There can be an appreciation of a massage and it's benefits only after
understanding why it is necessary. We must start at the beginning with
muscles. Skeletal muscles amount to 60 percent of the horses total body weight and provide motion. Logically muscles are also the source of motion problems.
Muscles - The Short Course
A muscle is a collection of fibers attached at both ends (origin and insertion) to
bones by tendons. The belly of the muscle is where the action is. Upon request,
the belly of the muscle contracts (folds over and upon itself), or releases
(unfolds) to provide movement.
During this process a few of these fibers may spasm (contracted fibers unable to
secure their own release - a knot) and cease to perform. You may not realize that
anything is wrong as other neighboring fibers will take over to compensate.
Because those fibers are now working harder to do the job for both they will
eventually spasm too.
Visualize constructing a horse with a tinker toy set using pulleys ad cables to
facilitate movement. Each movement would require the interrelated movement of all. Likewise, muscles work in pairs and groups to coordinate movement. As
spasmed fibers multiply, the muscle ceases to function requiring another to
compensate for it. The story continues until finally whole muscle groups are
compensating resulting in performance problems associated with pain and
refusal on the horse's part. The sooner these soreness behaviors are identified
and corrected, the sooner the downhill progress may be stopped. So how do we keep these spasms from happening?
Energy is required for motion. The muscle fibers get their energy from ATP
(adenosine triphosphate), which is formed by joining oxygen and glucose from
food sources. The key is oxygen which is delivered by blood circulation. When
the body is using fuel and oxygen properly and waste products are being
disposed of properly, it is working aerobically.
When the body is not in condition or during intense competition, the muscles
frequently are working anaerobically (the muscles are not getting adequate
oxygen and by products are not being disposed of). This results in the formation of lactic acid which is absorbed causing fatigue, spasms, and the consequences thereof.
Muscles with spasms provide resistance that others must work harder to
compensate for. The more muscles that are not functioning properly, the higher
the workload for the rest, and the faster their breakdown as other spasms further increase the resistance leading to overall tied up muscles and fatigue.
Spasms are an inevitable consequence of muscles at work for a variety of
reasons. The purpose of training and conditioning programs is to ask muscles to work in a learned fashion at a stressful level. Competitive horses who experience a high level of vigorous activity are candidates for preventive massage. Since soreness behaviors are, as the result of an cumulation of spasms, preventive therapy makes good sense.
The purpose of massage is to identify spasms or stress points and relieve them
restoring the muscle to normal free movement. Over stretched and over stressed muscles as the result of accidents and injuries, as well as competition, can be addressed restoring motion and relieving pain immediately in many cases. Spasms will not relieve themselves with rest or exercise. They must be manually relieved through various techniques. The sooner soreness behaviors are recognized and muscles relieved the better, not only for performance and safety, but for the general comfort of the horse.
Some Common Questions
My horse is young, he doesn't need a massage does he?
Young horses in
training are learning a new work ethic, as well as how to use their bodies in new,
often unnatural ways. This not only stresses muscles, but also stifles, hocks,
tendons, knees, etc. The colt's long-term prospects will be greatly enhanced by
the relief brought by massage to overstressed and stretched muscles. Western
pleasure and dressage horses are particularly vulnerable due to the isometric
nature of their disciplines.
How often does a horse need a massage?
When his performance or
disposition changes he is telling you it is time. That may be six weeks or six
Are you sure he doesn't need a chiropractor?
Bones are out of place
because the muscles on either side have unequal tension. Until the tension is
equalized a chiropractic adjustment is short-lived.