Shiatsu for your Shire and Swedish for your Shetland: Benefits of Equine Massage
The therapeutic benefits of massage for humans have recently become a mainstream topic of conversation. No longer limited to high-end spas and resorts, massage has taken root as an accessible practice and is offered at many salons, businesses, clinics, and even airports. The practice of massage can have therapeutic benefits for our equine partners as well and can be used to supplement veterinary care after injuries, promote long-term wellness, and work through emotional issues caused by pain and tension. To find out more about Equine Massage, I interviewed certified equine massage therapist, Jamie Nelson, owner of Bodyworks Essential.
HH: How did you become interested in equine massage therapy?
JN: I had an older horse named T that had been experiencing stiffness and was a bit arthritic. A friend of mine was taking classes in equine massage therapy and asked if she could work with T as part of her internship. I agreed and immediately saw a response from my horse. I was impressed by how relaxed T was both during and after she had a massage. I saw a definite difference in her movement and her attitude and knew that this was something that was working for her. After that, I started looking into learning equine massage so that I could continue to work on T and so that I help others.
HH: What are some of the benefits of equine massage?
JN: Equine massage can help with the prevention of injury by increasing range of motion, keeping tendons and ligaments in homeostasis which reduces strain, and encouraging relaxation in the muscles and fluidity of movement. Massage also helps in the healing of muscle fibers after strenuous work during training and conditioning. By increasing blood flow to the muscles through massage, the horse’s body can heal more quickly from a workout. Circulation is a huge therapeutic benefit of equine massage and can help promote overall health for all horses.
HH: How often would you recommend incorporating equine massage into a horse’s wellness routine?
JN: The frequency really depends on the horse. If a horse is recovering from an injury, I would recommend starting off with frequent treatments and then gradually scaling back as the injury heals. I work with some really elite competitive horses who are in intensive training, so I usually work with them every week. For a horse in an average work schedule, I would recommend once a month or every six or eight weeks. It is really up to the owner and the individual needs of the horse. Some owners have me come out every week while other clients I see a few times per year.
HH: What are some techniques that riders can use at home to incorporate massage with their horse?
JN: The “Carrot Stretch” is a great exercise to do at home. Take a treat or carrot and hold it in between your horse’s front legs encouraging him to stretch his head down between his legs. Then follow up with having him stretch his head to one side on his flank and then the other. Another great thing to try with your horse is some basic effleurage. Using light pressure, glide your hands along your horse’s back and legs to help warm up the muscle. Whenever you work with your horse, pay attention to body language as some horses are more sensitive to different levels of intensity. Some horses may prefer stronger pressure, while others like a lighter touch. If you find that your horse is resistant, his skin twitches, he hollows his back, or he winces as you run your hands along his body, he may be communicating that he is in pain. Stop applying pressure and seek professional advice.
HH: What are some things that folks should look for when selecting a massage therapist for their horse?
JN: Education is extremely important. With the popularity of equine massage on the rise, there are many fly-by-night schools that are offering weekend courses in massage. A certified massage therapist has done intensive study of horse anatomy and physiology and completed an internship during which she has demonstrated a mastery of multiple modalities. You should also be sure discuss your wellness goals for your horse with your massage therapist. Lastly, general demeanor and handling of your horse is key. You want to be sure that the therapist is taking cues from your horse to ensure that it is a positive experience and that she is in tune with your horse’s needs.
HH: Where can folks reach you if they have more questions or would like to schedule a consultation?
JN: I’m always happy to answer questions! My website, bodyworksessential.com is a great place to start, or you can visit my Facebook page. I am also available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.