EQUINE MASSAGE THERAPY
WHAT IS EQUINE MASSAGE THERAPY?
The basics of massage therapy for horses originated from the age old notion that physical touch can heal. Along with healing traumatized muscles it also can soothe, calm and relax our equine friends. If you take the time to observe a horse or any other animal for that matter in his natural setting you will see that they are encouraged by their social instincts to partake in manual grooming and other intimate contacts. The equine massage therapist uses hands and body to manipulate soft tissue for the prevention and treatment of muscle injuries, thereby maintaining free motion and encouraging optimum performance in horses.
Massage therapy is a very valuable tool in preventative as well as remedial therapy. Sport massage therapy which is a branch of massage therapy specializes in preparing the muscles for exertion and easing the soft-tissue damage afterwards. Neuromuscular structural realignment, in which an unbalanced body is “re-educated” by eliminating the chronic pain response. These therapeutic techniques seek to release patterns of chronic tension through slow strokes and deep finger pressure on the contracted areas. Relaxing massage, on the other hand, relies on superficial strokes applied without reference to diagnosed soft-tissue injuries. Therapeutic massage improves soft-tissue health through several other mechanisms.
- CIRCULATION-This is accomplished by hands-on movements using direct pressure. It also stimulates the nerves which control the blood.
- LYMPHATIC SYSTEM-Direct pressure assists in the flow of lymph toward the lymph glands. This helps in the elimination of toxins in the system.
- NERVOUS SYSTEM-Depending on the method of treatment, massage can soothe or stimulate.
- MUSCLES-Massage can assist in preventing muscle wasting (atrophy) after a trauma as well as to maintain (or create) balance in this tissue.
- RESPIRATORY SYSTEM-This increases the blood flowing to the heart which in turn increases blood circulation to the lungs etc.
- DIGESTION-One way massage helps this system is through increased circulation.
The equine massage therapist uses hands and body to manipulate soft tissue for the prevention and treatment of muscle injury, thereby maintaining free motion and encouraging optimum performance in horses. Trauma to a muscle can be caused from a variety of things such as from a fall, a blow, or rider/tack error, causing inflammation and eventually scar tissue formation. Skeletal or internal pain causes the horse to adjust his normal way of going. This can result in spasms developing, resulting in stiffening the horse in a habitual protective posture. All horses are potential victims of muscle soreness, but the equine most likely to be protected and relieved by massage therapy are the well-conditioned athletes who though essentially sound and structurally “correct” are exhibiting nonspecific gait restrictions, resisting training demands and just generally not performing to potential.
As massage therapists, we have to be careful to respect the boundaries of our profession. We cannot correct structural or orthopedic problems; these conditions would be unresponsive to massage. We cannot cure conditions such as arthritis, bone chips, founder or conformational defects.
Athletic Injury Prevention is an area that remains unexplored in equine sport medicine. There is still so much to learn about how to optimally condition the horse for his work or sport. Perhaps as we gain knowledge in this area, ways of preventing sports injuries will come to light. In the meantime use of massage therapy, acupressure, kinesiology, herbology, magnetics and other alternate therapies can be used in a timely manner in hopes of treating injuries while it is in a more treatable stage.