Category Archives: Structural Integration

Trouble With a Canter Lead?

Recently I was called to work on a jumper that was having trouble with lead changes.  When I encounter problems with leads, there are a few spots that I check: triceps in the front leg, the illiacus by the pelvis, the glutes. But those places yielded no clues with this gelding.  I did find a lot of tightness in the muscles of his neck, particularly the brachiocephalicus (the blue muscle in the diagram).

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The horse flinched when I started work on this muscle on both sides of his neck and seemed to have a lot of trouble moving his head to either side.  I asked if the horse was having trouble riding turns and circles, and the owner confirmed that corners had been quite problematic of late.

The brachiocephalicus swings the head and neck from side to side, and also pulls the front leg forward, as it also attaches there. You can see what a long muscle it is. Carrot stretches were almost impossible for this horse. He was literally trapped by the spasms in his neck. I used all the tools in my hands: compression, direct pressure, cross fiber friction, and the horse closed his eyes and starting taking deep breaths. There was great improvement in his flexibility. The rider has reported improvement in his performance in every way: turning, jumping, lead changes, and length of stride.  If your horse is having similar problems, don’t overlook the influence of the brachiocephalicus.

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Is All Pain Bad?

Pain is a valuable and natural tool that notifies us when there is a condition that needs tending to.  Immediately taking or administering (in the case of our animals) painkilling medicine without first reflecting on what message the pain is sending is not useful. The medication will temporarily treat the pain, with side effects, but whatever caused the pain is most likely still there. I prefer a cure to treatment!

Pain is not a disease. Pain is a symptom.

Muscles have two major functions: they contract to create motion, and relax to return to its full length and allow another muscle to pull in the opposite direction.  No other tissue in the body does this.  Muscles move bones that are attached by tendons. To move bones back to their starting points, the muscle that made the movement has to relax so the opposite muscle in the pair to bring the bones back to resting position.

What happens if this dance doesn’t run smoothly? If the first muscle doesn’t fully relax, the bones cannot return to their restful, or healthy postural position. Alignment and balance are then adversely affected. Stiffness and immobility (lameness) gain control of the body, robbing it of strength, stamina, and graceful movement. When the body is balanced (the massage work I do is called body balancing) it is in a state of health.  When postural balance is restored, pain symptoms disappear.

I recently worked on a mare that looked to be in pain in her front end. One leg was twisted so that her hoof pointed in. Her walk looked painful as well. I found an area of very tight muscles in one shoulder (I have no idea how they got like that. This was my first meeting with her.) It did not take long for her whole posture to change. Her leg starting to turn until it was fairly straight. At the end of her bodywork session I asked to see her walk, and she just strutted out of the barn. We were all smiles, and once again I was elated to see an animal relieved of pain just by re-balancing some tight muscles.  A week later I heard from the owner that the mare is moving well.

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Is Your Horse Heavy on the Forehand?

The goal in riding, in our bodies, and our horses, is balance.  Poor balance and posture is a symptom that the body is stiff and in pain.  A horse that is heavy on the forehand is a horse with bad posture. An uneven gait is often the result of bad posture.

I worked on a horse recently that was so downhill it looked like it’s chest was sinking to its knees. His rider said she was tired of having to hold him up, of having him lean on her.  I found his pectoral muscles to be tight but stretched out.  The pectoral muscles support the rib cage, and if they are stuck in an extended position, if they have not contracted back to a good postural balance, it is impossible to elevate the forehand. Trying to do collected movements on this guy was a losing battle.  He was severely limited by his weak and inflexible muscles.

There is a massage technique for raising the chest and I spent quite some time and effort trying it. At first I got nowhere. I had to go back and work more on the pectoral muscles (there are four) before he was ready to be lifted.  The second or third time around I started to see the withers and back raise just a bit.

 

This is the beginning. It will take a few sessions and good riding to reverse the effects of bad posture in this teenaged horse. I am confident that it will happen. The horse was relaxed and happy at the end of the session and I got a good report of a comfortable and relaxed ride today.  Working towards good posture and flexibility will be the key to prevent injuries that can occur when a horse is heavy on his forehand. With posture restored, horses feel more tranquil and less stressed. Postural balance is good for the mind as well as the body!

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A Vicious Cycle

What happens when your horse gets injured? There is the initial pain and then reduced blood carrying oxygen to the injury site. The reduced circulation then causes an involuntary spasm or contraction.  The spasm helps create a protective splint, which is natures’ way of immobilizing the injured area. The spasm, while in some ways protecting the area, creates more pain, and therefore more spasms. Quite a system, right?

In the beginning of recovery, there is inflammation.  There is a purpose to inflammation: it helps the body clear out damaged tissue and muscle fibers. Icing will keep the inflammation from becoming extreme.

New muscle fibers will form as the injury heals.  It is crucial, once the body is healed, to keep all tissue, new and old, flexible and pliable with massage and gentle exercise.  Cold laser therapy can help with healing damaged tissue, but spasms formed during the injury must be manually removed.  I never massage a newly injured horse, or work on any area that is inflamed. Once time has passed, massage is essential to keep the muscles pliable and encourage circulation.

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Improve Range of Motion and Reduce Pain

No body has to live in pain from injury, arthritis, back pain, sciatica. That sounds like a radical statement but there are many therapies to address chronic pain.  Myofascial Release is a soft tissue therapy designed to change and improve the health of the fascia. Fascia is the soft tissue component of the connective tissue that provides support and protection for most structures within the body.

Fascia literally holds us together.  When we encounter fascial and muscle dysfunction, the result is usually pain and discomfort, loss of range of motion in our bodies ,and a subsequent loss of well-being and quality of life.

When the fascia gets bunched, similar to plastic Saran wrap for example, it can bind down on nerves, blood vessels and organs and thus cause restriction and pain.

Because the fascia cannot be detected on X-ray, CT ,or MRI ,scans it is often the reason for unidentified discomfort.

Myofascial Release breaks down scar tissue, relaxes muscles, and restores good posture. It is used with great success to target chronic pain, sometimes in only a few sessions. I have been working on many horses lately that have been recovering from injuries. In just a few sessions, we are seeing  better joint flexibility and range of motion. Instead of an angular, disjointed profile, the body has a harmonious, flowing appearance.

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Why Trigger Points Are Trouble!

Sore muscles usually feel better after a day or two of rest. But if you or your horse has persistent muscle pain — particularly in the neck, shoulders, hamstrings or back — and you literally can put your finger on the spot where it originates, you may be dealing with a trigger point. Trigger points exist in tight bands of muscle or tendon tissue and will twitch when pressed. Trigger points are something traditional doctors ignore, but they should not be overlooked as a source of pain, discomfort, or restricted movement.

Trigger points are tight knots of muscle fiber that can’t relax. Muscle often feels denser and tighter at a trigger point — more rope-like. When you push on it, pain spreads throughout the muscle area. Good posture and body mechanics can help prevent trigger points from forming, but every body will experience them at some point.

Myofascial Trigger Point therapy is a safe, effective ,and drug-free way for massage therapists to help animals or humans suffering from pain and limited range of motion.

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Restoring Harmony to the Equine Body

When there is an imbalance in the  alignment of the body, the result is aches and pains.  The pains lead to a learned response from muscles to try and avoid the discomfort, further distorting the body.  When I watch a horse walk, I look for all the clues that show which muscles are tight and causing asymmetry . The massage I do works to lengthen the overly tight muscles, and to help the extended muscles to contract in order to bring the two sides of the horse into balance.

Any repetitive motion creates muscle and tissue shortening. Eventually the torso becomes crooked, which creates restrictions and pain. What I do is a number of techniques to release muscle shortening , spasms ,and adhesions that may have occurred as a result of injury. To lengthen tissue, to restore length of motion, is my goal with each equine athlete.

Many people give their horse time off when it shows signs of muscle soreness or tension. Rest is important, but if there are knots in the muscle fibers, they will still be there no matter how much rest the horse has. Those knots have to be manually removed. You will see the results immediately, as your horse moves with a new fluidity.

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How to Reduce the Risk of Injury

What if I told you there was a simple way to reduce the risk of injury, increase mobility and flexibility, and increase blood flow to muscles? Before a workout or a horse show event, myofascial release can optimize your performance, and that of your horse, and greatly reduce the risk of strains, sprains, fractures,  or tears.

Restrictions and tensions of the soft tissue (muscle, fascia)  do not show up on standard hospital imaging and many patients  (both human and animal) suffer pain and injury because their pain cannot be diagnosed.

If a muscle is tight or stiff, moving it too fast can result in an injury. Fascia wraps around the entire muscle and every soft tissue in the body. When properly softened and stretched through massage, the entire structure of the body can function smoothly and safely. The investment of pre-activity body work can save months of costly rehab.

 

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Think About Your Car!

When the wheels of your vehicle are not in proper alignment, there is abnormal wear and tear on the tires and other parts. Perfect alignment and maintenance allows your car to run properly and get full longevity on all of its parts and pieces. Your body ,and that of your horse, are exactly the same.

Injury and repetitious patterns can change the body of an athlete from ideal functioning as the fascia gradually shortens, tightens ,and adjusts to accommodate misalignment. Fascia is the glue that holds everything together, providing shape, support, and reinforcement to muscle, bone, and movement. It often forms attachments (gets stuck), and needs to be loosened for free movement.

Any body, whether horse, human, dog, etc. that has had proper massage and myofascial release, feels balanced, capable, comfortable, and  fluid in movement. Structural integration realigns and resets the body, giving freedom of movement often not seen in years. Every athlete needs maintenance, as much as any car!

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Should My Horse Rest After a Massage?

I am often asked after I do body work how much time the horse should have off afterwards. The answer in most cases is: None! If the horse is sound, or even rehabbing from an injury, one of the best things to do after the body has been balanced by a massage is to move. Even a long walk will help the body of the horse create muscle memory when he is moving more freely. Bad patterns created by tight muscles can best be re-patterned after a massage.

At a horse show I can pinpoint certain areas of the body to work on depending on the event. Before stadium jumping I often use the cold laser on shoulders and joints of the hind legs to enable quick response at a jump. For dressage I might focus on the muscles of the top line and haunches for maximum pushing power. Before cross country I will make sure the pectoral muscles and jaw are free to enable deep breathing. There are over 700 muscles (and that is not counting cardiac muscles, eye muscles, etc!) and releasing tight ones can hugely benefit performance.

For a nervous horse, body work can be very soothing and relaxing. For a lazy horse, he can feel free and energized after a massage session. My job is to observe reactions and adjust accordingly. I love the challenge!

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