Horses For Courses

Our modern 'Equus' has developed over 60 million years from being a small fox-sized animal with four toes at the end of each leg, to the horse we know and love today. Changing climates and vegetation forced the horse to evolve but no dramatic changes have occurred in the past million years except changes in size, breed and conformation and the change in lifestyle placed on them by us. Horses were first domesticated in 6,000BC which then progressed to horses carrying the weight of a rider.

Horses are now bred and trained for different disciplines with a knowledge that certain types of horses are better suited to certain jobs. However, horses suffer from muscular strain just as humans do, and those in competition are the same as humans in competition and need regular treatment and therapy to help them stay at the top of their game.

Click through the images below to see more information about how Equine Sports Massage Therapy can benefit horses in several disciplines:


Riding School

Horses and ponies used in a riding school are selected because of their quiet and reliable nature. Over the years they will have had hundreds of beginner and inexperienced riders on their backs spending hours walking and trotting in circles. They are very giving animals but unbalanced, heavy handed riders will take its toll with many developing stiffness in their necks and inflammation and soreness in the back.

Riding school ponies are tough and often don’t show that they are in some discomfort, but investing in massage can help them work more comfortably and work for longer. Most school ponies are older and can begin to suffer from arthritic changes so gentle joint massage and manipulation can often be of benefit.                   



Dressage is a demanding sphere requiring a high level of muscular stability and flexibility and horses must have healthy, supple muscles to be able to carry out the movements asked of them in a precise manner. Dressage horses will use almost every muscle in their body to enable them to perform collection, extension and lateral movements in the three gaits.

Their hindquarters must be constantly engaged so they are light on the forehand working in a perfect outline and in tune with their rider’s aids. Dressage horses have more strain placed on their adductor and abductor muscles than any other discipline.                 


Show Jumping

Jumping horses need to be supple and be able to stretch their bodies over fences whilst demonstrating strength and stability during take-off and landing. The tendons and ligaments of the show jumper’s lower hind legs are put under a lot of strain as the whole weight of its body is placed on them during take-off.

The hamstrings also come under a lot of pressure during this phase. It is then the horse’s front legs and shoulders which absorb the concussion during landing.


Flat Racing

Depending on the type of race it is suited to, the racing thoroughbred requires speed and stamina. The main propulsion muscles of the hamstrings and gluteals in the hindquarters and the triceps of the shoulder come under a great deal of pressure.

A good range of movement is essential as that slightly longer stride throughout a race can culminate in a few strides lead at the finishing post. Performing passive stretches alongside massage can help increase range of movement.


Cross Country

Horses that compete in one of these disciplines need to display courage and obedience. They are required to jump and cover ground at speed which can put a lot of strain on the body. They need the combined efforts of jumping and galloping as well as often having to negotiate uneven terrain.

It is especially important that the horse’s tendons and ligaments are healthy and supple as well as the muscles. Many horses competing in cross country are three day event horses so they must be well conditioned sports horses with the strength, stamina and agility to also compete in dressage and show jumping.                


Harness and Driving

Light harness horses are often required to have a high head carriage with typical breeds including the Hackney and Morgan. This, along with the pressure from the collar, can cause a build up of tension in the upper and lower neck, shoulder and chest. Those working on the road can also suffer from repetitive concussion related injuries.

Racing harness ponies can be prone to pressure under the harness at the base of the neck and into the chest as well through the back and hindquarters. Ponies competing as a pair or a four have the difficult job of having to look after their companions as well as themselves. If one pony is suffering from muscle tightness resulting in a shortened stride or lack of bend, another pony will have to compensate which can have a knock on effect.



Polo ponies are put under a great deal of pressure being asked to speed up, slow down and turn extremely quickly. They have to be well balanced, strong and agile with a lot of strain being placed on their hindquarter muscles and hind legs. The fast nature of the game means they are prone to lactic acid build up so massage can play an important role in recovery.



Arabs are the popular breed for endurance horses as they are well known for their stamina. Recovery in between phases is important for these horses as lactic acid needs to be removed quickly so their muscles can remain lengthened and strong to enable them to cover the distances. Stress points and muscle inflammation is most common across the muscles of the back.



Massage stimulates the skin and sebaceous glands promoting a shiny healthy coat perfect for the show ring! Massage in its most basic form is grooming – the skin tissue is stimulated first and foremost, in order to massage the muscles. This action removes dust and dirt from the coat and activates the microscopic sebaceous glands which secrete a natural oily matter called sebum. It is this which makes a horse’s coat waterproof and can create that glossy shine.



Similar in some regards to polo, Western performance horses are required to turn on a sixpence and change speed rapidly. There are various competitions that horses can be trained in which all require a high level of co-ordination and skill. They need to be agile and posess plenty of stamina and excellent reflexes.

The hindquarters and hamstrings are put under the most pressure with a lot of tension also being placed on the tendons and ligaments of the limbs. The hocks are put under a great deal of stress and gentle massage and manipulation of the joints can relieve some of the tension.

Riding-School Dressage Show-Jumping Flat-Racing Cross-Country Harness-and-Driving Polo Endurance Showing Western

A muscle tear or spasm will reduce the capability of that muscle as it shortens to heal and protect itself replacing muscle tissue with less supple scar tissue. Massage will increase blood flow to that area to aid repair and then work to lengthen and strengthen the muscle to get it back to health. A tight injured muscle often leads to the horse overcompensating with other muscles putting added strain other parts of the body.

Pre and Post Event Massage is highly recommended for horses in competition as well as regular maintenance massages. This will go a long way to ensuring your horse is thoroughly warmed up before competing and to aid recovery afterwards removing lactic acid and treating any muscle damage so your horse can return to full fitness as soon as possible.