Sports Massage for the Horse

Claire M Galer - BSc(Hons). ITEC Dip Eq. MESMA. ITEC Dip Hu. MIGPP.

Equine Sports Massage Therapist ~ Rider, Remedial & Holistic Masseur ~ Independent Equine Nutritionist

Equine Sports Massage is the therapeutic application of professional sports massage techniques applied to the horse. The benefits & effects are shown to have profound outcomes on these great athletes. A thorough understanding of anatomy and the interactions of bones, joints and muscles are the basis of this proven physical & mental therapy that is the art of massage. A masseur looks at the horse as a whole & attempts to consider all the possible effects of any tension, while interpreting a horse’s reactions & expressions.

Sports Massage Therapy is the application of massage techniques in order to increase health of the horse and rider, performance, endurance, fitness, well-being & prevention / recovery of injury.

Equine & Rider Sports Massage Maintains & Balances the Musculoskeletal System, Restoring Health, Soundness & Performance

All horses can benefit from an equine Sports Massage Treatment. This can range from the family pony to top quality competition horses in any sphere. U

sed during training & “Pre & Post Competition”, massage keeps muscles healthy, builds those that have wasted, maintains suppleness & prevents atrophy. Massage plays a vital role during a period of box rest or restricted work.

Post exertion massage minimizes stiffness & speeds repair to tissues damaged as an inevitable result of physical stress & fatigue. Passive movements & stretches help to restore joints & muscles to full working capacity. Massage can benefit the well being of the animal, release tension & aid mental relaxation. In the event of injury, massage is of great benefit to aid recovery & prevent wasting of muscles. Following veterinary diagnosis, treatment & consent.

A good program of care should cover all aspects of equine management: good health care; individually adapted nutritional plan; correct stable management; suitable exercise & training routine. Although genetics plays an important role in building the foundation for an equine athlete, without the correct nutrition, health care, management & training even the finest pedigree will not be able to achieve their full potential. Ultimately this leads to healthier & happier horses, this surely being the goal for which we all strive for the horses in our care.

Anatomy, Physiology & Equine Sports Massage

Anatomy is the term used to describe the architecture of any living thing, be it plant or animal. The equine masseur develops a three-dimensional thought, realizing that the mass upon which they work consists of systems, each system built by specialist individual cells. A thorough understanding of the composition and interaction within the structures if the equine body, is necessary for the practice of successful massage and allied techniques. The skeletal and muscle anatomy of the equine provides a roadmap of information for the therapist to interpret and apply the appropriate therapeutic techniques. All of the bodily systems are arranged around, upon and within the skeletal frame; with each and every one of the systems interrelating and interlinking.

Definition of massage: “The manipulation of the soft tissue of the body through stroking, rubbing, kneading or tapping. To increase circulation, to improve muscle tone and to relax the client” Definition of swedish massage: “The manipulation of soft tissue for therapeutic purposes, used to relieve muscular spasm and pain, improve blood circulation and reduce swelling due to accumulation of fluid in the tissues”

Sports Massage is the use of classic Swedish massage techniques to prepare for competition, assist during the event and aid recovery afterwards. Sports Massage has become increasingly popular within the equine fraternity, with positive and profound feedback. Maintenance sessions form an integral part of the training programme.

Comments from clients who have their horses routinely massaged include: “The best ride of the month is the day after massage” “The difference was amazing, like riding a different horse” “My horses suppleness and well being have improved dramatically since starting the treatments, the massages are definitely an enhancing factor for his competitive results” “My horse has become much looser, increasingly more supple, healthier and happier in himself, since starting his treatments. I cannot be grateful enough for the tremendous progress in his overall performance”

Equine Sports Massage Techniques


Effleurage is a stroke used, initially to relax the animal & to introduce the masseur as a non-threatening and trustworthy figure. Effleurage then moves on; to provide a vital role in the routine, to relax the animal both physiologically and psychologically & as a tool to enable the masseur to start evaluating the body tissue. All Swedish routines both for human and equine start and finish with this technique. Effleurage is the use of long, rhythmic, gliding, slow strokes.

  • Induces physiological and psychological relaxation
  • Warms superficial tissue, resulting in increased localized temperature
  • Relieves pain (natural release of endorphins)
  • Increases Circulation, assisting in delivery of nutrients and O2 and removal of waste products, CO2
  • Increases Lymphatic flow, assisting in removal of waste
  • Slow rhythmical strokes achieve relaxation
  • Rapid strokes stimulate the body


Petrissage is a technique used once the tissues have warmed up and have started to relax. It is a compressive technique using finger compressions. Local compression is followed by release, thus influencing the deep tissues. Techniques performed to deliver Petrissage are; kneading, picking up, wringing, squeezing, shaking, skin rolling and deep vibrations.

  • Increases blood and O2 supply to muscles
  • Slow movements relax nervous system
  • Increase glandular activity of skin
  • Affects proprioception
  • Assists the bodies natural healing mechanisms to broaden and separate muscle fibres
  • These techniques are aimed at replicating pressure changes within tissue, which occur naturally during muscle movement.


The method of application of Tapotment is a double-handed technique that “Stimulates” the tissue. The techniques used include; hacking, clapping, tapping, cupping and pounding. When using the sides of the hands, this is known as “Hacking”. When using loosely cupped palms, the technique is known as “cupping” or “clapping”. Tapotment must be performed in a rhythmic motion; as one hand makes contact with the subject, the other is lifted. When clapping/cupping is performed, the resulting sound should be “Hollow”. Therefore ensuring air is trapped between the hands of the masseur and the tissue being targeted. Tapotment should never be performed over bony landmarks/prominences and is a superficial application only, used to stimulate the body.

  • Used to relax deep area prior to work
  • Delivers stimulatory signals to the tissues
  • Brisk application to stimulate horse
  • Increases body temperature, thus resulting in increased circulatory and and lymphatic returns
  • Enables the body’s natural mechanisms to promote the cleansing and healing processes
  • Stimulates nervous system
  • Stimulates muscular system
  • Enhances muscle tone and stimulates tired muscles
  • Increases gaseous exchange
  • Stimulates skin and glandular activity
  • Loosens mucus in the thoracic cavity


Friction is a technique applied transversely over the muscle fibres. Local compressions separate the fibres and break up any adhesions. The technique is performed using a single fingertip, or by one fingertip supported by a second. Deep pressure is applied to move the underlying tissue across the muscle fibres and to “irritate” the area being massaged.

  • To irritate and stimulate tissue
  • Assists bodies natural healing mechanisms to break down adhesions within the muscle tissue, resulting in re-establishing the body’s natural cleansing and healing processes
  • Reduces muscle spasms and pain
  • Assists to broaden and separate muscle fibres
  • Used for deep tissue work
  • Assists to mobilise deep scaring
  • Assists to mobilise adherent tissue interfaces
  • Relaxes tense muscles
  • Increase circulation, blood & O2 supply to muscles and removal of waste products

Passive Movement

The movement of a joint or joints, within its normal anatomical range, specific to its anatomical construction. Performed without any muscular involvement on the part of the subject. The joints are moved through their normal anatomical range, held in a non weight bearing position.

Passive Stretch

Movement of a joint or joints as applied for passive movements, however at the end of range marginal over-pressure is applied to increase range and stretch all involved structures; Capsule, ligaments and muscles.

  • Assists in re-education of movement patterns.
  • Affects propriorceptor sensors and improves muscle function.
  • Improved recoil of fibres and as a result improved function.
  • Reduces muscle tension.
  • Improves circulation.
  • Stimulates nervous system.
  • Enhances and improves movement.
  • Effects soft tissue structures.
  • Assists joint lubrication.
  • Effects kinematic / recoil energy.
  • Improve muscle flexibility
  • Restores and maintains normal range of movement

Passive stretches should be performed by a qualified masseur, the tissues should be prepared prior to stretching – either through massage or warm up i.e race horse walked in parade ring prior to stretching. The normal range and plane of movement must be understood and appreciated with the limb being supported correctly and comfortably. Joints should be move slowly, with stretches being repeated three to five times. Joints should never be overstretched.