If you’ve never had an equine bodywork session for your horse, you might be wondering exactly what it entails. Read on to learn the three basic components of a session and what happens during each one.
Chances are when you book an equine bodywork session, the therapist will ask about why you’re calling and issues particular to your horse. But there’s nothing like a detailed evaluation prior to massage to inform a bodyworker about what’s going on.
You may be asked to send any video footage you have of the horse, especially if your horse has a problem that shows up when you show or go to clinics. The therapist may also want to watch your horse move through different gaits or movements to see if there are any noticeable anomalies. This can be done immediately before a session or a week or two in advance, depending on the situation.
It is helpful for equine massage therapists to see the horse moving both at liberty and under saddle. This helps indicate if certain problems are related to the saddle, tack, or rider technique. I also offer riding evaluations, where I climb into the saddle on your horse to see how it feels and perhaps notice subtle imbalances or inconsistencies you may have missed or grown used to.
At the start of a session, most equine bodyworkers like to perform a quick hands-on assessment over the horse’s body. This not only identifies any areas of potential pain or stiffness, but it lets them know how a regular equine client feels on any given day.
Once you’ve set up the perfect environment for bodywork, the session can begin. Every equine bodyworker is different in their technique. Some use a style similar to human sports massage, while others do some specific massage techniques combined with manipulating precise spots on the horse’s body related to performance.
When pressure is applied to these spots, like with the Masterson Method that I employ, the horse experiences a release of tension, and muscle tightness and spasms can be relieved. This also helps maintain range of motion and suppleness in equine athletes. Pain is relieved, and the horse’s mood may even improve.
Many equine massage therapists also utilize stretching to further keep muscle and connective tissue responsive and joints healthy. You can ask your equine massage therapist about stretches you can do with your horse between sessions to preserve range of motion and eliminate stiffness.
In addition to stretching the legs, your equine bodyworker may elect to stretch the neck and the barrel. The tail, which is connected to the spine, can be gently pulled too, in order to relieve pressure on the dock and help lengthen the topline.
Post-Massage Follow Up
Your equine massage therapist may have specific instructions for care after your horse’s bodywork session. While the horse is doing a calm post-massage walk or getting a welcome drink of water, it’s a good time to discuss the therapist’s findings.
Often, an equine bodyworker will have a checklist or anatomical diagram that they use to mark any areas of concern where they felt tightness or noticed imbalances. They will also make note of any reactions from the horse, whether positive or negative, which might help pinpoint pain or release of a previous spasm.
After the massage, your therapist can recommend the next course of action, such as regular massage sessions or a visit from the equine chiropractor to check out any spots that feel out of alignment and can’t be improved with massage.
Because I offer comprehensive bodywork for both horse and rider, at this time I also like to examine other factors that can influence the horse’s physique. These include equitation skills, training regimens, saddlery, and rider fitness. Once I am familiar with the horse and rider as a system, I can develop a plan with my clients that meets their unique needs for ongoing service.
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Meghan Brady is a equine industry professional specializing in a holistic approach for both horse and rider to enhance performance and well being.