What is Equine Massage Therapy?

Equine Massage Therapy is the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. It is an ancient complementary therapy first documented in around 2,700BC by the ancient Chinese.

It follows similar principles to human sports massage because, like people, animals can suffer from muscular pain and discomfort which can inhibit the way they move causing them to use their body incorrectly to compensate and is where many ridden problems stem from. Although referred to as ‘sports’ massage, it is beneficial to all horses and ponies from the happy hacker right through to the high level competition horse.

Using their hands, the therapist can feel for any muscle swellings, tightness, spasms, stress points and uneven muscle tone across your horse’s body. Using a combination of different massage techniques the therapist can work to relieve the areas that are causing your horse discomfort or preventing him from moving at his best.

Horse with painted muscles showing areas effected by equine massage therapy

More than 60% of the horse's body weight is muscle. There are two layers of muscle in the equine body; superficial (pictured) and deep.

A muscular problem can be summed up as inflexibility of the muscle. There can be several causes for this such as:

  • Direct trauma to a given area from a fall or injury
  • Repetitive strain from a sudden increase or decrease in work or an unbalanced rider
  • Day to day wear and tear and the natural aging process
  • The conformation and balance of a horse
  • Joint misalignment

When a horse is suffering from pain or discomfort the body protects the site that is hurting. An injured muscle will shorten to heal and protect itself replacing muscle tissue with scar tissue which is often thicker and more fibrous causing the muscle and fascia to lose flexibility, suppleness and length. This can result in the strained muscle going into spasm and if gone untreated, tightening of the whole muscle. This in turn blocks the kinetic chain and the flow of the horse’s body. This is when you may notice ridden and behavioural changes in your horse. A tight injured muscle often leads to the horse compensating with other muscles putting added strain other parts of the body which is why the therapist treats the whole horse.

The therapist will use a series of traditional Swedish massage techniques, deep frictions and passive stretches which 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.

What is Equine Musculo-Skeletal Manipulation Therapy?

Musculo-Skeletal Manipulation Therapy combines massage with ICAT joint manipulation techniques to gently manipulate any joints, including vertebrae, which have become misaligned (or subluxed) which can help relieve tension and discomfort. It also promotes flexibility of the vertebrae and can ease discomfort from reduced joint mobility and stiffness.

Misaligned vertebrae, from the base of the head all the way to the tip of the tail, can cause your horse to become asymmetrical and unbalanced and can contribute to series of ridden issues. Horses can be born with these misalignments or they can be a result of injury, even as slight as rolling over on a stone in the field, or a tight muscle pulling a joint out of alignment.

Areas of the Equine Skelaton effected by Equine Musculo-Skeletal Manipulation Therapy

 The skelatal structure of a horse

Massage and Manipulation Combined

The therapist will use a combination of Musculo-Skeletal Manipulation and Sports Massage to treat your horse. The two therapies work hand in hand to enable the therapist to treat both the muscles and the joints and spine.

The muscular and the skeletal system continuously influence each other and a tight, strained muscle can pull a vertebral joint out of alignment and vice versa, a misaligned vertebral joint can cause a muscle to shorten and spasm.

Massage is used to relax and warm the soft tissue to allow for a gentle adjustment to realign a joint and the kinetic chain. Muscles are then lightly massaged afterwards to stimulate them enough to adjust to a new positioning. If a larger joint, such as the joints associated with the pelvis, have been manipulated it is recommended that the therapist see the horse again in 1-2 weeks time to palpate the surrounding muscles to ensure they have stabilised around the joint.

Being able to treat both muscles and the joints and spine can help the overall performance and health and wellbeing of your horse.