As an equine massage therapist, my work is dedicated to keeping horses’ muscles (and related connective tissues) happy and healthy. But equine massage is only one part of the equation.
Promoting a strong and healthy musculoskeletal system is an ongoing process requiring the regular attention and care that only a horse-owner (or the horse’s regular rider or trainer) can provide.
Here are a few key things you can do to help promote healthy muscles in your horse:
1. Provide an adequate warm up and cool down for your horse before and after work
A thorough warm up before more strenuous work ensures adequate blood supply to the muscles and minimizes the risk of injury. Providing an adequate cool down after exercise assists in the removal of metabolic wastes (generated during exercise) from muscle tissue and can help reduce muscle stiffness.
2. Ensure that your horse’s tack fits properly
An improperly fitting saddle can cause compression on the underlying muscles, restricting blood flow and causing pain. A horse’s body will change with age and training, so saddle fit should be checked on an on-going basis.
3. Get to know your horse’s body
Get in the habit of checking over your horse’s body by slowly running your hands over and gently palpating the various muscle groups, tendons, and joints. Feel for differences in the “4 T’s”: Temperature, texture, tension and tenderness. As you become familiar with what is normal for your horse you will be able to monitor changes and detect potential problems early on.
4. Provide a balanced training program for your horse
Make sure your horse is both physically and mentally prepared for the level of work being asked for so they do not strain or over-tax themselves. New exercises should be introduced progressively and the workload increased gradually to allow time for the horse’s body to adapt to meet the new challenges.
5. Work to reduce your own imbalances
Rider tension and crookedness can restrict freedom of movement in the horse’s back and cause them to alter their way of going to accommodate us. Stretching, yoga, and a balanced rider fitness program can help improve body awareness and address these issues.
When all of a horse’s muscles and associated connective tissues are functioning properly, efficient, balanced and fluid movement is possible. When a horse is able to use their body well, it allows them to perform longer with less fatigue and strain, helping them to stay sound longer.