Keep your horse happy and healthy in between professional therapy sessions

If you own a horse, you should consider using professional equine body work, like massage or craniosacral therapy, as part of your veterinary and training regimen. How often you need therapy sessions depends on a number of factors, including:

  • How hard your horse is training
  • Whether the horse has a chronic condition or is rehabbing from an acute illness or injury
  • If the horse is being acclimated to new surroundings due to a move or rescue
  • If the horse has behavior issues, especially those that could be due to muscle pain or spasm
  • If the horse is being fitted for a new saddle
  • How old the horse is

While scheduling regular therapy sessions is ideal to see optimal results with your horse, there are numerous mini therapies you can do with your horse in between appointments to help keep your horse in tip-top shape and to improve its disposition. These are great horse care tools to keep in your owner’s tool box, so to speak, when you’re on the road showing or to help relax your horse when the farrier calls.

There are other benefits to DIY equine therapy too. Any time you spend rubbing or touching your horse in a purely positive way improves the bond between you. It helps young or nervous horses get used to being touched all over, and using your bare hands on the horse’s body can help identify any health issues you might miss with grooming tools like lesions, tendon swelling, hot spots or circulatory issues.

Below are nine therapies you can do on your own to keep your horse happy and healthy in between professional sessions. Only do therapies that are safe to do with your horse given its health and temperament. You don’t have to do all of them at once either; start with a few and build from there.

Always err on the side of applying too little rather than too much pressure, and listen if your horse seems to be telling you its response. A hard stare, pinned ears or a swishing tail are signs that your horse may not be enjoying that particular therapy. Conversely, licking, chewing, a soft eye, a dropped head or a heavy sigh indicate your horse’s contentment.

  1. Poll massage

Most horses love having their poll area rubbed. You can use your thumbs or the heel of your hand to gently massage the poll in a small circular motion. You can also rub the area just behind the ears. The easiest way to do this is to do it while your horse is grazing or eating, so its head is dropped; fighting your horse to reach its head is only counterproductive to the therapy.

  2. Face massage with essential oils

If your horse likes having its face rubbed, you can massage its forehead, nose and jaw too. For extra relaxation, try rubbing a few drops of lavender oil on your hands first. Before placing your hands on the horse, allow it to sniff your hands and get used to the aroma first. This is a great one to use before farrier visits.

  3. Neck rub

Virtually every horse could do with having its neck rubbed on a daily basis. Use the heel of your palm, and starting at the ears, work your way down the neck, following the crest. Move your hand in a circular motion, using as much vigor as your horse will allow. Always avoid the lower part of the neck which contains the horse’s respiratory and digestive tracks.

You can also use your fingertips to rub back and forth in small spots just under the crest to break up tension there. Next, place your thumbs underneath the crest and your fingers over it, and gently roll the crest towards you to stretch it on the opposite side. Move down the crest, rolling each section one at a time.

  4. Poll-to-tail topline assessment

Starting at the poll, place your thumb on one side of the horse’s crest and your first two fingers on the other side. Slide down the length of your horse’s topline all the way to the tail. Any flinching or hard spots are an indication of pain and possibly places where the horse’s spine is out of alignment, meaning the vet, massage therapist or the equine chiropractor may need a call.

  5. Sweating the kidneys

The horse’s kidneys are located quite close to the surface of the body, at the loin area of the back before it curves upward toward the croup. These organs work to filter the blood and remove unnecessary substances from the horse’s body. You can help remove toxins and other unwanted elements from your horse’s system by cupping your warmed hands over the kidneys and holding them there for a minute or two. This is also great for muscles and fascia in this area.

  6. Heating the stifle joint

If your horse’s stifles are sticky or have a degenerative disease, like arthritis, cup your warm hand over the joint, and hold it there for a moment. Don’t rub or do anything more than simply apply heat. This helps keep the joint loose and encourages the production of synovial fluid there, which naturally lubricates the joint.

  7. Stretching the barrel

You can do this stretch after every ride or in-hand session. Hold a carrot or other treat to the side of your horse opposite the barrel. Make your horse reach around without moving its front feet to get the treat. As your horse’s flexibility improves, gradually hold the treat further back along the rib cage.

  8. Stretching the forelimbs

Stand facing your horse in front of the shoulder with your legs shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Gently lift your horse’s front limb from underneath the knee until you feel the littlest bit of resistance. Hold the limb there and take a few deep breaths while the area in the elbow groove and girth is stretched. This is a great exercise to improve reach on extended gaits and jumps.

  9. Stretching the tail

Stand behind and slightly to the side of your horse. Place the hand closest to the horse’s head on the thigh and wrap the horse’s tail once around your other hand. Gently pull on the tail, hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat this a little more directly behind the horse and then again directly in back of the horse. You may have to drop the hand on the thigh for the last stretch. This lengthens the spine and helps improve the horse’s topline. You may actually see your horse’s back come up slightly with this stretch.

For regular equine therapy, contact Mary Betancourt at Equine Body Works. We can provide your horse with appropriate full-length body work sessions and teach you other equine therapy treatments you can do yourself in between appointments to maximize your horse’s performance and disposition.