event massage techniques are used to decrease recuperation times and reduce the possibility of muscle spasms, cramps and post-event soreness.
If you are keen to provide massages to your horse then book yourself onto a massage therapy workshop-day with a fully-trained professional. You will be shown the basics of massage therapy in an hands-on environment and developed so you have a clear understanding of how to apply the correct massage moving forward.
Leading equine therapists, such as Denise at Sussex Equine Massage Therapy, now offer workshops which are a wonderful way for horse owners to fully understand the basics of massage therapy and help them provide ongoing care to their horse. Fully understanding your horse and having professionals like Denise treat your horse can lead to significant advantages in both reducing pain and injury leading to a happier and more supple horse.
Technology and tack used alongside massage therapy
In the past few years one of the most signifiant advancements within the massage therapy industry is the addition of massage machines such as massage guns and vibration plates - both now readily available within the equestrian world.
Massage guns are becoming more popular as they have various attachments which provide differing levels of application and are highly mobile. They range in price from $70-100 for a cheap handheld gun to $600+ for a professional unit with varying speed levels. It’s worth noting that there are no differences with massage guns for humans as there are on horses.
Another widely used product within this sector are massage rugs. These rugs have vibrating massage pads built into them which provide the horse with a gentle form of massage therapy. These massage rugs range in price (and reputation) but normally cost in excess of $300 and can increase to over $1500. They have a mixed reputation and can be both expensive and somewhat of a complication to continually manage.
Vibration plates and floor-devices are also gathering momentum within the equine community, particularly in high performance sports yards and are often referred to as ‘vibration therapy’. These are generally very expensive units which the horse stands on which create a range of vibrations throughout their body.
Gathering a glowing-reputation within the equine therapy market are EQU StreamZ horse bands. This tack introduces advanced magnetic therapy which interacts with the horse at a molecular level and has shown to provide significant reductions in inflammation, impact the lymphatic system and provide increased flexibility within a joint. Many professional riders and horse owners now swear by StreamZ Technology which is backed by thousands of reviews and various independent studies. EQU StreamZ magnetic horse bands are extremely useful to be used alongside massage therapy and between sessions; as endorsed by some of the worlds leading equine massage therapists.
Massage plays a key part in the physical and emotional wellbeing of your horse.
Providing ongoing massages to your horse can help maintain your horses muscle tone, address knots and help diagnose issues early.
Providing massage therapy yourself can enforce that spiritual connection between you and your horse whilst playing a significant role in preventing injuries and keeping your horse sound.
Providing your horse with regular visits to a fully-qualified massage therapist can become a valuable aspect of maintaining your horses overall health and happiness.
Have your massage therapist work with you to show you some techniques you can take-away with you and treat your horse between their professional sessions with tack and complimentary therapies.