For more than four months we used the Equilibrium Massage Pad, the Equilibrium Massage Mitt and the Equisports Massager in our barn. We worked on more than half a dozen horses, ages 4 to 10, of various breeds, ranging from 15 hands to 17.3 hands. All were in regular training, from a green 4-year-old to four horses competing in eventing.
During our field trial, we found the Equilibrium Massage Pad effective in relaxing and suppling the back and the Equisports Massager effective in suppling the back (especially the lumber region), neck, shoulders and hindquarters.
FOUR VIBRATING MOTORS. The Equilibrium Massage Pad and Massage Mitt are designed and manufactured in England and marketed in the USA by World Equestrian Brands. The Pad was released in early 2008, and the Mitt was introduced in 2011.
The Massage Pad has four vibrating motors, while the much smaller Massage Mitt has two vibrating motors. Both products have a high-density foam filling that carries the massaging vibrations over the entire surface.
Each also has three settings (low, medium and high). The manufacturer recommends 30-minute sessions, six days a week, to achieve the best results. The Massage Pad runs an automatic 30-minute program that you can stop at any time. The Massage Mitt doesn't have an automatic program.
You can use either device as a warm-up prior to work or to help cool down the horse after work. The manufacturer recommends using the medium setting before work and medium or low after.
Robin Moore, of World Equestrian Brands, said that they developed the Mitt after customers asked for a less-expensive product that they could use on more than just the horse's back. She said that horse owners who use the Mitt generally prefer to use it in conjunction with the Massage Pad in one therapy session. They usually find 10 minutes to be the optimal time that they're able to use the Mitt before their arm becomes fatigued. She said 10 minutes is enough time to give the horse a massage benefit.
The majority find that using the Mitt in a stroking action (in the direction of the hair growth) evokes a more relaxed response from the horses (judged by visual signs such as a lowered head, half-closed eyes, slower breathing), rather than holding the massage mitt in one area of the body, added Moore.
The manufacturer submitted the Equilibrium Pad to testing by Myerscough College in England. The researchers there used the "arch-and-dip test," a standard test of flexibility in horses' backs introduced in 2006. The test involves the use of a pressure stimulus to generate a reflex in the horse's back. Pressure applied to a specific region results in the horse dipping away from the pressure. A more flexible back allows the horse to exhibit a greater ability to dip away from the pressure source. Similarly, the arch test involves the application of pressure to the horse's midline, to stimulate an upward arch reflex in the horse's back, away from the pressure.
The researchers used 10 horses who were competing at the preliminary level or above in eventing. Five were the control group, who received no treatment at all during the six-week test. The control group showed an average dip improvement from .032 centimeters to .035 centimeters, while the group treated with the Equilibrium Pad six days a week showed an average improvement from .035 centimeters to .052 centimeters.
For the arch test, the control-group horses showed decreased flexibility, from .05 centimeters to .042 centimeters, while the treated-group horses showed improved flexibility, from .042 centimeters to .064 centimeters.
The Myerscough study also showed that the horses treated with the Equilibrium Pad showed an increase in stride length during the testing, from an average of 2.15 meters to 2.27 meters. The control group increased only from 2.24 meters to 2.25 meters. The test horses also demonstrated a lower heart rate while wearing the Equilibrium Pad during similar 30-minute periods, indicating they were likely more relaxed.
USE AT HOME OR AWAY. The Myerscough study and our field trial each indicate that the Equilibrium Massage Pad is an effective massage tool, a product that has a beneficial effect on the sensitive tissues of the horse's back. it's also compact and lightweight, so it's easy to use or to take on the road.
Plus, the battery charge should last for eight hours (16 sessions), meaning it's easy to charge it at home before leaving for a competition and then be confident of its duration, even if you use it on several horses. We took it to two competitions and used it on three or four horses during four days.
The drawback to the Equilibrium Massage Pad is its price of $495. The Mitt is far less expensive and far more flexible tool, but we're not convinced it has an effect beyond relaxing the horse.
DEEP-TISSUE MASSAGE. The original Equisports Massager was manufacturered by Morfam, a company that makes other massage devices. About a decade ago, Dick Huntzinger, of Phoenix, Ariz., was at an Arabian horse show, where he first saw the device. Huntzinger had been searching for a deep-massage unit for horses, and liked what he saw, so he and a fellow retired aerospace engineer revamped that original unit. The device has been manufactured by Core Products International since 2007.
The technology is orbital, accomplished by an offset bearing housing that spins a vertical shaft, set perpendicular to the massage pad, 3,260 times per minute, creating a high-frequency resonance through the tissues and blood. We were looking to develop something that wasn't an aggressive therapy, especially for post-operative use, so we went to something that is orbital, said Huntzinger, who said the Massager is made entirely in the USA.
The Equisports Massager operates only with electric power. It doesn't have a battery, but it does have a 25-foot cord to facilitate moving around the horse. The model we used has only one speed, but Huntzinger said they have a brand-new model with variable speeds. At the one speed (which is the high speed in the new model), the motor is roughly as loud as most body clippers and produces a strong oscillation. So Huntzinger recommends taking a few minutes to gradually introduce the device to the horse, and our experience confirmed that.
Using the device is pretty instinctive, and it's not any different from using a human massage device: You move the device over the different muscle groups, generally in the direction of the hair growth.
"We basically tell people that you don't have to push very hard into the horse," said Huntzinger. "We've found that, generally, after three or four minutes, the horse will lean into it anyway. They'll usually lower their heads, and sometimes You'll see their lips quiver."
Huntzinger recommends dividing the body into four quarters and spending four minutes on each quarter. He said research by veterinarians at Colorado State University and Gary Kaufman, DVM (Scottsdale, Ariz.), as part of the design process, showed that little more effect is achieved after four minutes, "because the tissues can't absorb any more oxygen after about that time."
He explained that the researchers drew blood on the test horses before and after using the Massager. The tests showed increased oxygen level and a lower percentage of toxins and lactic acid after use. The researchers also tested urine and manure and found that the Massager increased the rate of excretion for toxins post-work.
"This machine is so deep-penetrating that four minutes on one side is almost the same as doing it on the other side. Less is better than more. You can't get more blood," said Huntzinger. "If you stand on the other side and touch the horse, you can feel the massage going through him."
Researchers and veterinarians found that using the Equisports Massager reduced the time needed for post-surgical recovery, and that's one reason why Huntzinger developed a leg adapter. This device is a piece of hard foam that can be applied anywhere from hoof to knee or hock.
NO BATTERY. The Equisports Massager is a high-quality product, and our usage suggested that it did make horses suppler and more comfortable. We found it particularly effective on our horses in heavy training and competition, probably because of the device?s deep-penetrating oscillation.
However, we wish the unit were lighter, as many users will find it difficult to hold at or above shoulder height, especially for 16 minutes. Huntzinger said that, in order to keep the weight at the current 7.5 pounds, they couldn't install a batttery. Consequently, the Equisports Massaer requires electricy, which not all horse barns and competition sites have. You can run it off a generator, auto battery or portable power pack, though.
We found the Equilibrium Massage Pad especially useful because all you have to do is turn it on, cross-tie the horse, and work around the barn while it does the work for you in 30 minutes. See the product chart information.
But we also really liked the Equisports Massager, too. We could feel it working deep on the tissues, and we felt horses responded well to it. It can be effective on the entire body, not just the back. But it's heavy and requires time to use it.
Since the Equilibrium Pad costs $150 more than the Equisports Massager, You'll want to evaluate your horse's needs (back or body needing massage) and your own time vs. your physical strength.
The Equilibrium Massage Mitt has a relaxing effect, but we aren't convinced that you couldn't accomplish as much by basic massage techniques or through Jim Masterson's book Beyond Horse Massage, which we reviewed in October.
Article by John Strassburger, our Performance Editor.