The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

7.11.2021 An Excerpt From Horse Massage For Horse Owners

What is massage?

'Massage is the practice of applying structured or unstructured pressure, tension, motion or vibration – manually or with mechanical aids – to the soft tissues of the body, including muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, joints and lymphatic vessels to achieve a beneficial response.’ Wikipedia

I particularly like this definition because it covers so much. Take the first part of the sentence, ‘massage is the practice of applying structured or unstructured...’ In this book you will learn a very structured approach to massaging your horse. This is because I believe that it’s easier to learn initially if you’re following clear guidelines. However, massage can be structured or unstructured, and my hope is that once you’re confident with the techniques taught here you will start to develop your own massage routine, with or without structure, that is individual to you and your horse.

Massage involves ‘ pressure, tension, motion or vibration.’ Again, I find this useful and thought-provoking. Throughout this book I will talk about using pressure, albeit often very lightly, to massage your horse. There are many ways of describing massage techniques, and many massage techniques to describe. Please bear in mind that the techniques I discuss here I have chosen because they suit my purpose of creating confidence in you, the reader, to give a safe and effective massage to your own horse.

Wikipedia goes on to mention the fact that massage can be done manually or with mechanical aids, and this is as relevant in the equine field as it is in the human field. This book teaches you about a manual therapy using your hands to help your horse. I believe there is something about the healing power of touch that most people are aware of but that has not yet been fully proven by science, and so far cannot be replaced by any machine. Massage allows you to use this potential for the benefit of your horse.

The definition states that massage is applied ‘to the soft tissues of the body, including muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, joints and lymphatic vessels.’ This is a great reminder that when we massage our horse, we are having an effect on the whole horse. It is clear from the horses’ response that massage affects far more than just the skin and the muscles.

The last part of the definition points out that massage is done ‘to achieve a beneficial response.’ This is probably my favourite phrase from that descriptive sentence. There are so many reasons you might have for massaging your horse, but all of them can be encompassed in one simple phrase: ‘to achieve a beneficial response.’

The massage that you will learn through this book is known as ‘Swedish massage’ or ‘classic massage’. There are five basic strokes in Swedish massage – don’t worry if the names of the techniques sound strange, they will be second nature by the time you try them on your horse! The routine you will use with your horse will involve effleurage (stroking), petrissage (compression and kneading), and tapotement (cupping). Chapter 4, ‘Problem-solving’, includes the use of friction (cross fibre friction).

Massage has been around a long time, and is here to stay. It is a manual therapy that can be practised by almost anyone. At its most basic, massage is a simple way of easing pain, while at the same time aiding relaxation and promoting a feeling of well-being and a sense of receiving good care. It is something to be enjoyed both by the person massaging and by the person, or horse, being massaged. Once learned, it is a skill for life.