A very beneficial form of equine massage that you don't hear much about is lymphatic massage. Lymphatic massage for horses can be a very powerful tool in your natural horse care arsenal. If you have a horse that is prone to allergies, stocking up or swelling in the lower limbs, tends to have swollen glands, isn't feeling well for no apparent reason, or you wish to help them remove toxins from the body, this valuable form of massage can really help.
The Equine Lymphatic System
In simple terms I like to think of the lymphatic system of the horse as a highway, removing unwanted byproducts of the body for disposal and delivering beneficial nutrients in their place. The lymph system works with the body's immune system to help filter pathogens, debris and toxins from the body. This is why our lymph nodes often swell when we are sick. The lymphatic system is removing these bacteria, viruses and junk from our systems. When the lymphatic highway becomes congested, the effect is that you end up with a traffic jam. The system backs up and doesn't function properly. The purpose of lymphatic massage is to clear the congestion and allow for the free flow of traffic through the horse's body once again.
Benefits Of Lymphatic Massage For Horses
This simple equine massage technique can have dramatic results on how your horse feels, particularly if it has been feeling poorly for a while and/or has a lot of toxins built up in its body. Every chemical and toxin that your horse has been exposed to lingers to some extent within its cells, building up over time. It is not unusual for a horse to feel a bit under the weather right after a lymphatic massage as the toxins that have been stored in the body start circulating again in order to exit the body. Some of the benefits of this natural detoxifying technique are listed below:
- Improved immune system function
- Remove excess fluid (stocking up)
- Remove toxins, waste, bacteria and viruses from the body
- Improved energy levels
- Pain relief and/or improvement of overall comfort levels
One of my very early equine massage cases involved a young colt, approximately 9 months old, belonging to a friend. He suddenly started having nasal and eye discharge on one side of his face. It is unclear exactly what happened to cause the problem, but the bones of his skull became deviated. One side of the skull, just below the eye, had collapsed, compromising the sinuses, and deforming his face slightly. The veterinarian thought it might be caused by a fungal or bacterial sinus infection which was putting excessive pressure on the bones of the skull which had yet to fuse due to the horse's age. In retrospect, it is thought more likely to have been kicked by another horse.
As the weeks and months passed, you could just see in his eyes that he was in pain. His eyes always seemed crinkled up and his lips were pursed all the time. The lymph nodes below his ears and under his jaw were always quite large (about 1-1/2 inches in diameter) and had been that way for months. All of this was going on while I was studying for my first equine massage certification. We were learning about different massage techniques, and the subject of lymphatic massage came up. I immediately thought about my friend's horse and when I returned home from school, I asked if they would allow me to try the technique on their horse.
We did two back-to-back sessions: once daily two days in a row, then once a week for several weeks after that. The day following the first massage session the lymph nodes under the horse's jaw and below his ears were reduced in size by half. By the third session, the colt's expression improved greatly. The lines around his eyes and corners of his mouth eventually went away and he genuinely seemed to feel much better. Within a couple of weeks, his lymph nodes were completely back to normal and he has never had a problem with them to this day. He is a happy and healthy horse.
While the above case is extreme in nature, the benefits were dramatic and obvious for all to see which is a good example of what the potential of this technique can be. Your horse doesn't need to be extremely sick to benefit greatly from lymphatic massage. It is amazing how something as simple as removing retained fluid off the body can improve the way your horse feels.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the "whole horse".
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