Our own 2017 HHC students, Gretchen H. and Heather H. of CO, chose to do a thorough investigation of Equine Massage Therapy. We invite you to peruse their material and find all the necessary research done in advance!
Equine massage therapy is the assessment of the soft tissues and joints and the treatment or prevention of physical dysfunction and pain of the soft tissues and joints by manipulation to develop, maintain, rehabilitate, or augment physical function and or relieve pain.
Equine massage therapists manipulate the soft tissues of the body (muscle, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments and skin) through the application of varying degrees of pressure and movement.Massage therapy may include many techniques such as Swedish massage, sports massage, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, acupressure, and other bodywork approaches. The type of massage given typically depends on the horse’s needs & condition as well as the therapist’s training.When massage is used in conjunction with chiropractic and/or acupuncture and/or acupressure the benefits are increased.
Equine massage therapy is not a substitute for veterinary care.
The growing use of complementary therapies alongside conventional veterinary medicine represents a shift towards a more integrative approach to equine health care. The goal is to combine the best of both worlds, while considering all aspects of an animal’s health in their management.
Physical benefits of equine massage
• Aid in recovery from injury & reduce the chance from future injury (preventative therapy)
• Pain relief: it can be used to cause the body to release endorphins, which aide in pain relief & a sense of well-being
• Relief from restlessness and sleep disturbances
• Improved propioception (sense of the orientation of one’s limbs in space)
• More efficient movement
• Improved recovery time from workouts
• Improved posture, circulation, hair coat, & muscle tone
• Increased flexibility and range of motion
• Immune system support
• Injury prevention
Emotional benefits of equine massage:
• Improve overall disposition
• Increased sense of wellness
• Help relieve anxiety & aid in relaxation
• Promotes general sense of calming & reduction of stress
• Stress relief:help calm nervous horses or horses in unfamiliar surroundings and/or stressful conditions.
Physiological effects of massage (NBCAAM*)
• Increases circulation of blood and other body fluids
• Releases endorphins (natural pain killers)
• Increases the excretion of toxins
• Relaxes muscle spasms/relieves tension
• Alleviates stiffness and restores mobility to injured tissues
• Prevents injuries and loss of mobility in potential trouble spots
• Increases range of motion
• Enhances muscle tone
• Increases flow of nutrients to muscles
• Reduces inflammation and swelling
• Lowers blood pressure
• Improves animal’s disposition
• Increases athletic performance
• Increases endurance
• Maintains overall physical condition
The following symptoms can be signs that your horse is suffering from restricting muscular stiffness, painful muscle spasms, soft tissue adhesions or soreness:
• Limited range of motion, not fully engaging limbs, not stepping under, not extending
• Refusal to take a lead
• Unwilling to change gaits
• Horse hollows the back
• Horse throws head up during gait changes
• Horse looks ‘disconnected’ (hind and front not moving in unison)
• Bucking or crow hopping
• Not relaxing or rounding etc.
Symptoms that may indicate your hose would benefit from massage therapy:
• Irritable or bad disposition
• Head tossing
• Unexplained lameness
• Lead problems
• Shortened strides
• Loss of performance ability
• Head & neck discomfort
• Improper tracking
• Resistance to training
• Girthing or ‘cold back’ problems
How long before you see improvement?
Many horses show improvement with just one massage session. But each horse is different and depending on the issues at hand, may need several treatments before significant changes are observed.
Regular maintenance massage is a powerful preventative measure and a good way to help keep your horse healthy. Recommended maintenance regimen:
• To maintain the average horse in good condition, two sessions per month.
• For working horses weekly sessions to maintain optimum performance and recovery from workouts.
A horse that is massaged on a regular basis is less likely to develop painful muscle spasms, restrictions in soft tissue and effected joints and resulting performance limitations.
DO NOT massage if (NBCAAM)*:
• Horse is in shock: shock lowers blood pressure; massage lowers even more
• Horse has fever: fever is body’s way to fight infection; massage could elevate fever
• Horse has cancer: massage could spread the condition (get approval from veterinarian first)
• Horse has open wounds: do not massage these areas
• Horse has torn muscles, tendon, ligaments: massage only after veterinary approval due to increased risk of inducing bleeding
• Horse has skin problems like ringworm: massage could cause it to spread
• Acute stages of diseases (i.e., equine influenza)
What to look for in choosing your equine massage therapist:
• Are they certified?
• How long did they study and where?
• Do they have good knowledge of anatomical form and function?
• Do they have good horse handling skills?
• Are they supported by other Equine Care Professionals?
• What results are expected from a course of treatments?
The effectiveness of the equine massage therapy is dependent upon:
• Correct evaluation
• Use of proper techniques
• Skill level and experience of the practitioner
Equine Massage: A Practical Guide (Howell Equestrian Library)by Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt.
The Basic Principles of Equine Massage/Muscle Therapy, Equine Massage, Horse Massage Paperback by Equine Therapist Mike Scott.
Videos on youtube.com, horsechannel.com, & other sites
ROTH DVD In Partnership with Horses includes an equine massage therapy demonstration from Ronald Bouchard of Equissage. He offers these three tips:
1. Observe your horse. Pay attention to what your horse is trying to tell you and listen to your horse. A change in performance and/or behavior may be because something hurts.
2. Regularly check your horses back, especially where the saddle sits.
3. Make sure your horse is happy before beginning (i.e., a trail ride, competition, work, etc.) and as needed use massage to relax the horse before starting.
Case studies http://www.equissage-ne-ny.com/cases.html
*National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure & Massage (NBCAAM) purpose is to establish and uphold professional standards for animal acupressure and massage practitioners. http://www.nbcaam.org/
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Scope of Practice: Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine (CAVM) and other practice act exemptions
COLORADO Animal massage – any person may perform massage on an animal if the person does not prescribe drugs, perform surgery, or diagnose medical conditions and has earned a degree or certificate in animal massage from an approved school.
Thanks, Gretchen and Heather, for choosing such a great topic on behalf of educating others in support of their horses!
Photo of our 2017 HHC Part 1 students!