Horse Massage Techniques & Benefits
The following is a guest post from Horsesmad.com.
Who doesn’t love a good massage? Most people do, and horses appreciate them just as much. A relaxing rub down can work wonders on both human and equine spirits, but there’s more to massage than just usual care. In this article, we’ll explore what horse massage is and what benefits it brings.
Horse Massage: Techniques and Benefits
The art of horse massage isn’t new. It traces back some 2,000 years and was present in Chinese and Greek treatises on horse care. It started to gain mainstream recognition recently, with certified masseuses applying their skills to livestock and pets with great success. It can help your horse in different ways when done responsibly. These can improve your horse’s general well-being and health.
In its essentials, a horse massage (or equine massage therapy) isn’t that different from a human massage. The masseuse works using the open palm, the heel of the hand and sometimes elbows to release tension from muscles and relax them. There are several different techniques one can use for this, and different approaches, but the principles are the same. Most are similar to those found in Swedish massage for humans. Let’s explore some of them.
This is closer to physical therapy but is sometimes included in the range of equine massage therapy. Gentle manipulation of the horse’s joints (such as the knees and hocks) helps the muscles relax and relieves soreness. It can also help increase the mobility and range of movement of the horse’s legs. The gentle movements help blood flow and circulation and warm up the limbs. Slow motion helps “grease” the joints, which in turn helps with stiffness and soreness. This is especially useful during post-injury recovery, but be careful: one should not mobilize injured limbs.
Effleurage is a technique used to relax and prepare the horse for massage. It begins with an open-palmed stroke down the muscle we wish to massage, with light pressure applied to the muscle. This relaxes the horse and helps it get used to the masseuse, showing the person isn’t a threat. It can be used to stimulate and relax, depending on the speed of the strokes. This helps circulation in the area, increasing temperature and releasing endorphins as the horse relaxes into the massage.
Petrissage, unlike effleurage, involves applying pressure against certain release points of the horse. These can involve kneading, wringing, squeezing and deep vibrations. Pressure and release help to stimulate the muscle and thus, stimulate growth and healing in the area. The technique simulates the natural bunching and release of the muscle.
Tapotement involves using both hands on the desired area. These may include hacking (using the sides of the hand in light tapping motion), or cupping the hands and tapping them against the muscle. This rhythmic motion helps the area to relax and stimulates the muscle. This helps the muscle tone and releases trapped fluids in the area.
Friction helps to break out adhesions in the muscle. Adhesions happen when muscle damage heals and effectively “glues” the muscle to the deeper layers. In this technique, one or two fingertips apply deep pressure on the region, which stimulates the muscle and helps break down any adhesions which have formed.
Listen to your horse
These techniques, among others, help the horse recover and relax, becoming healthy and supple. This, however, does not mean you should use them all the time. There are situations when massage can be dangerous for the horse. These include pregnancy, an injury that is not fully healed, and fever, among others.
Before applying any technique, a certified masseuse should do a thorough exam of the horse and ask the owner questions. Some of them you can do yourself, but pay attention to your horse’s reaction and reflexes. If your horse shows signs of muscle pain, it might benefit from a massage, but always consult a veterinarian if the symptoms persist or if you are uncertain about whether or not you should. If there is heat or signs of inflammation in the area, do not give your horse a massage.
In the video below, you can see some basic techniques and demonstration of a horse massage in action.
These techniques also do not substitute conventional treatment and veterinary care. Always check with your veterinarian before giving your horse any sort of treatment, alternative or otherwise. This includes horse massage, chiropractic manipulation, etc. It’s always best to consult with a professional first.