Massage Your Horse Inexpensively

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Can your grooming tools, especially curry combs and similar brushes, have a massage effect on your horse' We certainly believe so, and this concept is steeped in tradition. In fact, old-time grooms used to say they were ?rubbing? their charges, rather than ?grooming? them.

So, currying your horse, if it's done vigorously in circular, sweeping motions over the horse's entire body, can certainly have a soothing, relaxing effect on the horse?and on the groomer, too.

it's NOT THERAPY. Certified massage therapist Jo-Ann Wilson of Camden, Maine, who performed massage therapy on the Canadian eventing team, agrees that grooming tools are soothing to a horse and can help increase blood circulation, which is a good way to start warming up a horse for exercise or for additional body work.

?But I really don't think it's going to effectively change the way a horse moves,? Wilson explained. ?It won?t change the range of motion in a horse.?

That's because currying only affects the superficial nerve endings just below the skin. Currying doesn't go deep enough to stimulate either the belly of the muscles or their anchors (where they attach to the bone), Wilson said.

?You can curry a horse and help them to relax, but that same horse that you may have curried for an hour may still have a hard time bending left or may knock down a rail because He's having a hard time lifting his shoulder,? said Wilson.

?I use anatomy and physiology. I help change the way the horse moves by stimulating nerve endings and muscle attachments and by separating the fibers,? she added.

Like other sports-massage therapists, Wilson goes to the anchor, where tendons attach each muscle to a bone, and uses her fingertips to put pressure on the anchor to break up the muscle fibers. Then Wilson moves back to the belly of the muscle (in the center of the muscle) and performs compressions, with her fingertips or the heel of her hand, to spread the muscle fibers there. These two actions cause the muscle to soften or loosen in two locations.

?The body reads what I'm doing and makes a change?it relaxes and loosens the muscle,? said Wilson.

AN INTEGRATED METHOD. Equine body worker Jim Masterson has developed a program that allows owners and trainers to help their horses to be more comfortable without the anatomical and physiological knowledge that a massage therapist needs. Thus, he says, the horses are able to perform better. He fully describes The Masterson? Method in his new book Beyond Horse Massage (see page 4).

Masterson calls his program ?an integrated method of bodywork,? a method that has two important aspects: First, learning to read the horse's responses to touch, and, second, applying that information to key junctions of the body that most affect performance.

?One of the working principles of this method is that when you move a joint or junction through a range of motion (even a small range of motion) in a relaxed state, the horse's body will release tension that has accumulated in that area,? said Masterson.

So, without making a chiropractic adjustment, ?you can get the horse to release tension in connective tissue and muscles around a junction by ?asking? it to move through the resistance in a relaxed state,? said Masterson.

The Masterson Method has been designed for both professional body workers and for average horse owners to use. ?This method is very interactive with the horse, which, as horse owners, is why we have our horses. This applies whether we compete, ride for pleasure, or just enjoy our relationship with the horse,? said Masterson.

The key, said Masterson, is in learning how to read visual and palpable responses from the horse that will tell you: 1) where the horse has accumulated the tension, 2) how much pressure (or non-pressure) to use to keep the horse from bracing against a release of the tension, and 3) when the horse has released the tension.

THEY FIT.? Masterson sees his method as a bridge between massage and chiropractic treatment.

?I think how chiropractic and massage relate is that traditional chiropractic focuses on making adjustments to the skeleton to cause a release of tension in muscles that may be creating skeletal imbalance and misalignments, whereas traditional massage focuses on directly massaging the muscles to release tension that may be creating the imbalances and misalignments in the skeleton,? said Masterson. ?Both are complementary and are aimed at restoring balance to the body, but from different angles.?

Wilson believes that massage?whether sports massage or relaxation massage using grooming tools or by hand?is an excellent precursor to chiropractic treatment.

?They interact like a hand and glove,? said Wilson. ?The horse's body is made up of 50-percent muscle. The lining of the muscles forms the tendon, which attaches to the bone. Muscles move bones, so if a muscle is very, very tight, obviously it's going to affect the movement of that bone.

?it's important to keep the muscle loose so the chiropractor can shift the bone or the joint and so that the adjustment that they do is maintained. If the muscle is still tight, it can undermine the adjustment,? he said.

BOTTOM LINE. So, we all agree that you can't do a therapeutic massage with curries, but that doesn't mean we shouldn?t give our horse a great feel-good curry massage, especially before we ride.? And, for that, we gathered some popular curry combs to decide which were our favorites for a gentle massage on our horses.

While we think everyone should put the three Grooma products we used in their grooming box because they?re so useful, it was the traditional curry comb shape with flexible rubber from Decker Manufacturing that gave our horses what we consider the best grooming massage. Smaller hands might prefer the Sport Glitter curries from Desert Equine. ?See full product chart and photos: Click here.

Article by Performance Editor John Strassburger.