Each horse massage programme has to fit the age, workload and lifestyle of the animal. Racehorses have very different risks and requirements from those of trekking ponies. Yet these two share the need for calm, quality touch in their horse massage programme.
We massage therapists use hands not gadgets and can quickly detect areas of cold, heat and tension. We work the tense spots to encourage dispersal of waste products in muscles. Heat denotes over energy and cold the opposite so any horse massage programme must take account of these differences. When we feel a lump we investigate straight away: is it an insect bite, horse nip, kick wound, scratch, or a rash?
Before we massage a horse we watch it walk, trot and canter in straight lines and in circles; walking and trotting in hand, all three gaits ridden. We study the horse’s movements, the rider’s stance and the saddle fitting. (Many of us ride slightly to one side or with our head tilted back- all these traits affect the horse’s balance). Some owners buy made-to-measure saddles which fit the horse at that time but horses change shape with the seasons, with work regimes and with maturity. We need to take this into account. After this assessment of horse, saddle and rider we like our client to be brushed down and secured in a quiet place ready for the initial hands on.
In that first session we get to know and feel the horse so that we can plan its individual programme. If the horse has a specific problem e.g. tight on one rein, cold backed or reluctant in one gait we will aim to give more attention to the muscles involved. Some other 'clients' may just need warming up before strenuous exercise and then a relaxing treatment afterwards to prevent stiffness setting in. I have seen one pony lay down on its side and sleep following a post dressage massage, another literally drool with delight and relief.
Massage benefits all equines from the leisure pony through endurance mounts, native trekkers, draught horses, show jumpers, trotters, hunters, top eventers to the thoroughbred racer .Horses are basically social, plains animals evolved to roam up to 20 miles a day, grazing for 16 hours. Now they are tacked up, harnessed, ridden, driven or, worst of all, stabled for hours at a time. In consequence many of them suffer physically and/ or mentally. If we are to continue challenging them the least we can do is prepare their minds and muscles beforehand and ease away stresses and strains afterwards.
For more details on our horse massage programme visit our home page.
To sum up: the benefits of massage include increased circulation, lymph drainage and venous return, improved coat and joint mobility and enhanced muscle tone. The programmes can stimulate or relax the mind as required and, if performed by owner or regular carer create a bond between horse and human. (Horses receiving frequent massage will 'ask' for particular areas to be treated by presenting that part to their masseur). We only work with veterinary approval or through veterinary referral. If you are an owner yourself, why not enquire about our workshops?
Massage also affects psychological issues
How Massage Can Help with Psychological Issues…
Hamish arrived on loan in November 2007. The idea as that he was going to be a “First and a Half” pony for my daughter who at 6 was now too big and heavy for our wonderful angel pony Tarriannya. She is a Miniature Pony – and although is to be trusted with toddlers – at 34” and with 4” of bone – had become too dainty and too small.H
amish was a normal sized Shetland pony – the photo below shows how tiny Tarriannya is.
Hamish was eight years old and professionally broken in by people I know and trust. His earlier history however, was a mystery.
The problems started almost as soon as he arrived. He was uncatchable, then when we did manage to catch him and put him in the small paddock to “get to know him better” – he jumped out. He had serious separation issues as well. But we persevered – with my daughter, we approached him in the field one day to say hullo with a view to catching him – and he walked away – not unexpected – but then the headcollar tangled in his fetlock and he kicked out – and knocked my daughter over. She was understandably terrified and he ran around in a state as well.
We were going nowhere with this. He wasn’t being First pony material. After a couple of weeks of just seeing to his needs and approaching only to feed then leave in a non-threatening way if he let me touch him, my daughter said she wanted to “try again”. We realised that he obviously had some issues – to do with being caught, or trapped? Once, my sister and I gently herded him towards the gate – at which point most horses sigh and say, Okay! – but not Hamish. He knocked us over at full tilt in his desperation to get away from us.
We did try again – one day we took him for a little walk up the lane with my daughter on board. She had already been riding him happily in the paddock and he had been fine.
It was a sunny January day and everyone had decided to walk their dog or pony or babies…it was obviously too much for Hamish – he was fine until we stopped to put my daughter back on – and he shot off at speed, dropping her after some yards (too many yards for a mother!). I had been holding him and a friend had been putting Katie on board – in all previous mounting like this he had been fine.
Katie was obviously terrified (again!) and refused to get back on him (“Ever!”). We took him home thinking it really was not going to work. He spent the next six months being a “field friend” and being used for the Massage courses and other workshops.
Our Osteopath looked at him and decided that he was just too tense to even begin any treatment on.
After much thinking and discussion – we decided that:
Hamish had issues with people on his off-side (where I was standing when we put Katie onboard and when we tried to herd him),
He worried hugely about being away from the other horses (although this hadn’t been a problem before),
All the students from each course massaged Hamish and he took particularly to some – who were gentle and non-demanding with him. I think he taught people how to move round nervous horses, and how to read him carefully – as his signals were subtle and hidden under much forelock!
His toughie Shetland appearance hid a shy and anxious individual – who needed quiet movements and slow work.
You may notice some tension in the shoulder in the previous photo – but Emily Robinson is working with great gentleness and care and he trusts her now. In November we could not have done this without great worry and anxiety.
(Hamish has now gone to be a companion where they are pleased at his manners and his sweet disposition.)
Alex Jakob-Whitworth 2008