I am just back from a one-day workshop with Gillian Higgins at Horses Inside Out. Massage is the art of manipulation of soft body tissues with the hands. The workshop aimed at improving our skills in massage for horses. During the day, we worked with five lovely horses. Toby, Norman (shown above), Pumpernickel, Mowgli, and Bonzo.
It is easy to forget that the bones hold together by the tension of the soft tissue structures. We call this Tensegrity. Tensegrity means the integrity of tension. A tissue holding extra tension may cause other tissues to compensate. This can take a horse out of structural and postural balance. One way to help horses is through regular massage. Repetitive strain issues are the most common cause of injuries. In this way, asymmetries can cause other injuries. Massage is thus an important part of holistic horse care.
There are four main techniques used in equine massage. These are Effleurage, Kneading, Frictions, and Tapotement. Effleurage can be both superficial or deep strokes. Strokes are rhythmic, and performed towards the heart. We use both hands for this stroke. Kneading involves compression and release of the muscle tissue. Performed with the hand, the technique mimics muscle contraction. With Frictions, the finger pressures a small area, in rotations. One then moves on to the adjacent tissue, and repeats. Tapotement is a rapid, percussive technique. This stimulates the underlying tissues. One can use the side of the hand (hacking) or cupped palms, known as clapping.
Can I massage all the time?
Regular massage is good for both horse and rider. But there are times when one should not massage. For example, immediately after an accident, or when there is persistent pain. One should not massage open wounds (common sense here) or areas of skin infection. Your horse should also be well hydrated.
Areas to avoid.
There are many areas one should avoid using pressure in equine massage. A good place to start is in identifying the “anatomical landmarks” in your horse. These include the following.
• The wing of the atlas
• The cervical vertebrae
• The spine of the scapula
• The shoulder joint
• The lumbar spinous processes
• Tuber sacrali, tuber coxae, tuber ischium
• The patella and head of the tibia…
The workshop in action.
One of the great and unique features of Gillian Higgins’ workshops is the way she works with paint on the horses. In this workshop, Norman allowed us to paint him up. In this way, we were able to appreciate the locations of the anatomical landmarks. We each took turns painting a structure, a bone, or point. It is great fun! At the same time, it is important to get to know your horse’s anatomy. The more one knows what his or her body should feel like, the clearer it appears when something is wrong.
An aha! moment.
One real Aha! moment came for me in the idea of selective dehydration. In kinesiology, we regularly test for dehydration, but I have generally thought about this at a more global level. However, after work, a horse could be selectively dehydrated in the Longissimus dorsii, for example, as this muscle runs underneath the saddle. Here, it might be that some Effleurage might be helpful after riding, to rehydrate the muscle. I am certainly going to look for localized dehydration in my on-site work in the future.
Several of these workshops take place each year, in the summer months. There were three massage workshops this year, June, July, and August. The massage day is a one-day event, beginning at 9h30 and concluding at 16h30. There is ample time for questions. And theory sections alternate with practical work with the horses.
I highly recommend this workshop as a place one can learn a great deal. Gillian is a great teacher. And massaging horses is a beautiful way to spend a day.
I hope this article has been useful. You can get more information about this and all Gillian’s courses at Horses Inside Out.
Many other articles about horses and holistic practice appear on my blog. They are also linked to my Professional Facebook Page. If there is an issue or plant that you would like me to write about, please get in touch via Contacts. I would love to hear from you!
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