Equine massage can have a multitude of aims – simple relaxation massage for a tense or post-event horse; pre-competition stimulating massage to get those muscles ready for action and joints stretched and supple; remedial massage where some ailment, soreness or discomfort has been identified and may require a longer-term plan and investigation to find the source of the problem. I thought it might be about time I reported on a ‘case’ I am currently working on that fits into the latter category, to give a little bit of insight into what on earth equine massage therapy is all about and what I do in sessions, for those that have not experienced it!
‘Joey’ is a lovely 6 year-old ISH, new to his owner, with his fair share of issues to work through, and since his owner has managed to capture a few rare pics of me at work, a great place to start 😁. He will be a super all-rounder once tension-free, and massage is a great tool to assist with this.
This is Joey the day after arrival. Despite the poor picture quality, it is clear to see that he has some condition to rebuild, but muscularly, the eye is immediately drawn to his hindquarters as a major problem area:
- Joey was observed to often stand ‘camped under’ (legs tucked under the body) with either one or both hindlimbs, usually resting the left hind as shown here
- The tension in his hamstrings is clearly visible by the lines running down the sides of his ‘buttocks’ near to his tail. He has bulging muscle build which was very hard and unmalleable to the touch, and his tail was ‘clamped’ when handled rather than loose and relaxed
- Though it will always be more prominent in a horse lacking in condition, the very obvious ‘bump’ forming the top of his rump (his tuber sacrale) was likely to have undergone some strain and was a little inflamed. When palpated (using hands to examine muscle pliability, tension, temperature, texture and any discomfort response), Joey had a slight reflexive dipping reaction when touched in the region between his lumbars (lower back) and sacrum (rear vertebrae in front of tail)
- Palpation also revealed a general tension, building in intensity from withers to hindquarters, and Joey was initially very averse to even the lightest contact here
- Also worthy of note was Joey’s poor solar hoof health, with significant thrush infection throughout all hooves, but worse in his hinds
The plan of action consisted of a condition-building diet plan, plenty of free movement, addressing the health of the feet, gradual exercise plan with a correctly-fitted saddle and regular massage to assist throughout.
Massage 1 had a double purpose – sympathetically introducing Joey to the new sensation of massage and stretching (which he may have never experienced), and making a start on addressing those primary causes of tension to ensure that ongoing movement was starting to loosen and supple up, rather than remaining tight and posturally unhealthy, which if left would have spread the tension still further through the body.
I often start a massage by applying my heat pad to any target areas, especially if I know they will be sensitive, as this alone will ease pain and warm up muscles ready to be worked a little deeper by hand. Having identified a very reactive lumbar region, I started there with the heat pad, and began to work my way around the other areas requiring attention. Here I am starting to get some blood flow into the very tight hamstrings, remove adhesions (knots) and working deeply into those muscles to enable their correct re-function:
Once warmed, an area can then be stretched. This is a protracted reach of the hindlimb to stretch out the hamstrings that I have just worked on:
Post-massage, I instructed Joey’s owner in some follow-up stretches, hands-on work and groundwork ideas she could incorporate into her short-term schedule, which would assist before his next massage. Due to the extent of his tension, and while he was building up condition and gentle workload, we opted for another session just 1 week later.
Details to follow in ‘Joey, Part 2’ ☺️…..