The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

21.5.2022 An Excerpt From The Book ‘Horse Massage For Horse Owners’ by Sue Palmer


This chapter discusses seven key muscles in the horse. I aim to give an overview of the whole body through picking muscles that cover a large proportion of the horse. Please don’t get hung up on remembering the names of the muscles – think of them as labels necessary for me to be able to describe them to you. I’ve chosen muscles that I find are sore or tight in many of the horses that I treat, and so there is a good chance that one or more of these muscles might be sore or tight in your horse.

For each muscle, you will find a ‘massage essentials’ box, giving you the essential information to remind you of the important points relating to that muscle at a glance. The text goes into more detail, describing the action of the muscle, common causes of problems with this muscle, and how to chalk it onto your horse. You will also find an illustration showing where that muscle is in relation to the skeleton of the horse. Alongside this illustration you will see accurate information regarding the action, origin and insertion of that muscle (what it does, and where it goes from and to). This is over and above what you need to know in order to be able to apply an effective and beneficial massage to your horse, but I have found that many of my students have been interested in this level of detail, and have therefore included it.

Knowledge of the action of the muscle (the movement that it causes in the body) will enable you to better understand why it is important to massage that muscle. To determine what action the muscle has, think about where it is attached at either end. Imagine the muscle like a piece of elastic that is held in mid-range, and so has the ability to either tighten or stretch. If the elastic is tightened (i.e. the muscle contracts), the ends will move together. If the elastic is stretched (i.e. the muscle lengthens), the ends will move apart. A muscle that is painful can act like elastic that is permanently tightened, and so can restrict movement. This has a knock on effect throughout your horse’s body.

Having a basic understanding of the anatomy is not essential, but it’s very useful. Knowing what bones the muscle attaches to gives you a good idea of what that muscle does. Knowing what the muscle does gives you a good idea of what problems might be caused if that particular muscle is not working properly. You can then begin to relate performance problems in your horse to the underlying anatomy, and therefore address them with massage therapy. It’s that simple (almost!). With this in mind I discuss the muscles, and in particular their actions, in an ‘easy to follow’ way that you will find interesting as well as educational. This increased understanding will give you more confidence when you are working with your horse, and enhance your awareness of how, where and why you are applying your massage techniques.

I strongly encourage you to have a go at chalking the muscles onto your horse, as seen in the illustrations in this chapter. This is not only fun (and often messy!), but it really helps you to think about what lies beneath your horse’s skin, and how you can influence him in a beneficial way. You cannot draw the muscles entirely accurately, but you can get close enough to deepen your understanding. Even just finding the landmarks to enable you to draw them will develop your awareness of your horse’s anatomy. I explain in each section of this chapter how you can find the muscle and how you can draw it onto your horse. If you go wrong it doesn’t matter, simply brush the dry chalk off and start again! The chalk I use is called ‘giant chalk’, ‘playground chalk’, or ‘sidewalk chalk’, it costs less than £5 for 20 chalks and you can get your own from many places including Amazon or Hobbycraft.

To draw on your own horse, you need to immerse the chalk in water for a few minutes, and then use it while it is still wet. The chalk will only work when it is wet, and so you will have to wet it again if it starts to dry. Often when you first apply the wet chalk you can’t see it straight away, but if you wait a few moments your lines will usually become clear as the chalk dries. To remove the chalk, simply brush your horse when the chalk is dry – it’s that easy! Warning – some chalks on some horses will mark for a longer period of time, even up to a few days, in particular on grey (white) horses, so please bear this in mind if you are planning on taking your horse out anywhere soon after drawing on him!

Massage essentials

  • Think of the muscle names as labels that I can use to discuss the muscles with you. Don’t worry if you find it difficult to pronounce them, and you don’t need to remember them!
  • Understanding the actions of the muscles will enable you to relate your massage work to performance problems with your horse.
  • Use ‘giant chalk’, available from stores such as Amazon or Hobbycraft, to draw the muscles on your horse. The chalk needs to be immersed in water for a few minutes before use, and will only work when it is wet.

For more information and to order your copy of ‘Horse Massage For Horse Owners’ today, visit

Description of ‘Horse Massage for Horse Owners’ by Sue Palmer

”This book is a must for anyone who would like to improve the health, wellbeing or performance of their horse. Practical, educational and easy to follow, the author shares with you the knowledge and skills you need to massage your own horse. Learn about equine anatomy, massage techniques, and how to combine the moves to develop a complete massage routine. With the emphasis on how you can work with your own horse, Sue offers an insight into how to reduce pain and stiffness in your horse as well as improve performance. Massaging your horse gives something back in return for all he does for you, and will help you and your horse to truly enjoy the time that you spend together.”

5 star review on Amazon from Ann T

“I was really impressed by this book. Written clearly, with relevant illustrations that reinforce the text, it tells you what to do and explains why. I enjoyed learning a bit more about the horse’s anatomy and it made it easier to understand the massage. The techniques do take some practice – my forearm and partner are as well massaged as the horse! – but they get easier. My older mare certainly enjoys the sessions and it seems to give me feedback on how she’s feeling. I think she’s moving more easily too. Our horses have benefitted from treatment from both physiotherapists and osteopaths previously and this would in no way replace their expertise, but would hopefully be a useful adjunct. The FAQs are informative and the prompt section a useful idea. The book is great for amateurs like me but I feel that professional riders may find it of interest as well.”

Publisher: ‎ J.A.Allen & Co Ltd; Illustrated edition (30 Aug. 2012)

Language: ‎ English

Paperback: ‎ 128 pages

ISBN-10: ‎ 0851319998

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0851319995

Dimensions: ‎ 19.05 x 1.27 x 24.13 cm

For more information and to order your copy of ‘Horse Massage For Horse Owners’ today, visit

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2021

Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion

May 21, 2022
Sue Palmer