In today's blog I want to tell you about Katrina's first experience with a massage therapist Karen Allott of Allott RT Equine Massage, and share what I learned from watching and listening on how to keep your horse comfortable. Firstly did you know that Dressage horses often have more problems physio wise because they tend to use every muscle at various points? They can get tension in their poll and jaw. One way to loosen the jaw is just put your hand underneath the horse’s top lip.
The horse will start flexing its jaw and moving it, loosening it effectively. Karen did this with Katrina and immediately you could feel a difference. For the poll, she had me place my thumb just behind her ear, and my fingers together just under the fetlock, making scraping motions across Katrina's head. After this, I tucked my thumb to the side of the forelock, again scraping my fingers across the front. It was at this point that Katrina got droopy eyed, clearly enjoying her treatment!
Standing her square, Karen pointed out that that Katrina's right hip appeared higher whilst her left shoulder appeared higher. Poking her rear, she said that Katrina was a little tense there shown by the way that the muscle was very solid when it should be bouncy and jiggly. This is because if it's jiggly it means that it has plenty of oxygen and nutrients, but when it is solid it is effectively starving. This would be causing a chain reaction, because the muscle wasn't working properly, the next muscle along would have to help it, over working itself at the same time, and the same for the next muscle so the muscle next to her spine is then working overtime to help the other two muscles, creating a slight curve in Katrina's spine as they become misaligned. It is also worth noting that if anyone ever tells you that your horse’s pelvis "is out" you should be sceptical as it can’t be true unless your horse is dead. This was stressed to me as many people believe it when it is simply a muscle tension that has caused muscle imbalance and misalignment, creating the appearance of the pelvis being out.
Karen also used infrared light on Katrina, stimulating the red blood cells and modifying them so they can get to the muscles easier. This tends to shoot a bit deeper, where the massage part helps loosen the muscles and create a better capillary network within the muscles to hold and absorb the oxygen. Moving on to stretches Karen showed me how she stretched Katrina's leg forward. Rather than pulling the leg, Karen instructed me to simply hold it and allow her to stretch into you. We discussed stretching to stop the skin pinching under the girth and Karen explained why this isn’t ideal. You are doing this when the muscle is cold and rigid, so you run a risk of tearing it. Use your hand to smooth out the skin, or after a couple of laps of walk and trot stretch their legs then.
Note: make sure to keep one hand under the fetlock and the other slightly higher
Standing up, you would then move to stretch the leg back, again just holding it and allowing her to stretch to you, before moving the leg so it is bent with the knee facing forward and you holding it facing the shoulder and just doing some very gentle circular motions, after which you put the leg down gently. Moving on to the back legs, because Katrina was particularly tight behind and we need to loosen that off a bit, we picked up her hind leg and stretched it back only a little, one hand under the fetlock the other at the hock. Again, you want to let her stretch towards you, rather than pulling so you just hold the leg and allow her to do the work. Keep your bottom tucked in slightly to the horse’s side and remember to keep your face out of the way. You should be doing this whilst wearing a hat.
Once she has stretched down into you, lift the foot slightly higher and walk backwards, so the leg is under her belly, just holding it so she can stretch. It was at this point that Katrina tried to snatch her leg back, not liking the new position, but I managed to cling on! When doing this really try to support the weight from your knees to avoid getting yourself a back injury. After doing this to both sides, the difference was amazing. The curve in Katrina's spine was gone, and the muscles in her hind were a lot more bouncy. There is a lot more to massage therapy than I realised, there I was just thinking my horse was going to get a nice little massage (which she did get, the faces she pulled! Haha, she was so blissed out!) And suddenly there is all this science coming into it and muscle balance and all sorts. Karen had to really dumb it down for me, but I was blown away and interested in learning more.
It was a really interesting experience for me and Katrina who clearly loved it, my favourite parts were learning about the chain reaction in the muscles and the infra-red light. It sure looked like a good experience for Katrina, I've never seen her look so dopey!