The Horse and Rider Connection

Restoration & Maintenance through Equine Massage Therapy

Southeast Equine Monthly - July 2002

Let your horse enjoy benefits of massage

Getting to the show gate can be tiring and stressful for you and your horse. Entering the ring/event with the disadvantage of exhaustion, tension and pain can quickly shave points off your performance. In as little as 40 minutes, a pre-event massage can calm and rejuvenate your horse helping him enter the ring clear and focused.

The pre-event massage can help your horse become more supple and flexible, instead of full of knots and tension brought on by the pre-show push. Tense, tired, tight muscles are easily pulled or sored. With warmed, flexible, supple muscles, you can perform at optimum, in a state that helps prevent injuries. Post-event massage can aid in a quick recovery. Your horse can be rejuvenated and ready for the next class, while your competitor is still recovering.

One horse, whose owner did not want to be named, was a top contender after the 2nd Go at the cutting horse show. The owner was concerned because his performance time had dropped. An examination of this prize-winning cow pony found his back in spasm and knots around his sacrum. After checking with the veterinarian to discount serious medical causes, moist heat was applied to the horse.s back, and he was massaged and gently stretched. Later that evening, the horse brought back the prize money. Initially, this Cowboy was simply desperate to get his horse back into the ring for a win. After showing him a few massage techniques and discussing a maintenance program, the owner left the show with the skills to keep his hard working horse at peak performance; an added benefit will be a closer bond with his teammate, his horse.

It is good horsemanship and good sense to keep your hard-working performance horses well maintained. Maintenance massages at your stable during the conditioning period are a good practice. Before show time, you can set up an appointment in advance with a certified equine massage therapist and have her meet you at the show/event. There are often massage therapists at the show grounds. Make sure they are certified, carry insurance and have field experience.

Pre and post-event equine massages last 30-45 minutes. A full maintenance massage one, to one and one half-hours. The session should include: a brief history of your horse, an evaluation (observation at walk, trot, and standing square.), palpitation (an examination by touch), massage, and possibly stretching. Your horse should not be massaged if he has any of the following conditions: recent bruises, fever, rash, inflammation, infectious bone or joint diseases, skin lacerations, infections, lymphoma, malignant growths or tumors, acute injury, heart problems.

Your horse should be relaxed and comfortable during the session. Occasionally, a horse is a bit wary at the beginning of a massage. He may not be used to a stranger.s hands all over his body. Your horse should quickly settle and enjoy the session. If he does not, it is simply not a good time, or possibly not a good therapist, for your horse. A good therapist will share her discoveries with you, as well as techniques for you to use with your horse.

Keep in mind that massage therapists do not diagnose. Consult a veterinarian about a condition you are concerned about before making an appointment with an equine massage therapist. Equine massage therapy is a complement to veterinary medicine. Equine massage therapists work with your veterinarian. They are not, and should not be considered, a substitute for veterinary care.

Your horse would appreciate a massage from you in between visits from an equine massage therapist. The more soothing strokes are reminiscent of a mare licking her foal. She will trust you on a deeper level and you will become more closely bonded.

Summer horse camp children pick up massage techniques in an hour. The most noticeable results at camp are how quickly and easily trust and confidence are gained between the newly introduced horses and children; First day tensions are soothed before the morning session has ended. A quick daily massage put into your grooming routine is an effective way of knowing what your horse feels like in good health, so you will know when she is .off.. A simple stroking technique from nose to tail, called effleurage, will transfer information from your hands to intuitive memory. Your new perspective will help you notice quickly if a hoof is warmer, a muscle is overly tight, or a new bite or scratch has appeared. Warmed relaxed muscles before your ride can help prevent pulled muscle injuries and common complaints like a cold back. You may also notice a more capable and willing partner.

Massage can have a calming and comforting effect on a hurt, nervous, sick or frightened horse. Used as an aid during a recovery period, massage can release endomophines -a natural .feel-good. hormone. Toxins can be moved out more quickly as the circulatory system is stimulated, and the immune system can be activated.

Massage was used by the ancient Chinese as early as 3000 B.C. on animals as well as people. Modern day equine massage is based on human sports massage techniques. Today.s pre and post event concepts are the horse equivalent of preparing Michael Jordan to go out on to the court, or Lance Armstrong for a length of the Tour de France. Equine massage is being taught at colleges specializing in veterinary medicine, by private professional programs with their own certification programs such as EquiTouch System, Equinology, and Integrated Touch Therapies; and in several publications available to the general public.. There is currently no Federal or State regulations governing non-invasive forms of equine therapy, including massage. Although many schools claim they will be involved in setting regulations, it is more likely that regulation will be set by the individual states as is currently done in the human massage profession.


Simple massage routines are easily learned. Two recommended sources for learning massage are: Equine Massage: A Practical Guide by JP Hourdebaigt, R.M.T. and a new video available from EquiTouch Systems ( Find information about local certified massage therapist through your veterinarian, equine publicaitons and the Internet. Another resource in EquiTouch, (800) 483-0577.