Equine massage therapy techniques and benefits

Equine massage therapy can be a valuable part of a horse’s ongoing health maintenance plan. Equine massage is a non-invasive approach that utilises hands-on manual therapy. This massage is gradually able to loosen scar tissue, helping the horse move more freely and reducing any associated pain. The benefits extend far beyond pain relief. Here we discuss those benefits and give more insight into the different equine techniques.

Equine massage techniques

The basic massage technique involves applying firm pressure to muscles and other underlying soft tissues such as the fascia, or connective tissue surrounding muscles. The muscles are typically warmed up prior to deeper work. Strokes used might include percussion, which is the gentle tapping to warm the muscles and encourage blood flow. Effleurage, which is the light to firm stroking, and compression, which is the application of deeper pressure. Methods of application during a typical massage session vary widely, depending on both the preference of the therapist and the preference of the horse. Basic massage techniques are at the foundation of most equine massages, regardless of the specific reason for the massage.

Trigger point massage

Trigger points, often described as “muscle knots,” are sensitive spots causing pain in soft tissues. Although the underlying cause of these painful points isn’t known, many experts believe they’re likely associated with a small patch of contracted muscle. This chronic contraction causes constricted blood supply to the area, a build-up of lactic acid, and an eventual vicious circle of spasm and pain. Trigger points can occur as the result of hard work, stress, or injury. When practicing trigger-point therapy, the massage therapist applies direct pressure to relax the muscle, release lactic acid, relieve spasms, encourage blood flow, and improve the oxygen supply. 

Myofascial release

Fascia is a dense, strong tissue that surrounds and supports structures in the body, including muscle, bone, nerves, and the internal organs. Myofascia refers specifically to fascia surrounding the musculoskeletal system. In a normal horse, fascia provides support, but it’s relaxed and soft, causing no restrictions to muscular contraction or joint movement. Fascia can cause problems when it becomes tight and restrictive as the result of trauma, disease, and hard work. A therapist trained in Myofascial release will recognise these areas of restriction and employ stretching and manipulation techniques to release this tension and restore mobility. Visit the Horse&Rider website for more techniques on equine massage therapy.

There are also practical tips and tricks that we can use to massage our horses, see here for more detail.

Benefits of equine massage therapy

Massage therapy improves flexibility through stretching techniques, designed to ensure correct alignment and rehydration of muscle fibres following a work-out. Another benefit is suppleness. This is a combination of unrestricted movement in the muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. Gentle myofascial release work around the horse’s poll and neck can transform the most ill-treated, timid or fear aggressive horse, after just one session of massage therapy. An added benefit is that our horses get to relax. Many horses visibly relax during a massage session by dropping their head, licking or chewing, cocking a hind leg. The horse may also sway with the massage therapist’s movements, and even go to sleep. A massage session also offers important trust-building elements. Owners who learn basic massage techniques can use massage to help a horse associate their touch with a pleasant experience. The list of benefits are endless and we are unable to share them all here.

While the most common use for equine massage therapy is pain relief, we’ve learnt a few more benefits. Using equine massage, we can help to bridge the trust gap and start building healthy relationships with these horses . After these massage sessions we may find ourselves with a much more relaxed and supple partner. Book a massage with us at Sagittarius Way for the best quality treatment.

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