Equine Massage: Much More than a Day at the Spa Sports massage is becoming much more well-known in human athletics, but is not yet common in the equine industry. Equine sports massage has many applications, much more than a simple relaxation technique. The Equine Sports Massage Therapist has a large number of tools for use in evaluating and maintaining horses.
Performance Working Out Exertion typically makes us feel sore. ● Schooling, endurance building, or even long pleasure rides may cause a horse to feel sore.
Performance Horses vs People ● When our muscles are feeling tired and stiff, we can get a backrub, take a hot bath, do some stretches...All of these stimulate circulation and help muscles to relax. ● A horse can't do any of these himself.
Performance Horse Massage ● Sports Massage can help horses: – Prepare for exertion (Pre-Performance), and – Recover fully from exertion (Post- Performance). – Stay comfortable and fit (Maintenance)
Pre-Performance ● During exercise, circulation flows more rapidly through the muscles, – bringing oxygen and glucose to the muscles. – bringing warmth & elasticity to the muscles. Cold muscles are literally “cold” and more brittle. ● Pre-performance massage can stimulate circulation, to prepare the horse physically for exercise. ● Massage techniques can also be used to influence the horse's mood: calming or revving up.
Post-Performance ● During exercise, circulation flows more rapidly through the muscles, – bringing oxygen and glucose to the muscles. – bringing warmth & elasticity to the muscles. Cold muscles are literally “cold” and more brittle. ● Post-performance massage can re- stimulate circulation, to help the horse fully recover from exercise. ● Massage techniques can also be used to influence the horse's mood: end of the day, or continued exertion.
Post-Performance ● During exercise, muscles accumulate “fatigue poisons,” byproducts of muscle contraction/relaxation. ● These contribute to the sore, heavy, and weary feelings in a muscle after exertion. ● Suddenly ceasing exercise can redirect circulation to the rest of the body. ● Without increased circulation, the “fatigue poisons” remain stagnant in the muscles.
Post-Performance ● Slowing the circulation gradually (instead of rapidly) helps to flush out remaining fatigue poisons. ● Turning the horse out after exercise also helps to prevent sore/weary muscles. ● A horse's environment may not allow for turnout after exercise. ● Stalled horses have a lower circulation rate. ● Post-exercise massage can re-stimulate the circulation, and assist in full recovery from exertion.
Performance Horse: Maintenance Massage ● Even strong, well developed muscles should be flexible and loose. ● When a horse exercises frequently and does not have any way to keep his muscles elastic, they become hard and tight.
Performance Horse: Maintenance Massage ● Massage can help to preserve a horse's dexterity, even when he has built strong muscles. ● Better elasticity allows better flexion and extension, and overall comfort for the horse.
Fatigue and Compensation ● After heavy exertion, a horse may begin to fatigue. ● When a muscle group is fatigued, the horse may begin using a different set of muscles. ● The horse compensates for fatigue by using muscles which are not well suited to the exercise. ● These muscles may become sore much more quickly.
Fatigue and Compensation ● A horse who is often worked to the point of fatigue may build a lot of excess tension in the muscle groups used for compensation. ● Massage can help identify, relax, and soothe these muscles.
Fatigue and Compensation: Forced Positions ● When a horse is forced to hold a position for too long without a break, he can develop “cramps” or muscle spasms. ● These are the same as muscle cramps in people from overexertion or holding an uncomfortable position.
Fatigue and Compensation: Forced Positions ● When a horse develops cramps from overexertion, he begins to compensate for the cramping by using his body poorly. ● He may go hollow, fall on the forehand, or simply change his posture to one which is less efficient.
Fatigue and Compensation: Forced Positions ● Spasm Inducing Movements: – Staying on the bit for too long, especially when unfit – Repeatedly schooling one movement without a break – “Gadgets” designed to force a position
Fatigue and Compensation: Forced Positions ● Pausing to stretch regularly will help to prevent such discomfort (and the ensuing compensation). ● Massage can help soothe any spasms resulting from cramping & forced positions.
Sudden Changes ● When a horse experiences an abrupt change, he must alter his way of going to accommodate. – Hoof Shape/Shoes – Footing (grass, sand, clay, rocks, roots) – Terrain (flat, hills) – Injury ● The horse can't take a break, and return to his previous way of going. ● He must abruptly change the way he uses his muscles. This sudden change may cause muscular discomfort.
Sudden Changes Examples--Injury/Lameness ● Dramatic change in his way of going can cause soreness in the rest of his body. ● A typical example may be a horse who goes lame in a foreleg, then goes lame in the other foreleg from overuse. ● A horse with front end lameness can result in extra weight carrying on the hind end; the hindquarter muscles will be stressed and forced to rapid overdevelopment.
Sudden Changes: Hindquarter development due to front end lameness
Sudden Changes Examples—Hoof Shape ● A new trim style or a new shoe can affect the horse's stride. ● Sudden change (even relatively minor change) may change the muscle demands in – the legs, – the shoulder & hindquarter, – and even in the back. Blue areas show positions of muscle knot groups after heels lowered by new farrier.
Sudden Changes ● Changes in one area of the body affect the whole body. ● After a radical change, the horse may develop muscle spasms, and may even travel unevenly, due to the demands on his muscles. ● Massage can help pinpoint and reduce the spasms. ● The equine massage therapist uses understanding of the location and use of each muscle, to evaluate and soothe discomfort & spasm.
Tack Tack Fit (saddles, bridles, bits, girths) Progressive Tension Buildup Expectation of Discomfort
Tack: Fitting and Comfort ● The fit of a saddle is a dominating concern in equine performance. ● A horse with poor saddle fit may experience physical emotional damage. Working is painful, so he attempts to evade working.
Tack: Pressure Points ● A poorly fitting saddle creates pressure points. ● Pressure greater than 2 psi can cut off circulation at that point. ● Muscle tissues start to die after just 20 minutes without circulation.
Tack: Muscle Wastage ● “Wasted muscle,” or any area around the spine that looks “sucked in,” has usually been damaged by pressure points. ● Wasted muscle does not heal independently.
Tack: Muscle Wastage ● Massage can be used to help heal wasted muscle. ➔ Manual stretching helps break up scar tissue to allow replacement with healthy tissue. ● Massage can be used to help heal wasted muscle. ➔ Rubbing motions can stimulate circulation, to bring in oxygen and nutrients to deprived tissue.
Tack: Muscle Wastage and Massage Treatment Comparison wither tracings of a mare with muscle wastage: ● The pink tracing was just 6 weeks after the white tracing. There was no change in the mare's exercise. The mare received only massage treatment.
Tack: Muscle Wastage and Progressive Tension ● A horse with muscle wastage often also has a buildup of back tension. ● This buildup of tension may also be found in a horse without muscle wastage. ● When a horse feels discomfort, he will often tense his back. ● This is partly due to emotional tension— just as people build tension in the upper back.
Progressive Tension Building ● When the saddle pinches, the severity of the pinch can be reduced by tensing the back. The saddle “digs” less into the tight, contracted muscle. ● When the horse travels with his back tensed, he is “hollow.” ● His steps are less fluid and there is more concussion from the impact of his strides. ● He does not absorb the concussion well due to the angle of his steps.
Progressive Tension Building ● Back tension, therefore, can cause a horse's movement to be more painful and more damaging. ● The shoulders and hindquarters build more tension when the back is tight, they attempt to take less concussion. ● As previously stated, even a strong muscle should be flexible, not tight. ● When a horse has constant tightness in his back, shoulders, and hips, the strength of the muscle tightness is enough to affect the skeleton.
Progressive Tension Building-- Skeletal Changes ● The longissimus muscle runs alongside the spine, from in front of the wither to behind the hip. ● This muscle also attaches to the spinous processes of the vertebrae.
Progressive Tension Building-- Skeletal Changes ● When the longissimus develops tension & constriction, it pulls at the tips of those vertebrae. ● Any of the vertebrae may be affected, but the lumbar vertebrae are the least stable.
Progressive Tension Building-- Skeletal Changes ● When the back muscle becomes extremely tight, it can tilt the vertebrae, and in some cases even pull them a significant distance.
Progressive Tension Building-- Skeletal Changes ● “Kissing Spine” is the unsoundness associated with rubbing spinous processes. ● Many horses have noticeable skeletal changes, without obvious lameness. ● The changes introduced by the supertight longissimus cause: – Stiffness in the spine, – Less ability to use the back muscles (hollow) – Extra concussion/badly absorbed concussion on the joints
Progressive Tension Building-- Skeletal Changes ● A horse with lumbar changes is not working at the level he could be. ● Typically lumbar changes are the result of progressive tension building over months or years. ● Treatment will also take time. ● Massage and rest will allow the muscle to relax. ● When the horse returns to work, his tack should be carefully managed.
Progressive Tension Building-- Before & After Treatment ● More slope in croup ● Improved angle of pelvis ● More curve in back behind wither ● Less lift to lumbar area Improvements:
Progressive Tension Building-- Skeletal Changes ● Not all changes can be fully reversed. ● If the tips of the spinous processes are rubbing, they may begin to ossify. ● The vertebrae will eventually fuse together where they are touching. ● When a spine has fused, relaxing the muscle will not undo the change. ● Therapeutic massage can help make a horse more comfortable. The muscle issues are still active. These can be soothed.
Progressive Tension Building-- Fused Spine With massage treatment, the muscles in this gelding's back are beginning to fill out again. Without any movement in the back, it is nearly impossible to flex the longissimus to build strength.
Equine Massage: Applicable Everywhere Equine Massage can be used to: – Maintain and enhance performance horses – Keep injured horses comfortable – Help horses recover from physical issues – Generally evaluate and support horse's condition