Misconceptions of Equine Sports Massage
It’s no secret that owning a horse is expensive. The question I pose is this? What is the most basic of care your horse should receive to be it’s healthiest? Do you consider massage therapy a part of your animal’s regular wellness plan?
We all know that many horse owners would eat Ramen noodles so their horse can have medical treatments due to injury. Our animals often come first, as they should since they depend on us for their very survival. We have a responsibility when we adopt, train, or buy an animal to act in their best interests.
In the UK, physiotherapy, and massage is widely used by horse owners and yard owners for prevention of medical issues. My experience here in the US is quite opposite. In fact, I’ve found that many owners feel that sports massage, stretching, and acupuncture are considered a luxury rather than a necessity. When my former partner and I started Bridle & Bone Wellness we dreamed of helping animals by providing pain relief, relaxation, and preventing major issues related to muscle strain and lameness through massage. We’ve been successful in many ways and we love our clients. We build relationships of trust and affection, so much so that we feel it acutely when our clients are sold or pass away. So then, why do we receive pushback from many owners who either feel like we are snake oil salesman or a last resort if nothing else works?
Common Misconceptions of Equine Massage
Misconception: You Must Make a lot of Money
When I first joined a Facebook group related to horses I answered a question the owner posed with video regarding possible lameness. I am not a veterinarian. I suggested the owner receive a vet check and perhaps follow up with massage to reduce the obvious tightness in the hind end. One of the other readers trolled me and attacked me saying that I was just trying to make a lot of money off horse owners and that animal massage therapy is bull.
Now there is no arguing with someone like this. Many people leaped to my defense, which was quite nice. But I had to wonder, how many people feel the same way but do not say anything?
As small business owners, we put most of our sales back into our business. Our goal is long-term and we want to help as many animals as we can for as long as possible. Impossible to do that with no money in the bank.
Truth: Anyone who works with animals is probably not doing it for the money. They are doing it for the love and passion for animals.
Misconception: Only Human Athletes Need Sports Massage
Since the inception of sports massage by Jack Meagher in the 1950’s, athletes the world over have benefited from it. Through the use of compression, cross fiber friction, and direct pressure the massage therapist can pinpoint areas of spasm and pressure, and release it allowing for reduced tension, extended freedom of movement, and pain relief. These are only some of the benefits of animal bodywork, of course.
Truth: Regular massage keeps muscles loose, flexible, and increases circulation and oxygen flow thus giving your horse additional energy and endurance. According to the Massage Therapy Journal, which published an article from The Jack Meagher Institute, after a 20-minute horse massage stride length increased 3.6% at a walk and 1.8% at the trot.
Horses that are used regularly for lessons, competition (no matter the level), and race become better athletes with regular massage. More, they have less potential for muscle pulls and sprains and quicker recovery time.
Misconception: My Horses Doesn’t Need Massage Unless He is Injured
Sad but true. I get it, horses are expensive. A lot of our money goes into the board and feeding our horses, so owners have become quite good at caring for their charges themselves and only calling the vet during emergencies. Prevention is not considered a necessity.
Truth: massage can help prevent injury.
The greatest importance of animal massage therapy, whether it is sports massage, acupressure, or craniosacral therapy is to prevent injury in both human and equine alike. We have all been there, feeling a bit tight and then moving just the wrong way to back our neck or back go out on us. Basically, we’re out of commission for at least a week because we didn’t listen to our bodies. Horses are naturally stoic animals and hide their pain. They may give some indications such as sudden girthiness, cold back, head tossing, or stumbling. These don’t always mean muscle pain or soreness, however. But by the time they are showing symptoms the discomfort level is usually pretty great.
Regular equine massage finds and removes muscle spasms and painful knots before they can become a larger issue, affecting health or vertebrae of your horse. More, the massage therapist becomes deeply familiar with your horse and touches areas not normally seen or touched regularly. Thus, we may find something that you did not notice. This is a huge benefit in preventative health. We inform the owners who can then address the issue themselves or contact their veterinarian.
Misconception: Anyone Can Massage a Horse
Sad but true that many believe this.
Truth: massage is not the same as grooming or petting, and you should only hire a certified and insured animal massage therapist. Not all massage therapists are alike. At Bridle & Bone Wellness we specialize in massage for horses and dogs. But you may find a massage therapist who only works on horses or only works on small animals. Do your research and ask for recommendations. While this is a niche business and you may not have many animal massage therapists in your area, you want to choose someone with a good reputation and someone you feel comfortable asking questions.
More, while human massage therapists have the skill they may not be familiar with horses and this could lead to injury. There is always the possibility of being stepped on, kicked, or bitten accidentally because you hit a sore point. So insurance is a must.
Animal laws vary by state. Some states prohibit massage therapists from working on animals without the direct supervision of a veterinarian. New Jersey is not such a state and we make sure to build positive working relationships with the local veterinarians so we can work together in the horse’s best interest.
Misconception: My Chiropractor is Enough
Truth: I have the pleasure of working with multiple veterinarians including a very talented equine chiropractor. The results are amazing. But chiropractors work on the vertebrae while massage therapists work on the muscle that supports the vertebrae and keep them in place. As a result, these therapies work best when done within a few days of each other. The vertebrae should be realigned, then the massage therapist should follow up within a few days to remove muscle spasms and tension, allowing for full support of the bones that have been adjusted.
Equine sports massage is a growing industry. While it has a firm foothold in the UK and abroad, the United States is slowly but surely moving in this direction. More and more people are becoming certified in horse massage whether for their own personal use or to start a business. We do it because we love horses.
Forget the scientific proof behind the benefits of massage therapy for cancer patients, professional athletes, and more. Forget the fact that I am not rich, nor do I work with animals to make money. What worries me is the perception that this therapy is considered unnecessary, when I know for a fact that is untrue. After all the proof is in the picture. Or should I say video?
This is such a great article Heather. The attitudes that you are talking about seem fairly common in my area too. We are really lucky to have access to a very experienced equine body worker who uses a combination of treatment modalities, Nonie always feels much looser after a treatment.
I bet Nonie does! I love hearing feedback from the riders after their horses receive massage. Feeling is believing.