Why is massage therapy important for your horse?

Chrissy Harley works on a patient. There are many benefits in massage for horses, such as increased strength and endurance, along with agility and grace in their movement.
Chrissy Harley works on a patient. There are many benefits in massage for horses, such as increased strength and endurance, along with agility and grace in their movement.

Skilled Equine Massage Therapists (EMT) will create long-term benefits for your horse by maintaining muscles so they can perform to their optimum potential, writes Chrissy Harley.

This means muscles free from tension and knots, which allows the muscles to return to homeostasis, back to their relaxed state. You will see great benefits in increased strength and endurance along with agility and grace in their movement.

There are three roles of soft tissue massage therapy:

  • To Prevent
  • To Rehabilitate
  • To Diagnose

To Prevent Injury

Very basically, muscles are made of muscle bundles, which are made up of large amounts of muscle fibrils. When we ‘build’ muscle we create lots of small ‘tears’ in the muscle fibres, which repair with scar tissue. This process can take up to 72 hours. This scar tissue, however, needs to be broken down to bring flexibility back to the muscle.

Think of a weight lifter (who doesn’t do yoga). He bulks up a lot of muscle, yet has little flexibility and range of motion. Their bodies have less movement and grace, and they tend to have a lot of joint problems and pain. Stretching and massage is proven to help in this situation. Stretching helps the muscle return to its natural shape by increasing blood flow to the area. Therapeutic massage will help the connective tissue become more elastic, thereby allowing the muscle to also return to its inherent shape and will also increase blood and intercellular fluids to fill the area, giving cells a healthy environment to do their job.

It is imperative for horses to maintain range of motion otherwise other parts of their body will compensate and take up the extra workload. They may carry on like this for weeks, months or years, constantly wearing down. The body is designed to increase support to an area that is stressed and over months and years of increased support the body can no longer call on extra resources because it doesn’t have them. This ultimately leads to ruptures of soft tissues, scar tissue, and thickening of the tendon and ligaments, which then causes permanent dysfunction of the affected area.

Each muscle attaches to two or more bones and crosses one joint or more. Muscles free from tension, with agility and movement, will carry out a function of keeping joints aligned. This allows joint fluid to flow evenly within the joint, and this reduces unnatural wear and tear of joints. Hence the term ‘well-oiled joints’.

Each muscle is attached to bone by tendons. Muscles are designed to take 90% of workload and tendons the other 10%. If the muscle isn’t functioning properly then the tendons will take more load. This is obviously very important in horses as ultimately it can lead to bowed tendons.

Equine massage therapy is a very powerful tool in injury prevention for horses.

To Rehabilitate

Therapeutic Massage plays a key role in post-trauma rehabilitation, to get your horse back into work sooner with less chance of weakness or re-injury. Massage breaks down scar tissue and brings blood and oxygen to the area for speedier healing of muscle damage. EMT will work on the whole body of the horse so the horse can function in a balanced way and release any compensatory muscle tensions also linked with injury.

A massage should never be carried out on an area in the acute stage of injury, with heat or swelling. This can create greater tissue damage to the area as massage stimulates blood flow and increases vasodilation.

Muscles convert chemical energy to mechanical energy. If a muscle doesn’t return to its original relaxed state this creates tension, which creates energy blockage (chemical/electrical), which shows as movement blockage/weakness. It can also create chronic pain or persistent nagging pain that can impede performance mentally, emotionally and physically.

To Diagnose

ch-massage2A full-body Massage Therapy treatment on a horse will give a skilled therapist great insight into the state of 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 EMT can help determine the root cause of muscular problems and offer valuable information to your vet or other equine care providers.

Back pain is a high source of discomfort in horses due to their anatomy not being designed to carry a rider. EMT can help assess what muscles are being affected and work in with chiropractors as complementary therapy to help create long-lasting changes.

What to look for in choosing your Equine Massage Therapist

There are many different modalities of Equine Therapies. These include chiropractic, Shiatsu massage, accupressure, neuromuscular, physiotherapy, movement therapy, craniosacral, sports massage, bowen, reiki … to name a few.

Some things you may want to find out are:

  • are they certified
  • how long did they study and where
  • do they have good knowledge of anatomical form and function
  • do they have good horse handling skills
  • are they supported by other Equine Care Professionals
  • What results are expected from a course of treatments


Chrissy Harley, of Water Horse Massage Therapy, is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT). Contact her on water.horse.massage@xtra.co.nz or 021 284 2212.



This article has been written by a contributor to Horsetalk.co.nz.

2 thoughts on “Why is massage therapy important for your horse?

  • October 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Hi there, I have been reading your article with great interest, knowing about the benefits of massages for animals for a long time. May I draw your attention to a great massage tool that makes massaging – even horses – easier and more effective?
    I don’t want to spam you – so I just invite you to google “JOYA Crystal Massage” and our website will come up ;o)
    To the health and well-being of your beautiful animals!

  • February 3, 2019 at 12:10 am

    Recently you have written a great article , it is so useful to us. Thanks for sharing such a great information to us.


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