Equine Sports Massage Therapy Q & A
How do I know if my horse needs massage / bodywork?
It is rare to come across a horse that doesn’t “need” bodywork. Your horse will benefit from massage/bodywork if there is a change in behavior (even if it is slight), a change in the way the horse moves (difficulty with lateral movements, feeling heavy on the forehand, leaning on a particular rein, not lifting through the wither, a lack of energy or impulsion, acting girthy, losing or unable to develop topline, and head tossing, to name just a few. You know your horse… if things feel “off” – your horse would benefit from massage/bodywork. Also, if you want to determine what is “normal” for your horse, massage/bodywork will essentially help reset your horse to its best balance and provide a baseline in which to measure and determine when your horse feels “off”.
How often does my horse need massage / bodywork?
This depends on the condition of the horse, the horse’s “job”, how often the horse works and the level of work. As a general rule, competitive horses benefit from bodywork every 4-6 weeks and before/during/after a competition – depending on the nature of the competition. The frequency usually ends up being more dependent upon what the owner can/wants to invest financially. Of course, anytime a horse experiences a fall, injury, illness or other ailment that could cause him/her to develop compensatory patterns of movement, massage/bodywork is advised.
What can I do to help my horse stay loose and limber in between massage and bodywork sessions?
Specific exercises, stretches and nutritional recommendations may be made for helping your horse maintain musculoskeletal balance between sessions. This is very specific to your individual horse and difficult to apply to the general horse population.
Does chiropractic help or hurt after a bodywork session?
Chiropractic and other alternative therapies are very beneficial and work well in conjunction with massage/bodywork. It is very rare for an alternative therapy of any kind to do harm. I often recommend chiropractic and acupuncture for my clients to ensure that we are achieving the horses highest level of musculoskeletal balance.
Should my horse get chiropractic work before or after a massage/bodywork session?
It truly depends on the horse and what is going on with it. Ultimately it is up to the owner, however, my professional opinion, is to perform bodywork before chiropractic so the muscles are released, as relaxed as possible in order to prevent the muscles from pulling the skeletal system back out of alignment.
What is the difference between massage and bodywork?
Massage is well… massage. It is a treatment using various strokes, jostling, rubbing, kneading to reduce pain, relax the muscles and prevent injury. Bodywork is a combination of different modalities to include massage, myofascial release, kinesiology, neuromuscular reeducation, chiropractic, acupuncture, and many more. Some of these modalities must performed by a specialist licensed in that discipline, i.e. chiropractic and acupuncture.
Can I ride my horse after it gets massage/bodywork?
This is dependent upon the work performed and the condition and response of the horse. It is usually recommended to give the horse some time to recover and process the changes to the tissue. Typically, the next day is appropriate for light work and back to regular conditioning or riding on the second day. There are instances where it is recommended to give the horse more time before returning to regular work and occasionally, the therapist may recommend seeking additional consults from veterinarians, chiropractic or acupuncturists.
What exercises can I do to help even out any muscular imbalances my horse has?
Each horse is assessed for musculoskeletal balance. I look for asymmetries, weaknesses, lack of tone and more. Recommendations for exercises are provided specifically for the individual horse. These recommendations are not “training” recommendation and in no way considered “coaching” the rider. These are specifically for building strength and balance in the horse.
Should I get massage / bodywork for myself also?
Absolutely! Horses are empathic animals and pick up on our energy. If you ride in discomfort, your horse will know it and will eventually develop the same compensation and pain patterns you hold, except there is no real underlying cause for their discomfort.
How can I help my horse relax?
There are many things you can do as an owner/rider to help your horse relax. First and foremost… check your emotions at the door! If you had a good day, bring it on. If you had a bad day, leave it home. Your energy level (happiness, excitement, nervousness, anxiety, fear, anger, joy, etc.) are all felt and interpreted by the horse and they will react and/or mirror your energy. Second, if your horse is tense and nervous, consider massage/bodywork to address the issues and then discuss with your therapist suggestions for your specific circumstances. I.e.: my horse gets nervous going into the show ring. This may be more of a subconscious anxiety of the rider or it may be something in the horse’s history or even potentially the environment (closed and claustrophobic, crowded, noisy, etc.) Third, crazy as it may sound, talk to your horse, explain what he/she should expect in the environment where he/she doesn’t relax.
Can animals have essential oils?
Yes, but you have to be careful and I recommend discussing oils and animals with an aromatherapist. Some oils are “hot”, some are not advised for animals and some are advised to be heavily diluted and some are contraindicated based on the animal’s individual health.
How can I help my horse become more energetic without the use of sugary feeds?
Massage/bodywork! Massage and bodywork work with the energy of the horse and just as with a person, when feeling healthy and balanced, we have more energy. There are some supplements that can be helpful as well. I recommend speaking with an equine nutritionist or your veterinarian for specifics on your horse. Some supplements don’t actually have any science backing it’s benefit and will only cost you money.
Should my horse stay inside or be turned out after massage/bodywork?
I usually recommend the more movement, the better. I prefer turnout unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Can my horse be with other playful horses after massage/bodywork or should he/she take it easy?
Horses will do what they need to do – they may roll, run, buck, etc. after a session or stand and be still. As long as the horse has access to plenty of water (they tend to drink a lot after a session), the horse can be turned out with in the usual group.
Can my horse quickly “undo” the benefits of massage/bodywork?
It’s certainly possible but not typical. If there is an underlying health issue, the horse’s body is going to revert back to protecting itself by bracing the muscles around the area or compensating in other areas to minimize discomfort. If it is suspected that there is more going on than massage/bodywork can help with, the therapist, should refer you back to your veterinarian for an evaluation.
How long will the results last from the session?
Results from a session can last some time but on average, they last from 3-6 weeks, depending on the overall health of the horse, it’s job, amount and frequency of work and other factors.
There are exceptions to each of the above and massage/bodywork is tailored to the individual horse’s needs based on the physical assessment, history, current health and many other factors. Discuss any questions or concerns with the therapist and your veterinarian.