•••Equine Massage

By Laurel Statz


Massaging the longissimus dorsi muscle of the back


Massaging the external abdominal oblique muscles


Muscles of the upper foreleg have been chalked.  The tendons for these muscles are below the knee or hock.  The muscles work in unison so tense shortened muscles farther up the chain, take away available length to the tendons, contributing to pulled or otherwise injured, lower leg tendons.

I want to begin by introducing myself—Laurel or Laurie (I come to both) Statz. I am an equine bodyworker based in southern Wisconsin. Certified in Equine Massage, Myofascial Release, and Kinesiology Taping, I continue to learn and add more tools to my toolbox.

I will be writing a series of articles about Equine Bodywork modalities for Appaloosas Now. The first of these articles is about Equine Massage. I am reporting on what I see as just the facts and not about any particular company or massage therapy title.

How would you know that your horse will benefit from massage? What is the take-away message on this? First, I will say that there is hardly a horse out there that will not benefit from massage.

Let us look at the benefits of massage. The number one benefit of massage is increased circulation. Circulation means blood flow increased to the tissues. This blood flow carries in healing oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and carries away toxins and waste products. The action of massage breaks up adhesions and scar tissue, which reduces mobility and flexibility. Think about shortened stride, less reach, and inability to bend.
From the benefit of increased circulation come all these other great benefits:


  • Relaxation and stress reduction

  • Increased flexibility

  • Reduction of swelling

  • Faster healing of injuries

  • Prevents atrophy or wasting away of unused muscles (when one muscle is painful or on-working, nearby muscles try to take up the slack, but it isn’t efficient and the injured muscles start to waste)

  • Loosens and softens scar tissue

  • Loosens and soften connective tissue

  • Lengthens shortened muscles

  • Released endorphins

  • Can boot athletic performance

What are some signs that your horse needs a massage? There are many, and each horse is unique. Generally, the horse is not performing at their former level or is not progressing and seems sore. Sometimes chronic tendon issues are a sign of shortened muscles. A horse may be dragging a hind lead or not even picking up correct leads or is short strided. In other cases, you might have a horse that is reluctant to move forward, or he may be uncharacteristically grumpy, pinning his ears, girthy, flighty, or does not want to be caught in the pasture. Their work may be better to one side, moreso than their usual. Or it may be difficult for them to bend one direction or either direction. Add these to the list; scuffing toes, acting up. It could be any of a very long list of items. Every horse is different.

I have seen horses fresh back from the trainer, where they learned a lot and worked very hard. In these cases, the horse in front of me has extremely taut muscles. I refer to these horses as “Stone Ponies.” The owner is often pleased and will slap on those muscles stating something to the effect of “just look what great condition my horse is in; he is in such athletic condition.” All I can think is, “that ain’t good.” Healthy muscles can be firm and should be pliable. Rock hard muscle is screaming for blood and oxygen. Get those muscles that feel like cement some massage. Overly tense muscles are short, and they are setting the horse up for tendon issues and other injuries farther down the chain of muscles, besides the fact they don’t feel good and can be painful. Have you ever had a very sore back or other sore muscles? So sore that they’re hard. How does that feel? How would it feel if you had to do physical work and carry someone around on your back?

Sometimes a massage is contra-indicated. The horse owner should be aware of this—a horse in shock, a horse with a fever, a horse with cancer, to name just a few. Always, if you have a horse with some health issue, consult your veterinarian first. The massage therapist should also ask questions about health status the first time she meets your horse.

You might ask, how do I choose an excellent equine massage therapist? There should be credentials, such as Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT) or Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist (CESMT). There are other titles. The title has to do with the type of school they attended. In my opinion, a competent equine massage therapist should have graduated from a “hands-on” school and not just an online school. There is no substitute for having an instructor right there to guide you. Paying attention to the amount of pressure applied, seeing that you are on the correct muscle, watching that you read a horse very well, pointing out issues with individuals. While there are some bodywork modalities that can be learned effectively through online coursework, I believe that equine massage is best understood when learned at a hands-on school.

I would also see if the therapist has a base of repeat business among their clientele. Ask around and see if you know any other people who use the therapist you might have in mind. See if the therapist can give you references who you can contact. Check for a Facebook page or a website and get a flavor for the type of business and the clients they serve. I feel that an equine massage therapist should show up looking professional, be on time, and conduct themselves as a professional should, with the attitude that the horse before them is the most important thing.

I’ll end this first installment with this message. Always consider muscle and soft tissue issues with your horse; it may be the best thing you’ll ever do for them. In the next issue of Appaloosas Now, I will write about another equine bodywork modality that will interest readers. ~ Laurel Statz. CVT, CEMT, CEMFRP, CEKTP