Equine Massage Therapy

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It is the day before the World Show and your horse that had been predicted to be World Champion just had a muscle spasm. Now the horse appears to be lame, so you definitely are not going to win. What do you do? As an owner and exhibitor of premier draft horses, I have seen top horses suffer a spasm before a big show. I have also experienced it. If your top horse cannot perform, you may lose money and the chance for prospective buyers to see your horse in the show ring. The answer to the question, “What do you do?”, is to call an equine massage therapist. Through many different techniques, equine massage therapy can improve a horse’s health, well being, and performance.

Human massage therapy is the “systematic manipulation of soft tissues to develop, maintain, rehabilitate or augment physical function” (“Equine Massage Therapy” 1). Equine massage therapy , however, is “the application of hands-on massage techniques for the purpose of increasing circulation, relaxing muscle spasms, relieving tension, enhancing muscle tone, and increasing range of motion” (“Equine Sports Massage Therapy Certification Program” 1). Equine massage is a growing career field that allows for a noninvasive way to help prevent injuries in horses. There are many programs in Ohio that allow people to become certified and have a career in equine massage therapy. Equine massage therapy is an important factor of keeping horses at a state of equilibrium. Sixty percent of a horse is muscle. These muscles get tired and weak; massage allows for the muscles to be rehabilitated back to full power. “ Equine massage therapy affects the muscular system, the skeletal system, the circulatory system, the lymphatic system, the respiratory system, the endocrine system, the eliminatory system, the nervous system, and the digestive system” (Veen 1). This therapy “relaxes the nerves and muscles, increases blood circulation, decreases swelling, eliminates toxins, increases oxygen delivery, promotes deep breathing, increases metabolism, and relieves pain” (Veen 1). Almost every horse can benefit from massage therapy in some way. This includes draft horses that “often have a lot of tension in their front end (shoulder and sternum area)” (“Horse Massage”). Mules, donkeys, and miniature ponies can also benefit from massage because they “basically have the same anatomy as horses” (“Horse Massage”). Although almost every horse can benefit from massage, there are some instances where massage should not be used. Equine massage therapy should never be used as a substitute for veterinary care. “Massage will get muscles back to normal function, possibly making the horse appear lame due to the horse learning how to avoid using a muscle” (Scott). If the horse has learned to perform without using a specific muscle, after massage the horse will have to learn how to perform using that specific muscle again. Massage should not be conducted on the horse if the horse has a fever or is in shock. Massage also should not be performed on open wounds or fractures because massage can cause the wounds not to heal properly. Horses should not have massage therapy while they are pregnant because there is a chance of causing problems to the mare and the foal. Owners can learn the basics of massage therapy and can perform massage on their horses themselves, but owners are to remember that “horses are very individual and what works for one [horse] will many times not work on the next” (Scott).

If what works on one horse does not work on the next horse, then how do equine massage therapists know what will work for a specific horse? The answer to this question is simple: homework. Equine massage therapists do their homework on every horse that they are working on. Homework includes talking with a veterinarian and reviewing the horse’s veterinary records and history. Many therapists will also perform a movement evaluation. Movement evaluations are important for finding...
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