Easy Equine Massage Techniques
If you’ve never had a good massage, then let me tell you–you’re missing out. There’s nothing I love more than a getting a gift card to my favorite spa. Not only does massage feel amazing, it’s actually quite beneficial health-wise. Massage can help reduce stress, relieve arthritis pain, increase range of motion, ease muscle soreness, and help rid the body of toxins–and these are just a few of the benefits!
So of course, it makes complete sense that massage would be wonderful for our horses as well. After all, they often suffer from many of the same issues which plague us.
If you can find a certified equine massage therapist (and afford it!), that would be your best option, but there are also some easy equine massage techniques you can learn and use on your own.
Here are a few:
This is a good technique to start with because it uses light stroking with either the fingers or palms of your hands. Nerve Stroking does not manipulate the muscles or skin, but rather the horse’s nervous system. Brisk stroking will be more stimulating, whereas slower stroking will help the horse to relax. You can also end your massage session with this technique.
This technique uses a gliding movement with your palm, fingers, or even the lower part of the arm. Effleurage helps to open tissues in preparation for deeper massage techniques, but it can also be used alone. You can start with a lighter effleurage movement and then move into a deeper (applying more pressure) one if you’d like. When using this technique, it’s best to move your hands the way the horse’s hair grows, but you can also make curved downward strokes. Additionally, effleurage is also used to close a muscle you’ve been massaging. This helps to drain any fluids which have been loosened up.
Another common technique used in equine massage, petrissage helps to release muscle tension and issues with restriction. There are several variations of this technique and you can find what is most comfortable for you and your horse, but the basic movement is that of kneading the tissues with either your palms or knuckles. This increases circulation and softens the muscle tissue.
This technique is similar to petrissage, but without the kneading motion. Use your palms or loose fists either a pumping motion or you can simply press into the muscle tissue until you feel it soften. You should always start with light pressure and then go deeper into the muscle tissue if the horse is comfortable with it. Never push or apply too much pressure as to make the horse uncomfortable. It’s important to be patient when using compression–it may take a while for some muscles to soften up.
This is another technique that be used at the end of your massage session, as it will stimulate the nervous system and help ‘wake’ the horse up. However, deeper tapotement motions can be used earlier in the session to help loosen ‘stubborn’ muscles, such as those in the hind end. Tapotement is a drumbeat type movement which can be done with flat or cupped palms, knuckles, or the sides of your hands. Be careful never to use this movement over your horses’ kidneys (lower back area) and never on a bony prominence. As always, let your horse be the judge as to what’s comfortable for him.
Massage can help take your horse from a sympathetic (stressed) to a parasympathetic (relaxed) state. This is often referred to as the Relaxation Response. These responses are also common when using acupressure on horses, but here are a few to look for:
- licking and chewing
- appearing sleepy
- passing gas
- increased gut sounds
There are some precautions to take when using massage with your horse. First of all, always make sure that you are safe–do not massage a horse that is prone to kicking or other dangerous behavior. Be especially careful when working near the hind end of any horse because even a gentle horse may kick if they are extremely sore in a particular area. Also horses with sore backs may try to nip at you (I’ve had this happen!).
Additionally, do not massage a horse that is ill or has tumors of any kind (this could actually help spread the tumors). And do not massage horses with fungal infections or broken skin.
Sources and Further Reading