Equine Bodywork and Massage
How often should my horse receive bodywork?
While regularly scheduled sessions yield the greatest benefit for any horse, specific indications for bodywork depend upon your horse’s workload and your goals for his performance. The following is a guideline for horses of varying levels of activity:
Elite athletes (horses in specialized training programs and/or regular competition): Horses trained 5-6 days a week and those who participate monthly in high-intensity activities (e.g. clinics or competition) benefit from bodywork 2-4 times a month. Frequent massage ensures regular muscle development, maximum efficiency, and shorter recovery time after exertion. Just as importantly, a consistent bodywork regimen keeps you and your horse’s wellness team informed of any irregularities in your horse's musculoskeletal system. In this way, adjustments can be made so that your horse may safely perform at his highest athletic potential and enjoy a long and comfortable career.
Athletes (horses in moderate training programs and/or periodic competition): Horses ridden 4-5 days a week and those who participate in monthly clinics or events will benefit from bodywork 1-2 times a month.
Pleasure horses and weekend warriors: Horses ridden lightly 2-4 days a week benefit from an initial bodywork and a tuneup every other month thereafter, and/or surrounding particularly rigorous events.
Horses resuming work after time off: If your horse is coming back to work after a period of inactivity, regular bodywork serves as a wonderful circulatory aid as he gets those creaky joints working again! After vet clearance, plan to schedule your horse’s first bodywork about a week into his new training program, and continue with regular bodywork once every two weeks for three months. Once a work routine has been established, continue with bodywork based upon need and workload.
How can I get the most out of my horse's bodywork session?
- Learn your horse's "normal." When you know how your horse operates in his usual state of being, you've also honed the awareness to perceive when something's off. With your input, your horse's bodywork session can be more finely tuned in order to guide him towards his optimal state of equilibrium.
- Schedule down-time. With fewer distractions, your horse will be better primed to achieve the state of relaxation that enhances the healing properties of his session. It's important for the horse and bodywork to be able to focus on one another during each session.
- Have him cool and dry. Preferably, your horse will not have been worked or ridden prior to their bodywork session. If you ride your horse before his session, please allow him ample time to cool down and dry off before his massage. It is difficult to assess where the areas of restriction and tension are on a hot, damp horse, which could mean I miss important aspects of his condition that day.
- Allow your horse turnout time. Following your horse's session, get him moving–gently! The time immediately following bodywork is a valuable period of recalibration. Allowing your horse a chance to turn out or hand walk will assist in helping your horse to re-pattern the musculoskeletal changes facilitated by bodywork. Strenuous activity should be avoided for at least 24 hours.
- Think prevention before cure. Like all health adjuncts, bodywork is most effective as a preventative- and maintenance-oriented therapy. Think of it this way: if your horse's bodywork regimen makes him resilient to injury, you've gained months or even years of progressive training time that may otherwise have been spent rehabbing. Schedule regularly before issues arise to ensure that your horse is always at the top of his game.
When will I see results after my horse's session?
You will almost always notice visible improvement in the tone of your horse's musculature, overall posture, and ease of movement by the end of every session.
Each horse is unique and the immediate changes will depend on the individual horses needs. Horses who are seen for the restoration of mobility after old injuries will, understandably, require a gradual course of therapy before significant change is noticed. The tissues of horses coming back after acute issues often respond rapidly with bodywork to facilitate the healing. Your horse's age, condition, receptiveness, and the goal of the treatment all play into to the result of each session. Because the benefits of massage and bodywork are holistic and cumulative, a regular, ongoing regimen will yield the most stable results over time.
Remember, equine bodywork is not a replacement for veterinarian care.