Thankfully the content of this article has nothing to do with a ring... It does, however, have to do with the major muscles in the hindquarters of the horse that are used during a collected movement.
When a horse engages their hind end; either for collected work under saddle, in harness, or playing in the pasture, they are supporting more of their weight on a large gluteal (Medial Gluteal) muscle. This monumental muscle is connected to several other muscle groups in the body reaching from the poll to the hip. When the muscles in the hindquarters become over worked or stressed, we are going to find restrictive movement through the hip, the neck and the back.
By slowly increasing the amount of collected work we ask our horse to do, we can slowly (and correctly) increase the strength in this muscle and affected muscle groups, minimizing injury and building the athletic abilities of our horse correctly.
Along with a slow increase of workload, there are a few massage techniques we can do to increase circulation and relive tension in the hindquarters. By slightly cupping your hand, you can use the pads of your first, middle, and ring finger to apply circles (about the shape of an orange) in a clockwise motion, gradually increasing pressure with each turn until feel the muscles surrounding your hand relax. Another helpful method to ease tension in muscle fibers is to use the outside edge of your hand and lightly percuss the topline of your horses hindquarters from hip to tail, taking care to avoid the hip bone and areas in front of the hip where the kidneys are.
By keeping muscles relaxed, vessels are less constricted and better able to carry oxygen rich blood that is essential for growth and recovery. So next time you find your equine hard at collected work, try these healing methods to get the most out of your workouts!
My approach to anything with horses is to mimic nature as much as possible. Horses have been around for thousands of years and evolved and adapted as necessary. In their natural environment, they are hearty and thriving breed. They forage for their own food, do not have their teeth floated or feet trimmed, are never blanketed or put in a barn, and they certainly don't have anyone come out and give them bodywork. That Mother Nature sure is one smart gal!
So why as humans do we feel the need to provide all these services to our horses when they can clearly flourish in nature just fine without them? Well, we have domesticated our horses for starters. They don't travel dozens of miles a day naturally trimming their own feet, we select their lineage, and we typically confine them to an area less than a few thousand acres where they are not able to meet their own needs.
With the willingness of our amazing horses, we are able to ride them - to perform athletic movements in perfect unison all while be seated on their backs. While that may seem about as unnatural as it gets, I am pretty sure God knew what he was doing when he gifted us with these great creatures.
I became increasingly curious of how horses provide their own bodywork in nature - and do they need it? They don't have these two legged humans constantly sitting on them... So how necessary is this therapy that we are doing?
With much observation, I noticed horses in their natural habitat are constantly performing bodywork, either on themselves or on each other. In a herd, horses are able to groom and stretch each other, they are able to roll on varied terrain and in various types of sand and soil. They are reaching and bending for food that isn't tossed in a pile in front of them. Without giving our horses these important ways of meeting their bodies demands, I find the application of bodywork to be all the more important, especially after the hours of enjoyment they give us in the saddle:)
When I see a horse with any type of chronic behavior or health issue, I like to take a look at the entire horse. What is the big picture with the animal; Are they frustrated with saddle fit? Bored with their daily routine? On an improper feeding regiment? The list is can have many possibilities as to why your equine friend may be less than happy. When I teach bodywork, I like to not only look at the muscular areas of the horse, but also think about what else in that animals life is going to promote the sustainability of the bodywork and encourage successful healing.
In a horse that sees daily heavy use, the equipment being used plays a huge part in their overall well being. Improper saddle fit, a pinching bit, poorly placed saddle pad are all reasons for your horse to dread work and for bodywork to become a short term fix.
A horse that is in a light working program but spends hours in the stall can build negative behavior issues, pent up aggression, and an unwillingness to bond with their handler.
While bodywork is helpful in both cases, it is only putting a band aid on the bigger issue. Allowing yourself to step back and evaluate the entire horse gives you the ability to better treat your horse with the solution they require so the results are seen and felt on a long term basis.
The quality of time you put into your horse always comes back to help your relationship 10 fold. If your time spent with your equine has a productive outcome, then it doesn't need to be hours upon hours every day, 10 productive minutes will net you way more in the long run than 2 frustrating hours. I always encourage people to leave their emotional baggage at home when working with horses, they don't deserve to feel the frustration you experienced in traffic on your way home. As a busy working mom, I understand the complexity of completely detaching your negative emotions, especially when you are on a time constraint. Enter bodywork...
It's amazing the release of negative energy that people experience when their hands are even rested on a horse without any movement at all. The heat and electrical transfer from human to animal is effortless and always present. When positive contact is made, endorphins are released for both human and animal that help lower blood, relieve stress, and form a closer bond. So 10 minutes of applying your hands to your horse can be much more beneficial to you and your horse than a rushed ride!
Most people that aren't familiar with bodywork associate a massage as a nice relaxing experience you get in a spa, and to have it done on your horse, absurd!
Well no, actually the massage experience for a horse doesn't need to involve warm towels and soft music (although it doesn't hurt...). It can be as simple as a 5 minute session of acupressure prior to your ride, or a 15 minute stretch for the stall bound horse. Either way, applying bodywork to your horse is a great way to help behavioral issues, increase circulation, maximize range of motion, alleviate soreness, relieve stress, and strengthen your overall bond with your horse.
In my years of massaging, I have been the most pleased when owners say they have noticed a significant improvement in their horses overall attitude and willingness to work. Any equine from age 30 days to 30 years benefits from the manipulation of their muscle structure. It covers such a broad range of therapy that it can be applied and tailored to virtually any discipline or use.
Learning how to provide your own bodywork gives you yet another way to enjoy your horse AND have your horse enjoy you!