Horses get aches and pains, just as humans do, but they can't use words to make their complaints known. Instead, they choose non-verbal ways to let us know they aren't feeling in top shape. Some of those ways can be most unpleasant for their human companions and misinterpreted as bad behavior, obstinance or rudeness.
Especially if your horse develops a bad habit suddenly or shows a general grumpy mood that's uncharacteristic, check first for subtle physical discomforts. Hooves in good shape? Teeth okay? No new scrapes or bruises? Have you changed the diet lately? Are there new horses nearby?
Even if you do identify a possible cause for poor behavior, giving your horse a massage can do as much to relieve physical aches and emotional tension for them as it does humans. Many of the muscle aches that make a horse irritable or "fussy" can be resolved or lessened by the caring use of equine massage therapy. Plus, it deepens the bond between the horse and the owner; they will love you for doing something for them that feels so good!
NOTE: This information is not intended to replace professional equine massage as provided by a trained therapist. These tips are for use by a caring horse owner, to be applied with common sense and the usual safety procedures any person should use around a horse.
Normal, routine brushing and combing is a form of massage in itself - the steady, rhythmic stroking of hide and hair. The grooming time is an excellent opportunity to add some additional "massage" work, especially if your horse has been working extra hard lately.
After brushing, begin by working along the backbone from withers toward the rump. The general procedure is to begin with light pressure, gradually increase the working depth and then lighten up again. Remember, the more intense the pressure, the smaller the area to be worked.
Using all of your fingertips together, begin to make small circles along your horse's spine. Work with steady pressure the full length of one side of the spine, then do the other side. Talk softly while you work and watch for reactions that indicate either pleasure or discomfort. Your horse may look at you quizzically, but if his eyes are soft, speak to him softly and keep working. Watch for skin quivers, which indicate a tender spot. Lighten your touch when that happens.
If he takes deliberate steps away from you, attempt to continue the massage in a different place and make a mental note that he may have some stress or tension on that particular place. It's best to not stop the massage on a negative note, so try to give him some positive physical contact (maybe just rubbing his nose) even if you decide not to continue the massage.
After the spine, if your horse seems receptive to more work, continue down the body. Remember that a horses hide is much thicker and tougher than a humans, but don't apply so much pressure that you wear yourself out.
Continue to make circles with your fingertips all over your horse's body. If you watch his body language closely, you will know how he's taking to it. Soft eyes, a drooping head, relaxation happening under your fingertips all indicate that he's loving it! On the other hand, really active ears, jerking of the head or feet stomping are all indications that he's experiencing some discomfort. If that's the case, use the flat of your palm and go over the body gently to assure him that you have no intention of causing pain and to "close" the massage.
Don't spend more than five minutes on one side before you go to the other; try to maintain a balanced feeling in your work rather than doing all of one side before you begin to work on the other side. Massage with the same small circular movement down the outside of each leg. As you reach the narrower areas, encircle them with your hands and keep your fingers in motion.
When you have finished your session, use either the palm of your hand or a soft grooming brush and go over his entire body lightly. Walk him around a bit and let him get a drink.
Diana goes on to suggest that if you like massaging your horse, purchase a book with good illustrations of equine anatomy so that you can learn to follow the muscle fiber direction as you work. And for addtional techniques, check into the schools across the nation that teach equine massage.
This is all part of the natural horse care, ie, natural hoof trimming, natural hoof care and natural horse products, in which EasyCare believes in so very strongly.
When you call EasyCare, I’m one of the folks that will answer. I’m also one of the cowgirls in the group. (Heck no, I don’t show, I Rodeo!) When it comes to life’s adventures – never pull back on the reins, and remember: the world is best-viewed through the ears of a horse!