I’ve been asked “when does a horse need massage?” This is not such an easy question to answer and a short answer does not justify the meaning of the question; because of this I decided to write an article on this question. I suggest reading the article “The Benefits of Equine Massage” before reading this one. It is important to understand the benefits of animal massage and this article will only enhance understanding of the massage therapy matter.
Massage is the act of softening tight muscles. However there are more benefits and or applications of massage therapy for horses and other animals. Massage can be used for stress reduction, emotional situations, body awareness, as well as for medical applications. Light tissue massage is used for soothing and relaxation purposes while deep tissue massage address the musculature system to reduce tightness, increase movement, and other similar benefits. So the question is when does a horse need massage?
I will first discuss the light tissue massage applications of use. When a horse is stressed during a competition, change of environment, or dealing with a strange drama such as death light tissue massage can help soothe the nervous animal. Feeling a gentle, calm hand working over nerves, muscles, and along the meridian lines stimulates relaxation. The nervous system, which controls heart rate and produce self-preservation responses, will be influenced by calmness creating a calming affect on the animal. The nervous system will respond to the treatment by reducing “fight-flight” response and slowing down the heart rate, which in turn slows the blood circulation. I strongly encourage horsemen to use light tissue massage at competitions, during foaling, while introducing a horse to a new stable or herd, and when a horse is preparing for death. It will be not only beneficial for the horse but the horseman will feel better upon observing the animal’s positive reaction.
Another form of massage is called “deep tissue massage”. This form of massage deals with the muscle directly to soften it up using techniques specific for this method. In a case of injury, surgery, competitions, physically demanding disciplines, or generally being a horse will create tight muscles. Tight muscles will reduce movement, blood circulation, and impact the body, which will in turn impact the mind. Similar to humans when in discomfort, motivation to function at the best performance is reduced. Much like humans horses will refuse to work or behave normally and forcing the animal will only cause more problems.
Injured horses may stand a chance of a quicker recovery from massage therapy. Trapped fluids may be moved through the digestive system using massage. Muscles will be softened using massage. Stress may be reduced using massage. The list can go on but these examples are the more common cases of “when” horses should be massaged.
Competition is pretty demanding on horses. The rider is asking the horse to move at his best, perform tricky moves, all of this while dealing with strangers – horse and human alike – and massage is encouraged here. Massaging a horse before competition will help increase movement and make the horse feel better – creating the attitude of “I’m ready!”
Careful observation and language understanding from the human can help determine when a horse needs massage. Horses who start “misbehaving” for no apparent reason is one signal; I hope more settle messages are understood by the horseman before it reaches this point. Horses that move in a restricted manner may need muscles to be loosened to enhance movement. Horses that just had a long hack or returned from a competition may need massage to keep him comfortable. These are the more common situations when massage therapy should be used.
In closing I want to encourage massage therapy for horses in all and any situation. A “casual” massage is always a welcomed treat for the horse. I hope I answered the question of “when does a horse need massage”. Do not hesitate to contact me with further questions on this topic. Remember, Equine massage therapy is an alternative cure and not meant to replace conventional techniques.