I recently went to a barn full of a breed that I don’t often work on: Saddlebreds. (I also got to work on a very handsome Morgan, one of my favorite breeds!) This is a show barn and the horses are all plump, shiny, and quite fit. I was asked to take a look at a retiree: a 19 year old who had a long and successful show career. He was suffering from arthritis in the lumbar area, and sciatica. He often lost his balance in the hind end and had had six injections to help him. As he walked into the barn, he appeared ready to fall over, but the owner assured me he would not fall on top of me as I worked! I thought he might be a good candidate for cold laser therapy. After about 15 minutes he squared up his hind legs and seemed much more secure in his balance. I used the laser for another 15 minutes and then went on to the next horse. The owner and groom informed me that when the gelding was turned out in his pasture he ran and bucked! I wish I had seen that with my own eyes! Maybe next time I can get before and after photos.
I focus on the well-being of the horse, but there are a few places on the human body that receive a ton (or about 1200 lbs. of horse to be more precise!) of stress, especially when galloping cross country. Almost every rider I see has spasms of some degree in the upper back and shoulders. The lower back also takes a beating from maintaining a forward, crouched position galloping over uneven terrain. The groin area is stressed in each phase of eventing. Add a few falls, broken bones, sprains, and bruises to the mix and you have a body in pain. Keep an eye out for posts where I will go into more detail about each area of stress, and what you can do about them.
Madison Hogan and King’s Crossing competing at Intermediate:
This muscle is so overlooked, I could not find a good picture to illustrate where it is! It is roughly the equivalent of the human calf muscle. The gastrocnemius flexes the stifle and extends the hock. The muscle is surrounded by tendons and is not easy to massage. In my regular clients I see improvement after many sessions, and once loose, is not difficult to maintain that way, so I usually instruct the horses’ owner how to do a little massage each day. When I meet a new horse that has an extremely tight gastrocnemius a red light flashes in my head, as I have seen a few tearing injuries occur while landing from a jump. Prevention is always preferable to rehab!
The plantar fascia is a sheet of connective tissue that supports the arch of your foot. When this tissue becomes over-stressed, it can become inflamed, and the condition known as plantar fasciitis can develop. Plantar Fasciitis creates a stabbing pain in the heel or bottom of your foot. That certainly would make walking your courses at a show difficult!
Laser therapy can successfully treat this condition in about 85% of cases.
While the natural inclination is to stare at your horses’ feet as you try to get him to square up, the culprit may be in the neck. Has your horse had a fall? A kick to the neck out in pasture? Or has he/she been worked unevenly? There may be a misalignment in the neck. It is sometimes difficult to see, but one side of the neck will be more hollow than the other. Once the problem is found, and corrected, the horse may start halting and standing squarely on his own.
This post is aimed at a dear friend who had a scare last week:
“Laser light can be used to remove cancer or precancerous growths or to relieve symptoms of cancer. It is used most often to treat cancers on the surface of the body or the lining of internal organs…Laser therapy causes less bleeding and damage to normal tissue than standard surgical tools do, and there is a lower risk of infection…
Laser therapy uses high-intensity light to treat cancer and other illnesses. Lasers can be used to shrink or destroy tumors or precancerous growths. Lasers are most commonly used to treat superficial cancers (cancers on the surface of the body or the lining of internal organs) such as basal cell skin cancer and the very early stages of some cancers, such as cervical, penile, vaginal, vulvar, and non-small cell lung cancer.
Lasers also may be used to relieve certain symptoms of cancer, such as bleeding or obstruction. For example, lasers can be used to shrink or destroy a tumor that is blocking a patient’s trachea (windpipe) or esophagus. ”
National Cancer Society
There are several reasons a horse might have pain in their lower back. One is poor saddle fit. Another is sensitivity to the pad being used under the saddle. Another is a urinary tract infection. The reason that I have encountered the most in my work is from a spot on the horses’ body that receives more stress than any other. I check every horse, regardless of discipline, on this spot early in their massage session: it is the place where the long back muscle and the gluteus muscles meet:
The junction where the longissiumus dorsi and the gluteals meet is responsible for propulsion and power. If you see a horse start taking shorter strides behind and complain more about being saddled, this is a place that probably needs work from a massage therapist.
This muscle junction usually responds quickly, and the horse is very happy to get relief. Once the release is done, I recommend a nice, relaxed, forward canter to further aid the adjustment.
I find the longissimus costarum to be a very interesting muscle that is often overlooked by massage therapists. It seems to be so overlooked that I could not find a detailed diagram on-line to show you. If you find me at a show or at your barn, please ask, and I will show you where this very sensitive muscle attaches. If your horse has a sore back, be sure to have your bodyworker check here as well as the actual back muscles. The longissimus costarum has a huge effect on lateral bending, so if you are feeling your horse struggling or resistant in your dressage test, it may well be that he has spasms there.
Happily, this muscle will respond very quickly to massage/stress point therapy.
Fascia is soft tissue, like a web, that supports most of the structures in the body. If the fascia is tight, movement is restricted. How does the fascia become tight? There are quite a few situations that can affect the fascia in a negative way: injury, overuse, inactivity, and some diseases. Tension in the fascia results in diminished blood flow and inflammation. When the inflammation becomes chronic, the tissue thickens, further impeding movement and increasing pain. A vicious cycle is born.
Being able to spot tight fascia has been one of the most fascinating aspects of my bodywork journey with horses. Releasing the tight areas is a thrill every single time! It takes great patience on the part of the body worker. The release must be done very slowly. When done successfully, you will see a change in how your horses’ skin looks. It will appear less leathery and puckered. Myofascial release can be used on old scar tissue (at least 8 months after the injury has healed). I find most horses are remarkably cooperative and helpful when I apply this kind of therapy.