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What to Expect During an Equine Massage

“Everything a horse does is communication. Communication is information. The best thing you can do with it is learn from it instead of taking it personally.

~ Unknown


Let’s start with a concern many of us horse owners have…”What if my horse is anxious or unsettled when visited by a practitioner (vet, farrier, bodyworker, etc.)?” Sound familiar? We want them to be at their best, but there are many influences that can impact our horse and their behaviour. The weather - is it windy? The environment - those pesky flies! Lots of activity happening in or around the barn. This the first time your horse is receiving bodywork or meeting me. These and many more factors can make your horse feel uneasy. It is OK! Let me assure you, practitioners (bodyworkers included) understand. Most of us are horse owners too!

Distracted horse during massage treatment

If this describes your horse, what does it tell me?

  1. Your horse is bothered by something and they are expressing themselves

  2. Your horse is definitely in a sympathetic (flight, fight or freeze) state and may struggle a bit with emotional regulation.

I’ll dive deeper on these two points in another blog - stay tuned!


The Appointment Day


You bring your horse in to groom ahead of your appointment time, removing as much grit as possible. No one likes grit rubbed into them! We review your horse’s history and any concerns you may have. And of course I introduce myself to your beauty and allow your horse to accept my presence.


The Assessment


If you have indicated to me that your horse has shown some performance concerns, perhaps some low grade soreness or discomfort (that is not serious), I will take that into consideration when proceeding with the assessment and treatment.


First, let’s begin with a visual assessment. I will watch your horse in motion, either under saddle, lunging or in-hand depending on the opportunity available and what is needed. I will also note how your horse positions themselves while standing. I will take several photos and/or videos from various angles and gather as much information as possible to understand your horse.


Next, I will complete a topline assessment documenting any areas of tension, tenderness or temperature changes that may require more attention. So far, your horse probably has been doing everything being asked, standing quietly, being curious to what’s going on; nothing out of the ordinary.


The Massage


“Give your horse space and allow them to speak”

Horse kicks out during massage treatment.

As I start to massage your horse, I will ask you to stand close by, hanging loosely onto the lead. Some horses may move around. For example, they may start shifting their weight, back up unwanted, move forward, pop their head up, swing it’s hind quarters away, paws the ground or even nip or kick out. Let me assure you, all of this is OK! I welcome this from your horse and I will guide you on how you can help.


Massage does several things and there is a lot for your horse to process. The ultimate goal is to encourage your horse into a relaxed (parasympathetic) state so the muscles receive the most out of the treatment. We also want your horse to be proprioceptive (feel or be aware) of their muscles and my touch. When this happens, they may become uncomfortable, especially if muscles are tight or tender. They may even feel vulnerable. If they have never had a massage before, they’re not sure what they are supposed to do.


Every reaction your horse has, is their way of talking to us. Give your horse space and allow them to speak. Your horse is telling me their story and that helps me to understand their needs. I will accommodate your horse’s reactions and try to turn them into responses we want to see.


Acceptance, Response and Relaxation


“Every horse is an individual”


Once your horse learns to be ok with being vulnerable, they will learn to relax and become more proprioceptive to their muscles and start showing signs of release - muzzle twitching, slow, deep blinks, deep breaths, sighing or snorting and chewing. They will experience greater moments of stillness and lower their head. Some horses may even close their eyes entirely and become very sleepy.


Every horse is an individual. 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 usually happen immediately - sometimes they do! Sometimes you will notice it a day or two later. In most cases, it may even take two, three or even four treatments before you really take notice of a transformation in either their movement or behaviour. Be assured, change is happening on multiple levels.

Winston checks in during his massage treatment.

My advice

Be patient.


Allow your horse to share their story. Trust the process of equine massage and schedule regular treatments to help your horse achieve and stay in optimal health. Your horse will thank you for it.


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