One question that I often get from my current and potential equine bodywork clients is "How often should my horse have bodywork done?" Unfortunately, the answer is going to be completely different for each horse as there are so many factors involved with coming up with a therapy plan. But here are a few general guidelines that might help you determine the best frequency plan for your situation.
Monthly and Bi-Monthly Maintenance Equine Bodywork
As a general rule, for horses in good health, with no underlying physical conditions and lightly ridden or pastured, a program of once or twice a month equine bodywork is more than sufficient to keep them moving freely and feeling good. Bi-monthly maintenance massage still allows most horses to realize the health benefits of the massage without losing ground between sessions, but is usually often enough to catch many emerging imbalances before they can become ingrained habits. Any longer than once or twice a month and the horse loses the benefit of the massage and will likely not show any long-term improvement. Regular evaluation by you or your equine bodywork professional also provides the opportunity to quickly make any necessary changes to your therapy program based on changes in your horse's level of exercise or health.
Examples of horses that can benefit from monthly or bi-monthly bodywork:
- Pleasure horses (lightly ridden)
- Young horses not in training
- Retired horses on pasture or stalled (bi-monthly minimum if stalled)
Weekly Equine Bodywork
Unfortunately horses thatn can benefit the most from this level of bodywork are often the ones that receive it the least. There is a common misconception that horses getting moderate exercise and who don't have any pre-existing problems don't need bodywork. But in fact these horses are the ones that are most prone to developing problems. Regular bodywork for these horses can actually help to prevent future injuries by keeping their soft tissue supple and joints flexible. Overworked soft tissue is more susceptible to strain and chronically contracted muscle tissue. When this happens, a snowball effect can occur, where the adjacent muscle groups must take up the load for the groups that are not functioning to their full potential. The end result is ever decreasing range of motion, muscle fatigue and pain and decreased performance.
This group of horses is best served with weekly bodywork sessions. The more they work, the more often bodywork is recommended. Stretching sessions of 3 to 5 days per week followed by a weekly full-on bodywork session to release adhesions, increase lymph flow, flush waste products from the tissues, and perform joint mobility exercises is ideal.
Horses that can benefit from weekly bodywork sessions:
- Horses in training (ridden 3 to 5 days per week)
- Performance horses
- Working horses (police horses, cart horses, ranch horses, etc.)
- Geriatric horses (arthritis)
- Horses with known imbalances and non-acute lameness (clubfoot, old chronic injuries, ringbone)
- Laminitic horses
Multiple Equine Bodywork Sessions Per Week
Really ANY horse will benefit from multiple bodywork sessions per week, as there's no such thing as too much bodywork! However, most people simply don't have the time or resources to maintain this level of bodywork for their horses unless it is in the short term. Despite this fact, there are horses that will require bodywork 2 to 3 times per week. Certain conditions may need the extra momentum gained with multiple sessions per week – at least for the first week or two of therapy. Certainly horses that are in an extreme amount of pain will greatly benefit from this frequency. Compensation from an acute injury can cause strains in other parts of the body, adding to the horse's level of pain and discomfort.
Additional benefits can be realized through increased circulation to aide the healing process, flushing of waste products from the affected tissues and decreasing inflammation, to name a few. These processes are a daily battle for the healing horse, so the more often they can be countered through bodywork, the better the horse will feel, and the more energy the body can expend in actually healing. State of mind is just as important to the healing process as the bodies physical immune system.
Horses that can benefit from multiple bodywork sessions per week:
- Horses with heavy workload (ridden every day)
- Horses in acute injury recovery (particularly if stalled)
- Laminitic horses (early stages)
- Chronic imbalances/injuries (start of therapy – first week or more)
Hopefully this will give you some idea of what to expect when developing a therapeutic bodywork program for your horse. Just remember that these are not hard and fast rules, but will vary depending on the individual needs of your horse and the goals that you and your veterinarian have with your treatment plan. Always consult your veterinarian before implementing any therapy into your horses injury recovery plan.
I'd love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment below. Share some of your experiences with incorporating equine bodywork into your horse's training regimen.
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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