As a massage therapist, it's important that we stay up to date on the latest techniques and trends in the industry to ensure quality therapy. One way that we accomplish this is through Continued Education Units (CEUs), which is a contributing factor in keeping massage licensing updated. This year, to fulfill the CEU requirement, I took a trip to Oasis School of Animal Massage in Birmingham, Alabama to learn equine massage. While these massages are still being studied for the full scope of benefits to the horses, we have already seen that equine massage is great for pain relief, relaxation, improved circulation, and improved locomotor function for the horses. It turns out that humans and horses aren't as different as you may think when it comes to massage therapy.
Pressure points are certain parts of your body that are sensitive to pressure. Applying firm pressure to those specified areas can produce healing, pain-relieving, and relaxing effects on your body – and it turns out that the same is true for horses! A massage therapist can apply the same general techniques to horses with a few tweaks to help achieve some of the same results.
Horses are large animals so you may expect that they would need extra pressure to see results. However, the opposite is true as they actually need less pressure than humans. We've found that the horses are more "in the moment" and are thus more sensitive to touch than humans. Our brains tend to keep moving full speed ahead - even during a massage, making us less aware and sensitive to the sensation of the massage.
When working on a pressure point, there are a variety of ways a horse shows the release of tension. They may yawn, make movements with their tongue, chew, fall asleep, or even pass gas. These are all good signs!
Once again, much like humans, horses need to stretch for their health. These stretches can help improve strength and balance, expand their range of motion, and even reduce the potential for athletic injury. We accomplish this through carrot stretches for horses which uses a carrot to position the horse's head in the desired location. This is done by slowly moving the carrot down between their front legs, encouraging them to stretch their necks down. Once this is held for a few moments, you can use another carrot to slowly move up, placing the carrot just out of natural head reach. This causes the horse to stretch his neck out, making his neck and body one horizontal line. Some pressure may have to be put on the horse's shoulder to discourage stepping forward. However, it's important to make sure you're not overstretching the horse. They need to build their flexibility and range of motion just like we do.
I've always loved horses. It was so amazing to be so up close to them and learn about the muscle structure. Through this experience, I hope to volunteer at a therapy horse farm. It was such a privilege to learn so much about these animals and contribute to their wellness. I can't wait to learn more!