A massage can make a horse feel better.
Then, the horse will perform better, according to Angelina Schwebke during a workshop entitled Understanding Equine Massage Therapy at the recent 14th annual EquiFest of Kansas in Wichita.
Not unlike those who have found benefits from human massage, skeptical horse owners become believers when they find out the many and diverse improvements in their horse’s attitude and performance from massage treatment, Schwebke emphasized.
“It has the same effect on a horse that a massage does on a human,” Schwebke pointed out.
Involved with horses for many years, Schwebke of Wichita is a psychology graduate who is also licensed in practical nursing. Having worked for several years at the Flint Hills Therapeutic Riding Center, she is certified in equine massage therapy and founded Integrity Equine Massage in 2009.
“Currently, I am volunteering my massage services to the horses at Southern Winds Equine Rescue in Udall,” Schwebke noted.
“There are a number of benefits to equine massage, both physical and psychological,” Schwebke declared.
These include: improving circulation, increasing the horse’s range of motion, enhancing digestion, decreasing muscle recovery time after exertion, calming the disposition and cultivating the horse-human bond.
Nutrients carried to muscles by the bloodstream are increased through improved circulation. “At the same time, waste products in the muscle tissue, such as toxins and excess fluid, are removed at a greater rate,” Schwebke said.
“Muscle problems, including stress points, muscle spasms and trigger points which interfere with a horses’ movement, are improved with massage,” Schwebke recognized.
Troubles can cause uneven hips, head bobbing, stumbling, bucking and short strides.
“People sometimes think their horse is being stubborn, when it could be due to muscle problems like tension spasm, and even scar tissue or adhesions from past injuries,” Schwebke commented.
The body is always striving to heal, repair and maintain itself.
“Massage therapy assists the body in restoring its health,” Schwebke detailed. “When this happens, the horse is more resilient, feels better, moves more freely without pain and performance improves.”
However, Schwebke stressed: “Message therapy is not a substitute for veterinary care for your horse, but a great way to enhance his performance, well being and overall quality of life.”
Moreover, massage benefits a horse psychologically. “Even horses that have experienced both physical and mental abuse can change dramatically with a massage,” Schwebke related.
When horses are abused, they lose their ability to trust and interact with people. “Massage therapy is effective in strengthening the horse and human bond,” she commented.
“Touch is a very powerful form of communication, especially for horses,” Schwebke contended. “Massage therapy relates to the horse that humans can be trusted, that there is good touch and that a good relationship with a person is possible.’
In that way, massage therapy can play a powerful role in an abused and neglected horse’s healing and rehabilitation.
A horse’s disposition can improve through massage therapy. “Just as in people, the mind and body are interacted,” Schwebke compared. “In order for a horse to function at its best, it needs to be balanced and healthy, both physically and mentally.”
Trailering can often result in tense and sore muscles for a horse, because every time the car is accelerated, braked or turned, the horse has to adjust its balance. This will create areas of soreness and tension in the muscles.
“A massage will address the problem, prevent chronic soreness and the possibility of muscle spasm developing in these areas as a result of this tension,” Schwebke diagnosed. “Massage therapy stimulates circulation and works out muscle tension leaving the horse to feel better with more fluidity and power.”
Common misconception is that massage therapy is a “frivolous pampering that is spoiling a horse.”
“That is far from the truth,” Schwebke defended. “Massage therapy is at least 3,000 years old and offers benefits that can be documented.
“I liken it to regular maintenance on your car. Your car runs better and has fewer breakdowns when it is serviced regularly,” she continued. “What massage therapy does for horses is enhance their health and enable them to achieve more of their potential and perform better.”
Schwebke applies hand massage pressure in soft, medium and heavy degrees depending on the horse’s muscle tenseness.
Horses must be introduced to the message gradually and will generally soon become accustomed to the treatment.
An introductory massage would cost about $30, with a full one to 1½ hour session being $55.
Mission of Integrity Equine Massage is to enhance the health and quality of life for horses while offering services in a safe and professional manner, with horses’ welfare as the top priority.
“I’m also dedicated to the education of people on the role and benefits of equine massage therapy,” Schwebke added.
Free presentations about equine massage therapy are available to horse groups.