Many of you have probably heard of Equine Sports Massage Therapy, but may be skeptical about the benefits or need of massage for your horse. Although massage does feel great for your horse, you may be surprised to find out just how many amazing benefits equine massage has, and not simply for horses with pre-existing conditions.
So what exactly is equine sports
To help us better understand what this means, we turn to certified equine sports massage therapist, Gwen Bernardo, to shed some light on the shadows surrounding equine massage.
"Equine sports massage therapy is the therapeutic application of massage techniques for the purpose of increasing circulation, relaxing spasms, enhancing muscle tone, and increasing range of motion in performance horses," says Gwen. "And, regardless if your level of performance is 'A' circuit or casual weekend trail, your horse is performing a level of activity that is extremely taxing on the body."
In fact, according to research conducted by Tufts University of Veterinary Medicine, musculoskeletal problems are the most common cause of poor performance. But why?
"Horses are not anatomically designed to carry the weight of a rider," says Gwen. "His structure naturally puts 60 percent of his body weight on the forelimbs with the remaining 40 percent on the hindquarters. Thus, a riding horse must learn to lift weight off the withers and shoulders and engage the hindquarters to move forward, in order to avoid damage to his back and joints."
Of course, muscles of the back are not the only groups that become affected when a horse is ridden. Muscle problems are cumulative in nature, and pain or stiffness in one area can lead to overcompensation in other areas, just as you can relate to when you experience soreness in your own body.
Especially in the case of performance horses, musculoskeletal problems can severely limit a horse's athletic potential. An over-used or injured muscle will tighten, spasm, become a knot, and remain shortened. No amount of rest or anti-inflammatory medication will resolve the knot; it must be released and maintained in order to recover properly.
A horse that is able to recover faster is ready to perform sooner, which is important for competition, working and pleasure horses alike.
Reduce Risk of Injury
"Equine massage is a great way for you to reduce the potential for injuries," Gwen says. "By increasing blood flow to a muscle, you are naturally and more swiftly re-oxygenating muscles, which is how the body starts its recovery process. This is why even without a pre-existing issue, massage optimizes the horse's efficiency of movement. It's also important to remember that just because he's not displaying obvious signs of discomfort, does not mean there's not an underlying issue forming."
Massage is used by both top human and equine athletes to increase range of motion, flexibility and endurance. "All these things are extremely important to horse and rider, no matter at what level, or what type of riding you perform," says Gwen. "A western horse needs the strength (endurance) to maintain a slow, rounded frame, while a jumper needs range of motion to be able to get height and distance over obstacles. Even when not asking for show-ring-perfection, a flexible horse translates to communication, responsiveness, and control."
"One way to optimize the benefits of massage," Gwen says, "whether a problem currently exists, or whether your goal is to prevent an issue, is to perform regular—even daily—muscle maintenance. This is very important. One session every year is a great start, but it doesn't help you achieve the benefits we've discussed," Gwen continues. "Performing massage techniques by yourself before and after your horse's workout are quite simple, and will produce amazing results for their comfort, prevention, and recovery."
"One option I suggest for many of my clients," says Gwen, "is to use a massage tool to help make the job easier. I personally prefer a product called EquiStix, made by Equus Athletics. I recommend EquiStix for several reasons; it's more thorough than many other massagers available, while still being practical and convenient. It's a quality product that will withstand barn life at an affordable price.
"The horses of clients who use EquiStix are easier to work on and require much less 'fixing' than the horses that don't, and horses with soreness issues transition to a regular maintenance program earlier than the ones that don't," Gwen continues.
Choosing to perform massage on your horse is something that might seem a little outside of the traditional school of thought, but you won't be disappointed by the results a daily muscle maintenance program can provide.
Article provided by Equus Athletics. For more information, visit www.equusathletics.com or call 760-917-1069.