Massage and Muscle Therapy

by Catherine Bird

Massage for your horse is beneficial for many reasons. In days of old, it was a tool used by grooms to help maintain their horses’health.

Your horses’ muscles make up 60% of his body weight,and are responsible for movement and healthy functioning of the body.

Problems with muscles do not always make themselves evident directly. Your horse may have a change of behaviour, develop an annoying habit, resist a command or become uneven and display general signs of soreness.

Massage can be used to prevent injury as well as to assist the body repair muscle fibres that have been damaged. Often muscles will the first indication there is something wrong. A muscle contains many fibres and as it contracts and relaxes, if not operating at an optimum, some of these muscle fibres become "stuck" and form a spasm. As the spasm enlarges it causes pressure, and it is the pressure that is a major contributor to the cause of discomfort and pain.

If such a spasm is not removed it will eventually lead to a tear in the muscle or damage to other connective tissue. Unfortunately they do not work themselves out on their own, and quite often the body sets up other areas of resistance so it feels balanced, always trying to maintain homeostasis. If the body can’t fix a problem, it will set up a compensatory effect somewhere else.

The longer a muscle spasm is left unattended, the harder it is to remove. A muscle spasm that has been in the body a week is relatively easy to remove, one that has been there for months or years will take more than one treatment and may need to be maintained if a permanent weakness has been allowed to develop.

If a muscle soreness continues to reoccur, sometimes it may indicate a problem with an underlying organ and you need your Veterinarian to assess your horse, or in the case of performance horses with heavy workloads you may need to discuss hoof issues with your farrier.

Unfortunately our horses are prone to muscle injury. A slip on a trail ride, a new or poor fitting saddle, an old racing injury that has left a weakness, added stress when moving up to more advanced movements in dressage are just a few.

Massage has a role in any horse’s routine.

It will improve the body circulation so as it can promote the healing of injuries. For the athletic horse it is another dimension of training that will enhance muscle tone and increase the range of motion.

Massage will ease out muscle spasms and relieve tension. Often a horse labeled as "stubborn’ or "pig-headed" is just in pain. He is not saying "I won’t", he is trying to tell you "I can’t".

After a session of intense work, such as a competition or race, massage will help your horse recover quickly. It aids the body to eliminate the wastes and toxins that can leave both you and your horse aching after an event.

With "old" injuries you may have inherited when you have purchased a horse, massage can be used to breakdown scar tissue and adhesions.

Once your horse has achieved preferred muscle health it is easy to maintain by including massage within your grooming regime.

A horse with healthy muscles is less likely to sustain an injury and if he is unlucky enough to fall prey to an injury he will recover more quickly.

Chart of Common areas of a horse that may form muscle spasms.