During their quarantine period, our lucky new guys will receive several massages. Just as we have the vet to do an overall exam and the farrier to do their feet, we use an equine massage therapist to check on their muscular health. As she works her way around a horse’s body, Suzanne Philoon can let us know which areas may be particularly tight or sore, as well as where past injuries may have occurred. With new horses like Acadia and Baxter, Suzanne can provide us with valuable information on their physical state prior to any groundwork or riding; this gives us a baseline for where to begin when they eventually enter the training program.
In general, horses seem to really enjoy a massage once they understand that it can help them feel better. Many of our horses will relax completely while Suzanne manipulates their muscles, releasing tightness and tension. Baxter is by nature a laid-back type of guy, and he has stood quietly for both of his massages thus far. He had some sore areas around his shoulders and pectoral muscles, likely due to the compensations he had to make for his previously overgrown front feet. He also had some soreness along his back and withers, which could have been caused by an ill-fitting saddle. However, he is overall in good shape and showed off for us after his massage with a lovely trot and canter on the lungeline—this little guy has some nice movement!
As with people, massage provides many benefits to a horse: it helps to loosen tight muscles, joints, tendons, and scar tissue, thereby increasing blood flow and lymphatic activity while reducing stress. Sometimes there will be a lot of built up resistance around particularly sore spots which can take awhile to work through; this was the case with Acadia. Unlike Baxter, Acadia had a lot of tightness around his head and neck and was understandably defensive, so Suzanne worked very gently and gradually around those areas. He also had a lot of stiffness over his back and withers, and was resistant to any pressure around his flanks and abdominal muscles.
This could indicate a type of ‘vicious circle’ in his previous training: an ill-fitting saddle may have caused discomfort, and with a sore back and lack of abdominal muscle he could not properly round over his back when ridden. Tension and defensiveness in the head and neck could be signs that, instead of being taught to come up through the back and stretch forward, a horse may have been pushed or pulled into a frame. Acadia had relaxed a bit of his tension from the first massage to the second, and we will likely begin him on ulcer medication and plan to really take our time once we begin with his training.
Most of the horses in our program will have several massages, with an occasional check-in to make sure that there are no developing or recurring issues. We have found it to be a valuable component to our program, as a horse will most likely make great progress when they are pain-free, relaxed, and feeling well within themselves.