Horse Previews Magazine website - Posted on 03/07/2001; 2:00:00PM.

Equine Sports Massage Therapy: Part 2 - Stress and Attitude

by Laura Attaway, LMP, ESMTII * Horse Mountain Massage, 509-990-9608 *

You have been working your wonderful horse for the last couple weeks. The weather has been cooperating and your horse is performing with spectacular form and you are happy. Saturday afternoon rolls around and you tack up your horse and set out to ride him/her. As you warm up, you notice that her trot is a bit off and after a short time she will not circle to the left. Your once seemingly broke and responsive horse is fighting you with each turn. Frustrated you get off and try some lunging. Circles to the right look fairly well except that her forward strides are not even. The change of direction brings out your horses alter ego you saw when you were on her back. What is going on? Last week she was working and circling for you just fine. Where has this attitude come from? Now what? Your horse doesn't have a history of being stubborn or unwilling to work. You check your horse over for any heat in the shoulders and legs. You don't find any heat but there is some unusual twitching and spasms in her left shoulder. You give her a week off but the problem still persists. You call your Veterinarian and after checking out your horse, he/she recommends something to you that surprises you, get your horse a massage. HMMM, what's massage going to do for my horses attitude and unwillingness to work????

Your horse is probably in some degree of pain. Our horses communicate with us through actions, not words. When doing something that hurts, she is going to resist it to some degree. Horses vary in their willingness to work in pain but at some point all horses will hit their breaking point and start resisting or refusing to do what is asked of them. This is not to say there aren't stubborn horses out there but its very much worth a second look when your horse has a change of attitude or behavior.

I worked on a horse named Sammy. Her trainer was having trouble getting her to extend in her trot. She was also exhibiting an unwillingness in some of her lateral work. Upon palpating (feeling) her hamstrings I found tightness primarily on the right side. My massage work treats a horse holistically - all over - but with a horse exhibiting a specific problem I will focus time on the problem area. I also focused on her left shoulder. Problems in horses affect the shoulder or hip on the diagonal i.e. tightness and restriction in the left shoulder will affect the right hip since the horse pulls his or her weight off the restricted shoulder or hip early. After three treatments, Sammy was responding with her old willingness and style. Horses are creatures of habit, they get used to moving one way because of pain and it takes a couple massages sometimes for them to realize that the muscles are loosened up and they can go back to their old way of moving.

A very glaring example of a horse under stress with an attitude was a horse named DeeDee. She was a four year old TB off the track. Her life had been filled with some very harsh handling and then she went to live in the country with an "old cowboy". Her body was so wracked with pain from tight muscles and stress from her previous lifestyle that her brain couldn't always function logically. Her owner could get on her and ride her for a short while and then she would explode and become totally unpredictable and dangerous to herself and her owner. It took about 6 weeks of very calmly, gently and patiently doing light to moderate massage work on her to bring about some results. Massage changed the way DeeDee viewed herself and the life around her. She learned that pain, stress and escape didn't have to be a way of life. DeeDee still had a long way to go. Her owner, the "old cowboy", even said he was amazed that her attitude could be turned around.

As show circuits and competition seasons expand, stress and attitude in our horses are very much a reality. Massage is one of the many tools now available to you the horse owner to aid your horse and yourself in having a successful season.

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