What are a few things I can do to get my horse to calm down when he’s tied?
There’s a couple things you can do, and it works on some horses, and not on others. There is a spot on the neck where you can rub and make small circles, which is something you can do while your horse is colicking and you’re waiting for the vet. That will help increase salivation and you’ll see that licking and chewing. And then another one is neck spirals, and you’re pressing as hard as you would curry. You’re staying with the base of the mane and making circles all the way up and all the way down, and that really relaxes the muscles and the horse.
Stretching can really help prevent injuries because a tight stuff muscle will tear a lot easier than a loose one. Always do leg stretches after a massage or after the horse has been worked, because you never want to stretch a cold muscle. Carrot stretches are OK before you ride, because the horse is in control of how much he stretches. Between his legs is a great stretch to really stretch and lift his back.
What are the benefits of massage for the equine athlete? For the aged horse?
The biggest benefit is prevention, and improving athletic performance. Most of the competition horses benefit most from a massage every four to eight weeks, depending on age, discipline, workload, etc. I have a lot of higher level dressage/eventing horses who get suppled up a couple of days before the show. And then post event is great, because massage can help the muscles return to normal quicker, and it helps trailer stiffness. I do a lot of arthritic horses and massage has shown that increases the body’s production of synovial fluid, and joint mobility. There is a whole lot of compensation going on with older guys.
All horses, no matter what age or competitive level can benefit.
How can owners find a professional massage therapist? Is there a certification process?
I was certified by Equissage in Round Hill, Va. (www.equissage.com, 800-843-0224), and I had studied equine anatomy at Virginia Tech. There were people in my certification class that were vet techs, or human massage therapists. I talk to a lot of people that have a friend that is a human massage therapist but know nothing about horses, and I really caution against that.
You really need to understand the relation partnership between horse and rider, and what is being asked of each horse, and the ensuing performance problems that can occur. Different breeds, different body types. Different riding disciplines place different amounts of stress on different muscles.
A lot of it is word of mouth, but there are two organizations-the IAAMB (International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork 800-903-9350, www.iaamb.org) and the IAAMT (International Association of Animal Massage Therapists, www.iaamt.com, no phone available). There are no federal or state regulations. State regulations vary.
In some states, you need to be a veterinarian to massage or work directly under a vet’s supervision. It’s not the case for Maryland. For me it has been constant education. I have gone on rounds with the vets and attended seminars. When you are actually looking, you want to work for someone willing to work with your vet, farrier, and dentist. You want someone who is getting an accurate history, willing to answer any of your questions.
At the first massage a horse can be nervous, so you really want somebody who’s going to be patient and not going to force the horse. Owners like the evaluation form. I will go back over things and talk about what I can do and give them homework-certain strokes and stretches they can do to focus on their horse’s problem areas.
I have liability insurance. I think it is important that horse owners ask about the insurance because it indicates a certain level of commitment to the industry, and shows that the therapist understands that there is an inherent risk in working with horses.
What is the biggest mistake people make when massaging their own horses?
It is hard to hurt your horse, and I do show people certain strokes to do. The biggest caveat is to stay away from bone. You don’t want to be banging on the bones. A lot of people will use the incorrect level of pressure. Too heavy, and the horse is tensing up. Too light and the horse thinks you are a fly and you aren’t pressing hard enough to affect the muscles anyway. I do like to show people strokes because it does make a difference.
Any horse can be massaged, no matter how old or how young-I’ve done pregnant mares-but there are times not to do it. A horse with a fever, because the body is fighting infection and you are releasing toxins out of the muscles-too much for body to process. Horses that are in shock, because it lowers blood pressure.
Some believe that massage can spread certain cancers. My feeling is if you’re just trying to keep the horse comfortable, then it can’t hurt. Stay away from areas of heat and swelling. To do deswelling, kind of draw lines away from the area of swelling, almost like drainage ditches. Scientifically, that is not proven to work, but I have seen it work. No open wounds and fractures, obviously. Skin disease, you don’t want to spread it. I disinfect between horses.
The biggest thing for people to realize is that massage therapy does not replace vet care. So understand that massage works in conjunction with routine vet care.
People will buy a book on massage and think they can do it all, but the thing to remember is that massage therapists have gone through training to feel muscle spasms and know what they are feeling. I think owners can do a great job keeping the muscles loose and relaxed, but when it comes to freeing restrictions and releasing spasms, get a professional. I have had people tell me their regular massage cuts down on their vet bills, and that is a good feeling.