Light massage, when done regularly, works as a form of physical maintenance for your horse. It’s the best and cheapest way to prevent muscle damage, too.
Calling your equine physiotherapist out for a session every now and again is great, but doesn’t qualify as regular maintenance. And having a professional out once a month may not be enough if your horse has an issue or needs regular (daily/weekly) care.
Besides, by learning how to do the lite version of what your equine physiotherapist does, you’ll notice quickly notice when there’s something out of the ordinary about how you horse moves. You’ll be able to address small issues right away, when you know what to look for, and how to address muscle tension.
You’ll also make the most bang for your buck when you do call out a pro by actively participating in the physical care of your horse yourself. Your equine massage therapist won’t spend the precious minutes fixing minor issues that you could easily deal with yourself and will instead focus on taking your horse’s care to the next level.
Consider also, that it may not always be possible for you to use the services of a professional, due to cost or other issues, as often as would be beneficial for your horse.
It can also be a real source of frustration from your horse’s physical therapist when they know that your horse could see much better results if they could treat your horse more often and maintain a certain level of treatment.
By learning the basics of equine massage, you’ll also appreciate the importance of the work that your equine physiotherapist does. When you can treat your horse between professional treatments, your horse will get the most benefit.
You’ll get a better relationship with your horse
When you decide to regularly treat your horse yourself, you’ll drastically and almost instantaneously improve your relationship with your horse.
Not only will you become intimately acquainted with your horse’s body, you will also be giving your horse the kind of space and attention that will make him feel like you understand him and are making a strong effort to get to know him better.
Especially when you want to create a strong bond of trust with your new horse, massage can help you achieve that deep relationship that will help you off to a really great start from day one.
Succeeding at it will give you a sense of achievement
When you give your horse a massage and manage to get him to relax to the point where he’s almost falling asleep, you’ll feel a sense of having achieved something significant.
Being able to gift someone with a deep state of relaxation is a transformational thing because you’re doing something for them that they cannot do for themselves.
And giving that gift is an ultimate act of love and care.
Practising massage on your horse will also shift the focus of the time you spend together with your horse from achieving and performing to spending quality time together that you both enjoy deeply.
Your horse will benefit even more from the days he has off from his usual routine and be more supple when he goes back to work.
When you have an elderly horse who doesn’t move as much anymore, you’ll help alleviate stiffness and increase blood flow to both muscles and joints. Not to mention giving your senior some much deserved TLC.
Massage is a tool for monitoring your horse’s well-being
When you learn how to massage your horse and start doing it on a regular basis you’ll get to know your horse from a completely new perspective.
You don’t have to be a professional to learn how to touch your horse with intent. When you get accustomed to feeling your horse by hand you’ll begin to see and feel changes in him as well.
Your horse will benefit from you noticing changes in him before there are other visible symptoms because it allows you to call in the professionals early on before there is an injury.
In a best-case scenario, you’ll be proactively preventing your horse from getting severe injuries that require long sick-leave. Regular massage also helps to prolong the time you’ll be able to ride your horse.
It’s a moment for you and your horse
Massaging your horse should never be about performing or achieving.
The most important thing is your mindful presence and, at it’s best, massaging your horse is an exercise in mindfulness for you.
Your horse deserves your undivided attention – and so do you. Slow down and centre yourself in the moment, there is no rush.
It’s important that your horse is also able to focus on the treatment and be present for it.
Strive to minimise external stimuli, as much as possible, when you’re choosing the location for treating your horse. A busy hallway isn’t a good place and you should opt for a quieter spot or wait for the bustle to die down.
Time spent together is never wasted
Whatever your sport, style or goals with your horse are, massaging your horse is for you.
Massage will bring variety to a hobby that you love and will improve your relationship with your horse.
Pleasant moments spent together with your horse, without the pressure to perform or achieve something, will strengthen your bond of trust.
You don’t have to become the best or most knowledgeable, the simple act of learning new things related to your horse is something that no one can take away from you.
3 things you should know before massaging your own horse
1. Never massage an injured or sick horse
Regularly massaging your horse will maintain good muscle condition and prevent injuries. If your horse is recovering from an injury or is ill, only massage him in accordance with instructions from your vet or equine physiotherapist.
If you’re unsure of whether the massage may cause harm to your horse, skip it. In this kind of case, it’s better to contact your equine physiotherapist to explain the situation and have a chat about what the best thing for your horse is.
A certified professional will be able to assess your horse’s condition and use methods and treatments that are safe for your horse. They will also be able to treat your horse in an unusual situation.
So, never massage your horse if you’re unsure if it’s safe to do so.
2. Your most important goal is a relaxed horse
Use massage as a way to relax your horse and to treat your horse between visits from a professional equine physiotherapist.
Through relaxation, and by stimulating your horse’s metabolism, your horse benefits from massage in more ways than just one.
3. You can do more harm than good if you massage your horse wrong
You can only really cause more damage or do harm if you massage your horse when he’s sick in some way, massage him too forcefully or for too long or in a way that is unsuitable to your horse.
You should always check the contraindications before treating your horse
What is a contraindication?
A contraindication is a specific situation in which a drug, procedure, or surgery should not be used because it may be harmful to your horse.
You should memorise the specific situations in which you shouldn’t massage your horse.
It can sometimes even be challenging for a professional to assess what treatments can be used if your horse has several issues. A professional will, however, be able to determine what course of treatment is suitable for your horse’s particular situation.
Don’t massage your horse if your horse has…
- a fever or an infection
- an acute injury (fracture, open wound, tendon injury etc.)
- acute physical trauma – an injured or sprained muscle can’t be massaged too soon
- acute mental trauma (your horse will associate massage with pain/fear/discomfort etc.)
- an undiagnosed illness or injury
- a skin infection – including summer eczema (or sweet itch) when it’s at its worst
- a diagnosed heart problem or tumours – even when the tumours are benign you shouldn’t massage your horse unless you’ve gotten the okay from your vet
- had a vaccine or other injection less than four days ago – or even longer, ask your vet!
- been in hard training the same day – also never massage a horse that is wet with sweat or water
- prescription medicine – always check with your vet if massage is allowed when your horse is on some type of medication
- had anything unusual or out of the ordinary happen – it’s always best to consult a vet or equine physiotherapist
You should also not massage a mare in the first three to four months of pregnancy. The effects of massage during pregnancy hasn’t been studied much and it’s unknown if there are any issues related to this; one thing considered a risk is that the metabolic waste will travel from the mare to the placenta.
Pregnant women greatly enjoy massages during pregnancy, but even in humans, it’s generally advised to avoid massage while the pregnancy is still in its early stages.
When you know the contraindications for massaging your horse, you’ll never go wrong
A professional equine therapist or vet may massage your horse even when there is a contraindication but are in that case making the necessary adjustments and have made an assessment to the type of treatment your horse can receive.
If you notice even one contraindication from this list in your horse, don’t massage him and call a vet or equine physiotherapist to come and check your horse.
Even when you can’t massage your horse, you can still palpate your horse. Palpating your horse is a much gentler procedure but will still give you the same benefits as massage in terms of understanding what’s going on with your horse physically and being able to connect deeply.
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