Massage therapy for horses can be broken down into two groups, physical therapy which aids in recovery and is applied post-injury, and sports therapy. Sports therapy views any restriction of motion due to muscle tension as a problem as it can lead to injury, and restricted motion actively works against the horse’s comfort and optimum performance. Sports Massage Therapy is used for the prevention and treatment of muscle tension and is the manual massage therapy referred to in this article.

How do you know if your horse needs massage therapy?

It is always recommended that you consult your veterinarian before introducing any integrative therapy to your horse’s routine, and it’s important to note that muscle tension can cause reduced performance or a symptom of something deeper. Additionally, there are circumstances under which your veterinarian may not recommend massage therapy, such as after a certain point in a mare’s gestation period or if cancer or a skin condition is present.

Horses that could benefit from massage therapy exhibit symptoms of motion-restricting muscle tension caused by repeated exertions, maximum efforts, nervous energy, prolonged isometric exercise (where a horse is asked to maintain posture or frame), compensatory injuries, or protective splinting (tension that occurs around an injury, often remaining long after healing). Symptoms include:

  • Head tossing
  • Reluctance to bend
  • Sore back
  • “Cinchy”
  • Lack of coordination
  • Short or choppy strides
  • Incorrect or switching of leads
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Hip or shoulder lameness
  • Anxiety
  • Off for no reason

What are the benefits of equine massage therapy?

The benefits of Massage therapy for horses are many and can include:

  • Increased flexibility and range of motion
  • Improved balance, coordination, and proprioception
  • Improved posture and muscle tone
  • Increased circulation for waste/toxin removal
  • Loosening / softening of scar tissue
  • Injury prevention
  • A present and willing attitude

How often and when should a horse be massaged?

How often a horse should be massaged largely depends on the frequency and intensity of his work and whether there are any preexisting conditions. For a high-performance equine athlete, your massage therapists may recommend sessions every 3 to 7 days for the first week or two before settling into a maintenance routine of 1 to 2 sessions a month. A family horse with only occasional work might be maintained with one session every few months.

When to massage is a very important question. Choose a time when things are calm around your barn, not feeding time or your horse’s regular workout time. Choose a location familiar to him with soft footing (perhaps his stall) and friends nearby. And plan. Depending on how your horse reacts to massage, you may not want to schedule a massage session fewer than three days from an event. His body will need time to clear the lactic acid and toxins released by the massage before he can experience the maximum benefits of massage therapy.

Can I massage my horse myself?

Absolutely! Massage therapy is a wonderful way to bond with your horse. Once you have the all-clear from your vet, there are several methodologies you can study via books, online tutorials, seminars, and certification programs. A number of those methodologies have a foundation in the massage therapy method developed by Jack Meagher, who worked on human and equine athletes alike and coined the term ‘Sports Massage.’