Even though horses don’t verbally communicate, they let you know what’s going on with an ample amount of hints. Non-verbal communication of course shows up in massage. I massaged a couple horses this last weekend and it still excites me when I can see their reactions and releases! It’s amazing how each horse reacts to certain movements. Or when you can just tell from their energy what kind of session it will be.
The first horse I massaged started by not standing still. He was so squirmy that it took me about 5 minutes to get him to relax. The funny thing, though, was that when he finally settled in, he would not stop visibly releasing tension and further relaxing. My favorite part was when I was almost done, working on his second side on his back, and I just saw him completely exhale and keep his head low. He was just in complete relaxation. I get so excited when I see amazing reactions like this!
Even though I absolutely love these responses, it’s important to dig deeper. Why was he so tense in the first place? What has his work schedule been like? These questions are crucial for long term health because we need to understand how we can reduce stress and improve performance.
Another thing to not when massaging is where they are specifically sore and if they are balanced! Horses are usually not balanced – that’s just common. Like humans, they favor sides and, consequently, become more sore on one side than the other. But it’s good to know where they are sore so we can adjust training. Is your horse’s left shoulder sore? What about their right hind? Or withers? These are all important to note. Maybe they’re not fully using their bodies while exercising.
I also like to look at their front end vs hind end. If you saw my last post about their forehand, you know they place a lot of weight on their front. Knowing that, they tend to favor riding on the forehand. This isn’t new. However, massage doesn’t lie!! If a horse’s hind end is not even the tiniest reactive while their front is lighting up with pressure points, what does that tell me? There could be some work to do.
Long story short, massage is an amazing thing. Not only can we help the horse relieve tension, and retain muscle tone, but it can also show you where your horse is sore. Massage helps your training two-fold!