What to expect during an equine massage
Today is the day I come to massage your horse. You’ve brought your horse in, and groomed, readying your horse for me. You want the best for your horse and definitely want your horse to enjoy this and feel better. This is an investment after all.
We review their history, and any concerns you may have. I perform an assessment that involves observing the horse in motion (either under saddle, lunging or in-hand depending on the opportunity available), and at a stand. I will take several photos from various angles and gather as much information as possible to understand your horse to the best of my ability.
I will introduce myself to your horse and allow time for your horse to accept my presence. I will perform my topline assessment noting any areas of concern and locations that may require more time. So far, your horse has been doing everything being asked. Standing quietly, being curious to what’s going on - nothing out of the ordinary.
I start to massage your horse. You stand with your horse, hanging loosely onto the lead, then it starts. Your horse pop’s their head up, starts shifting their weight, backs up, moves forward, swings it’s hind quarters away, paws the ground. All the things you consider to be bad behaviours. Like any owner, you dread these behaviours. You try to correct your horse with verbal cues, put pressure on the lead, all the things you know to try and get your horse to just stand there and accept the treatment. You're embarrassed and a little frustrated. You don’t want to waste your money and not have your horse receive the benefits of massage because they won’t stand still for the treatment. This is now how your horse normally acts. You don’t understand what is wrong with your horse. Why is your horse doing this?
Let me assure you, all of this is OK! Massage does several things for a horse, so there is a lot for your horse to try to process. Yes, the ultimate goal is to encourage your horse into a relaxed (parasympathetic) state so the muscles receive the most out of the treatment, but we also want the horse to be proprioceptive (feel or be aware) of their muscles. When this happens, they can become uncomfortable and may even feel vulnerable. If they have never had a massage before, this is new to them. They’re not sure what they are supposed to do. Those muscles, especially if they are very tight, could be sore or tender. Every response your horse does, is their way of talking to us. Give your horse space and allow your horse to speak. Your horse is telling me their story and this helps me to understand your horse’s needs. I can accommodate your horse’s reactions and try to turn those reactions to responses.
Once your horse learns to be OK with being vulnerable, learns to relax and becomes more proprioceptive to their muscles they will start to show signs of release: muzzle twitching, slow, deep blinks, deep breaths, sighing or snorting. They will have greater moments of stillness and lower their head. Some horses may even close their eyes entirely and become very sleepy.
Every horse is very different. How one horse responds could be entirely different to how your horse responds. And how your horse responds during one treatment may not be how they respond next time.
Remember, changes don't always happen immediately. Sometimes you will notice it a day or two later. It may (in most cases) even take two, three or even four treatments before you really take notice of changes in either movement or behaviourally. Be assured, change is and will be happening on multiple levels.
Be patient. Allow your horse to share their story. Trust the process of equine massage and schedule regular treatments to help your horse stay in optimal health. Your horse will thank you for it.