Massage has been used on humans for centuries, but has only recently been introduced as a treatment for animals. Previously, racehorses and competition horses would be strapped to prepare the muscles for competing; this had the effect of increasing blood circulation and therefore muscle performance, similarly to today’s sports massage therapy.
Massage has two different forms: sports and remedial massage. Sports massage can be used before or after a competition, to increase performance levels and reduce risk of injury by removing waste products: for example, lactic acid, which is produced during exercise.
Remedial massage is used to assess the horse’s musculoskeletal system and treat specific tension areas that may reduce performance and cause potential injuries. This is the most common massage technique used, as it tailors the massage session to the horse, which is very beneficial to a horse’s musculoskeletal system.
Equine Massage has many benefits to the horse and can be used for all disciplines from hacking to racing. It is thought that horses, like humans, build up tension from day to day activities, such as wearing tack and being ridden. Tension is accumulative and can disrupt the blood circulation, reducing muscle performance and occasionally causing other muscles to become tight.
Massage improves muscle tone, reduces fatigue by removing lactic acid produced by exercise, and generally relaxes the horse, which helps reduce tension in the muscles. Myofascial release is often used within a massage session; it is a slow technique which can reach the deeper layers of the musculature. Fascia is a connective tissue, and myofascial release reduces any restrictions in the fascia which could cause tension in the musculature.
A massage routine is important to keep the musculature supple and reduce restrictions, which can affect the way the horses moves. Many owners choose a massage program which can be monthly or yearly; this depends on the workload of the horse, its conformation, and underlying muscle tension.
Written by Millicent Sword