Why should you care about a horse massage? In what ways will it benefit you or your horse?

Just as many people enjoy a good massage, so do horses. A horse massage is both stimulating and therapeutic, and can boost the performance of a horse.

There are a couple of important things to know about equine massages. How they work, plus the immense benefits they can have on your horse. In this article, you will learn about horse massage and how to keep your horse in good shape through it.

What is horse massage?

A horse massage or equine massage therapy is like the human massage. The masseuse works using their bare palm, the heel of the hand, and in some cases, the elbows to release tension from muscles and relax them.

There are many techniques used in carrying out a horse massage, but the aim remains the same. Enhancing your horse’s general well-being. It is important to note that although some people see equine massage as a new trend, it isn’t. The idea dates back to some 2,000 years ago, as found in Chinese and Greek treatises on horse care.

Let’s take a look at some of the different forms of horse massage:

Joint mobilization

This type of massage involves stroking the horse’s joints such as the hocks and knees. This helps to relax the muscles as well as relieving soreness. Doing this makes the horse more agile and enhances the movement of the horse’s legs.

This is because the joint mobilization massage promotes healthy blood flow to every vital part in the body. This helps to relieve stiffness and soreness. This becomes handy during post-injury recovery.


Effleurage is a strategy used to keep the horse relaxed and ready for massage. It begins with an open-palmed stroke across the muscle that is intended for massage. Then applying slight pressure on the muscle. Effleurage can be used to stimulate the horse which releases endorphins. This helps the horse get into mood for the massage.


Petrissage works by applying pressure against specific release points of the horse. Carrying out this process usually requires wringing, squeezing, kneading, and deep vibrations. The pressure and release ease the stimulation of the muscle. Doing this enhances healing and growth in the area.


Tapotement is applying both hands on the desired area. Doing this may include cupping the hands and tapping them against the muscle. This rhythmic movement relaxes and stimulates the muscle, toning the muscle and releasing trapped fluids in the area.

If you find some of the forms of massage I explained above difficult to do. You don’t have to be bothered, you might want to use the services of a horse massage therapist to get the job done.

What is a horse massage therapist?

A horse massage therapist is someone who has deep knowledge of equine of neurology, anatomy as well as the horse skeletal system. They carry out different therapeutic treatments, based on the nature of injury or problem a horse is suffering from. They use massage techniques in facilitating quick recovery from injuries. To relieve stress, and enhancing the performance in horses.

The first thing they do is to analyze the condition of the horse to determine the most effective approach to use to solve the problem. The primary goal of a horse massage is to relieve tension, enhance circulation, boost muscle tone, and relax muscle spasms. It can also work as a preventive measure against these things.

What Training Does a Horse Massage Therapist Undergo?

Though the horse massage therapy field isn’t regulated yet. There are programs on learning massage techniques. They are usually combined with general coursework in equine science. Such courses comprise equine health and injury prevention.

Many of the courses offering a certificate of completion usually don’t take more than a year to complete. A few of the schools have some sort of transfer agreement with colleges that allows students to transfer credits. Which can be applied to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a related animal science course.

Many horse massage therapists have an undergraduate degree in a field related to equine studies. Some undertook a one-year certificate program on equine massage therapy.

There is also a voluntary registration available through the International Federation of Registered Equine Massage Therapists.(IFREMT)

Additionally, individuals who have interest in this field can as well go through either of the two processes to be certified to work on horses. This field of animal care is projected to experience about 11% job growth(2014-2024).

What is the salary of a horse massage therapist?

Equine massage therapists are usually self-employed, operating privately. So, there is no universal or general salary scheme for practicing horse massage therapists.

Their charges vary, depending on the requirements of the job they are asked to do. Some charge an hourly rate while some offer weekly rate. There are a few factors that come into play in determining how much a a horse massage therapists gets paid.

What is the benefit of massaging a horse’s back muscles?

One of the benefits of massaging a horse’s back muscles is to prevent and relieve back pain. Secondly, regular massage helps to maintain flexibility throughout the muscles of the back. A horse’s usefulness lies in the strength and health of their back, a horse with a damaged back is as good as dead.

A lot of horses suffer different injuries on their back due to the handling of the owner or some other factors. When horses suffer pains on their back, their performance is negatively affected. And they might break down at anytime if care is not taken.

This is why it is important to ensure that your horse’s back remains strong and healthy. One of the viable ways to ensure this is regularly massaging the back muscles to relieve tension and prevent back pain.

Here is a quick overview of the benefits of massaging your horse:

Pain relief: One of the popular uses of massage is to reduce and relieve muscle tension. And that’s exactly what it does for horses. Areas of scar tissue can also heal from massage.

Massage helps with loosening the scar tissue. It helps the horse to move more freely and lessening the pain. Massage and stretching are effective ways to help a horse get back its mobility after an injury. This is because it reduces tension as collagen fibers heal.

Improved Circulation: The compression and release pattern of horse massage can be helpful. They ease circulation in the superficial areas of the limbs. This can be useful for stall bound horses with lower leg edema. It enhances blood and lymph circulation.

Relaxation: This is another helpful strategy to get a horse to relax. Many horses are relaxed during a massage session. By dropping their head, licking, cocking a hind leg and even falling asleep in the process. Massage is effective in making racehorses more relaxed and calm.

If a horse is suffering from back pain. There are a couple of massage strokes that have been found to be effective in relieving the pain.

Effleurage is often the first stroke applied on the horse’s back. Here are some of the things Effleurage does:

  • It makes the horse get used to your touch and starts relaxing the muscles
  • It gives you an opportunity to assess the back muscles for tightness or tenderness.
  • Effleurage warms up the muscles in preparation for deeper massage work.
  • It helps the lymphatic and venous return

When using the Effleurage strokes, the pressure is applied with the fingers, palm, or palm base. This is depending on the area worked on. It is effective when you work along the back beginning from behind the shoulder blade.

Move to the lower back with long smooth strokes. This technique works great in warming up and relaxing the area.

Additionally, gentle rhythmic pumping action can be done on any muscular area.

The Compression Technique

Please, do not perform compression on bony areas.

Compression Technique Procedure:

  • Place the base of the palm of your right hand on the horse’s back.
  • Place your left hand over your right hand.
  • Slowly press your hands right into the back muscles then release gently.

This procedure can be carried out all along the back. You can start from behind the shoulder and work down to the lower back. Try to repeat this routine 4-5 times on each side. Avoid applying pressure directly on the ribs or spinal column.

Compressions are a way to slowly spread the restricted muscle fibers. They open up the space between them with an open hand. This involves using the heel and palm for pressure. While your fingers remain extended but not pressed into the muscle.

This technique is useful when your horse shows signs of suffering from back muscle tightness. If you do it regularly even when there are no symptoms, it may prevent tightness from happening.

Cross Fiber Technique

This technique is used to handle deeper layers of muscle tissue. The cross fiber technique compresses and moves superficial tissue over the deep tissue. This should be done gently and slowly because it touches deep tissue.

Cross Fiber Technique Procedure:

  • Place the middle 3 fingers of your right hand on the horse’s back. Your fingers should be pointing towards the horse’s spinal column.
  • Place your left hand over your right hand then apply downward pressure. Slowly move your fingertips back and forth across the muscle.

Follow Up With Canter

To maximize the benefits of massaging the back muscles of your horse, ride the horse when you are done. Then you add several minutes of canter work in a stretchy but connected frame in both directions.

Doing this enhances the loosening and lengthening of your horse’s back muscles. This is like the common back-stretching many people do when they wake in the morning.

You don’t have to wait for your horse to suffer back pain before massaging it. Massage helps to relieve and prevent pain.

A little prevention can avoid lots of frustration for you and your horse. If you wait until there is a problem, it might lead to serious complications. This can keep your horse sidelined for long. You should regularly massage your horse’s back muscles to keep him or her healthy and fit.

Understanding the longissimus muscle of your horse

Your horse’s most prized asset is its back. It’s that vital part of the horse’s body you need to give close attention and care. One of the ways to care about the fitness of your horse is knowing how the longissimus muscles work.

The two vital muscles on your horse’s back are called the longissimus dorsi and longissimus costarum. The tightness of these two muscles is usually the cause of stiffness or back pain your horse suffers.

Signs that Your Horse’s Back Muscles are Stiff or Hurt

There are certain signs to look out for in your horse to determine if their back muscles are stiff.

When you notice them exhibiting any of these behaviors, you should be alarmed and try to get things fixed as soon as possible:

Flinching or sinking away when you’re saddling him.

  • Traveling with his head elevated and/or his back hollowed.
  • Cantering less freely than usual.
  • Experiences a decrease in coordinated power.
  • Trailing his hind end rather than stepping under himself.
  • Jumps flat rather than with a rounded bascule.
  • Drifting sideways, either on the flat or over jumps.
  • Resists lateral work.

The longissimus dorsi is the longest and largest muscles in your horse’s body. It is a powerful extensor of his spine. While the longissimus dorsi is found below the longissimus dorsi across the ribs on each side. The longissimus dorsi is crucial for breathing and lateral flexion of the spine.

To understand how these muscles and others become tight. Which often causes stiffness and pain, let’s take a quick look at how muscles work. Every muscle has two ends, each joined to bone by a tendon. On the first end, the anchor and the bone which it is joined to doesn’t move while the second end is joined to a bone that moves the muscle is used.

The belly is the middle part of the muscle and controls the movement of the bone. The belly is made up of hundreds of tiny fibers. When a muscle is functioning normally, it tightens then immediately relaxes or releases.

Muscle tightness happens when the muscle doesn’t release as it should. When a muscle becomes continually tight, the fibers lie closer together. This restricts blood flow through the muscle belly which normally leads to pain.

All muscles work in pairs of opposites: when a muscle contracts, its opposite releases. But, when a muscle is tight, the release process gets complicated and affected. The muscles at the back extend the spine of the horse.

When the back muscles of a horse are tight. They find it hard to release, which allows the spinal flexion your horse needs to perform some movements. The tightness in the longissimus costarum will affect your horse’s ability to bend.

When a horse is struggling with tight back muscles, it could be an indicator of deeper problems. Such as: weak stifles, ligament problems or ankle issues. How do you know if your horse is struggling with just muscle tightness or something more serious?

If your horse doesn’t get relieved after applying the message techniques then it is a signal of a deeper issue. You should immediately get in touch with your veterinarian. Doing this will give you a better understanding of what the exact problem. This will also help in determining the best treatment approach to fix it.


You need to pay serious attention to the health and fitness of your horse. That’s one of the ways to ensure it remains active, agile and efficient for many years. One of such is a regular horse massage. If you don’t have the luxury of time to do it yourself, you can hire a horse massage therapist to handle it for you. Doing this, you can prevent your horse from suffering back pain, and if they are already, you can relieve it.

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