Everyone loves a good massage. It’s relaxing, it’s invigorating and it improves your health. So why wouldn’t a horse massage? Here are 5 ways equine massage therapy will help your horse.
5 Ways Equine Massage Therapy Will Help Your Horse
Equine massage therapy (or simply ‘horse massage’) is exactly what it says on the tin. You use your hands and elbows to manipulate the muscles on your horse’s body, much like you do to a human body. Like for humans, the massage has profound effects on the horse’s organism. In this article, we’ll explore five benefits of equine massage therapy on your horse, and how they operate.
The concept of equine massage therapy isn’t exactly new. While it’s becoming more and more popular, the first mention of such a thing traces back to some 2,000 years ago. A Chinese treatise on horse care already suggested that horses could benefit from massages. Widescale application of it, however, is relatively new.
In this article, we will explore some benefits of this technique but here’s a warning: no massage can substitute veterinary care. Any equine massage therapy should be done with a veterinarian’s approval and by a certified, licensed massage therapist, but you can apply some simple techniques to regular horse care. For anything deeper and long-term benefits, however, contact a specialist. Preferably, they should comply with local laws and regulations about this therapy method. You can find more information here: International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork.
A horse massage can bring a great many benefits and improve the horse’s health, but when badly applied, it can cause problems. There are some situations when you should not use equine massage therapy. These are:
- Heart conditions;
- Malignant cancer;
- Broken bones;
- Skin problems;
- Nerve problems;
Because the massage increases metabolism and blood flow, it can make these issues worse. In the case of pregnant mares, do not massage the mare’s abdomen, as it may affect the fetus.
1. Better post-exercise recovery
Soreness after exercise is a reality for both horses and humans. Massage can help this recovery by increasing blood flow to the area, helping the muscle fibres repair themselves and reducing lactic acid buildup after exercise. A study by the Ohio State University seems to indicate massage over four days improves muscle strength recovery in 60%, significantly higher than the 14% recovery when only rest happens.
This means not only the horses will recover faster from exercise but they will feel less of the long-term soreness that follows an intense workout.
2. Increased range of motion
A horse massage will not fix a joint problem in your horse, exactly. What it will do is release tension in the area, restoring the range of motion the animal may have lost due to injury or disease. If you’ve ever had a joint injury, you may have noticed that your muscles instinctively brace whenever you need to move the injured area. This tension lingers even when the joint isn’t moving, and it’s a reflexive reaction of the body. All this tightness, in time, mean the muscles and tendons won’t relax and thus, they won’t move as freely as before. The longer this tension lingers, the worse it gets.
It isn’t just injury or disease that can take away the range of motion, either. When we build muscle, the fibres that compose them break and scar over. This gives us muscle mass, but it also tightens them so much there is a loss of motion. If you look at a bodybuilder, very few have flexibility, though they have a lot of muscle. The same can happen to a horse. A good massage helps to release this tension and speed up the recovery of post-exercise damage, as mentioned in #1. The lengthened and healed muscles flow together more easily and give more support to keep the joints aligned.
This will then improve the range of motion of the affected limb. In a study performed by the Jack Meagher Institute, stride length increased 3.6% at a walk and 1.8% at a trot after a 20-minute massage, a significant improvement for suppleness and agility.
3. Improved healing
Equine massage therapy can help your horse heal. Not just in the range of motion effect (though that certainly helps) but actively promote healing in injured areas. This happens because the massage stimulates the area manipulated. This warms up the muscles and helps the blood flow through the region. Increased blood flow and oxygen help the body to recover. Be careful, though: the manipulation should never happen before the injury heals. If there is swelling, heat or pain, do not massage. These should happen only in the recovery stage, once the worst is past. The purpose is to prevent further injury, not interfere with the healing itself.
4. Pain relief
Massages can be relaxing, but they also help with pain relief. There are several mechanisms at work when applying equine massage therapy for pain relief. One of them is the release of endorphins, which come from activity that feels good. This feel-good sense is similar to those we feel after a massage. The hormone rush after a massage does help in pain relief, but this is temporary.
However, while science can’t quite explain why, the effects of the massage are not temporary. A study performed on horses with no history of back pain released an increase of mechanical nociceptive thresholds (MNTs). In this case, higher MNTs mean less pain perception. In a trial made with various treatments during seven days, the study confirmed higher MNTs for horses that went through equine massage therapy.
5. Stress relief
Like pain, the stress response causes a tightening of the muscles. Stress causes a release of cortisol into the bloodstream, which triggers a fight or flight response. When there is a danger to avoid the cortisol levels even out as soon as it is past and action is taken. This, though, doesn’t happen when there’s a constant source of stress, or when no immediate danger exists. Both in humans and horses, stress can have long-term effects, including loss of focus and chronic pain.
A horse massage can help release the tension and even out the cortisol levels in your horse. This has long-term consequences as well. A horse massage will help your animal relax and often, become less anxious and fearful. This happens because tension is cumulative. Releasing pressure points and chronic pain will calm the horse. Many owners report long-term improvements in performance and general well-being of their horse after equine massage therapy. The horse gets happier, more relaxed, less pained and thus, more willing to work and perform.