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What does an equine sports massage therapist do?

By: Galadriel Billington

10:04PM Apr 10, 2004

The equine sports massage therapist will perform an initial evaluation, locating tight muscles, tense muscles, well-developed muscle groups, and under-developed muscle groups. S/he may ask about your riding schedule, your tack, or the horse's daily routine. Armed with that knowledge and the results of the evaluation, the ESMT will use several different techniques to relax, stretch, and tone the horse's muscles. If you participate in a particular discipline, the ESMT can focus on the muscles most used by your activities. The ESMT can also advise you as to which of the horse's muscles are not used much by your current activites, and may have suggestions on how to include those muscles in your riding sessions.

The horse will likely enjoy much of the massage. Even when people don't think we are tense, often a backrub will feel very good. Stimulating circulation and relieving minor tension or stiffness is so relaxing; it feels delightful to the horse just as much as a person would enjoy it. The horse may stretch out so that the ESMT can work directly on a particular muscle. He may lower his head, or cock a hip, to relax muscles so that the ESMT may work on them more effectively. He may even press into the strokes; equine massage can require a lot of strength! It's hard work to support a horse who is "leaning" on his masseuse.

Billy enjoying his massage
Billy enjoying his massage
Billy not so sure about his massage
Billy not so sure
about his massage
Billy is a resident of Horse Protection Association of Florida; he foundered badly in both forefeet some time ago. As a result, he has a lot of tightness and tension in the muscles of his hindquarters, and some in his back.

The horse may not enjoy everything done during the massage, however. Remember, a deep sports massage is a therapy, not a relaxing spa visit. Areas of tension, particularly in areas with long-standing issues, may require more time or more pressure to relax. While the therapist is working on such areas, it could be somewhat uncomfortable for the horse. The ESMT may find a particularly tense area or a knot, which requires strong manipulation to relieve; s/he may be separating/stretching muscle fibers to increase flexibility; s/he may be working to relax an especially contracted muscle. All this takes effect under the skin, but the results of this work are very noticeable. The horse may feel tender in reaction to this work for a day, or even several days if the issue was severe.

But! When he has shaken it off, he will feel much more relaxed and more flexible; he could likely be capable of efforts that far exceed his previous performances. His range of motion and comfort levels when using the involved muscles can greatly improve. The benefits of sports massage therapy for your horse are outstanding.
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2004 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.