The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

7.8.2022 An Excerpt From The Book ‘Horse Massage For Horse Owners’ by Sue Palmer

The Quarters

Gluteus medius


Extends hip and rotates limb inward


Lumbar part of longissimus dorsi muscle, gluteals surface of ilium, sacrum, sacroiliac ligament, broad sacrotuberous ligament


Greater trochanter

Biceps Femoris


Cranial part – extends hip and stifle joints, abducts limb. Caudal part – flexes stifle and abducts limb, extends tarsal joint together with Achilles tendon


Vertebral part – spinous and transverse processes of Cd3 to Cd5, broad sacrotuberous ligament, caudal fascia. Pelvic part – ischial tuberosity


Patella, intermediate and lateral patellar ligaments. Cranial border of tibia, crural fascia, common calcaneal tendon, and tuberosity of calcaneus



During weight bearing, extends hip, stifle and tarsal joints. When limb is not burdened, flexes stifle joint, draws limb backward and rotates it inward


Vertebral part – last sacral vertebra, transverse processes of Cd1 to Cd2, caudal fascia, broad sacrotuberous ligament. Pelvic part – ventral part of ischial tuberosity


Cranial border of tibia, crural fascia, with tarsal ligament to tuberosity of calcaneus

Massage Essentials

The gluteus medius, biceps femoris and semitendinosus muscles of the quarters are all involved in moving the hind leg backwards (extending the hip). This means that when your horse step forwards and puts his weight through one hind leg, these muscles act to bring that leg backwards. This is essential in all movement, including galloping and jumping.

It’s all in the name…

‘Gluteus’ comes from the Greek ‘gloutos’ meaning ‘buttock’. ‘Medius’ means ‘middle’, so the gluteus medius muscle is the middle buttock muscle. There are two other gluteal muscles in the horse – superficialis (superficial) and profundus (deep). The labelling in the human is slightly different – you have a gluteus maximus (biggest), a gluteus medius, and a gluteus minimus (smallest).

‘Bi-‘ means ‘two’ and ‘-ceps’ means ‘head’, so the biceps muscle has two ‘heads’ (two origins). ‘Femoris’ means that it is related to the femur (thigh bone), so the biceps femoris muscle is a muscle with two origins that attaches into the thighbone. You have the equivalent muscle in the back of your thigh.

‘Semi-’ means ‘half’ and ‘-tendinosus’ is related to tendon, so it makes sense that the semitendinosus muscle has an exceptionally long tendon. Again you have the equivalent muscle in the back of your thigh.

What the muscle does

The gluteus medius muscle is one of the three gluteal muscles. The gluteal muscles as a group are crucial to the power of the horse. The biceps femoris muscle and the semitendinosus muscle are two of the three ‘hamstring’ muscles (the third being the semimembranosus muscle). You will no doubt be familiar with the phrase ‘hamstring muscle’ relating to the muscles that run down the back of your thigh, since ‘torn hamstring’ is a common football injury. The gluteus medius muscle and the hamstrings muscles are involved in moving the hind leg backwards (extending the hip). The other gluteal muscles have different actions.

This means that when your horse step forwards and puts his weight through one hindleg, the gluteus medius muscle, the biceps femoris muscle and the semitendinosus muscle act to bring that leg backwards. The result of this is that your horse’s body moves forwards over the leg to enable him to step forwards onto the other leg. In the horse, these muscles are involved in galloping, in the take-off for jumping, and in bucking or kicking (not that these are behaviours that you are likely to encourage in his ridden work!). For your horse to be able to work efficiently the buttock muscles and the hamstring muscles must be free from pain or tension.

Thinking about the action of these muscles being one of bringing the hind leg backwards, you will see that they also act as a ‘brake’ for the hind leg going forwards, resisting too much forward movement to ensure that the leg doesn’t move further than it’s maximum stretch. Therefore, any restriction to the buttock muscles and the hamstring muscles, such as that caused by soreness or stiffness, will mean that the hind leg isn’t able to come as far forwards under the horse as it would otherwise do. Clearly this will have an effect on your horse’s ability to ‘overtrack’, on stride length, and the ability of your horse to engage through his hindquarters.

Common causes of problems

  • Problems occur in this muscle for many reasons, just some of them are listed here:
  • Long-term pain in the hind limb will result in the horse using his hind leg unevenly, and the muscles in the quarters will adjust to compensate for this. Since the muscles will then be working unevenly, the likely result is pain and / or stiffness.
  • Overwork, or introducing new work, will lead to soreness and tightness in the muscles of the quarters, in just the same way that your muscles will ache if you spend longer in the gym than you are used to. This is particularly the case in horses that are jumping, galloping, or performing high-level dressage moves.
  • A horse that is stiff or functioning poorly elsewhere in his body will often have soreness through the muscles in his quarters, through compensatory movements.

Chalking on

Start with the semitendinosus muscle. Draw a line from where your horse’s tail joins his body, directly down the back of his quarters to a point level with his stifle (be sure to keep yourself safe, if your horse is sore here then he might kick out). Then find the ‘racing line’ or ‘poverty line’ (which marks the junction between the semitendinosus muscle and biceps femoris muscle) and draw a line there, that starts and finishes in the same place as your first line. This is the semitendinosus muscle, for the purposes of your massage routine. The fibres run from top to bottom of the muscle, in approximately the same direction as the line you’ve drawn, so draw a few fibres in to note this.

Next draw the biceps femoris muscle. Draw a cross half way along your horse’s quarters, on his spine. Draw another cross close to his stifle (be careful, lots of horses are ticklish here). Now join the dots! The cross on the spine is joined to the cross on the stifle by a curve; on your horse’s off side (right side) this will be like a big ‘C’, on the near side (left side) it will be like a back to front ‘C’. Join the cross on the stifle to the bottom of the semitendinosus muscle with a straight line. You can see that the biceps femoris muscle is a big, powerful muscle in the horse! The fibres run approximately in the same direction of the curve that you drew at the front of the muscle.

Find your horse’s point of hip (it’s anatomically known as the tuber coxae) – the bony area near the top of where his coat changes direction on his flanks. Have a feel of the section of the pelvic bone that lies quite close under the skin in this area, and draw a big circle (which will look more like a kidney shape if you can feel the bone clearly) around that area – you want to avoid massaging over bone as this could be uncomfortable for your horse. Next draw a line from the back of that circle, diagonally downwards to meet the front of your biceps femoris muscle. Everything on the quarters above that diagonal line is what you’re going to think of as the gluteus medius muscle (remember that you can’t be entirely accurate in your chalking, but it’s close enough for the purposes of your massage routine). The fibres in this muscle run in roughly the same direction as the diagonal line that you drew as the bottom of the muscle.

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

August 7, 2022
Sue Palmer