Tag Archives: Draft horse

Release of Muscle Stress

One of the best ways to get a  tight, sore muscle to relax is to first get it to contract more. Most massage techniques are based on this approach. If I push into a muscle that is very tight, painful, and in spasm, I can feel it respond by first getting tighter. If I hold my contact for 30-60 seconds the muscle will start to relax. (You can try this on your own sore shoulder or neck. If you see me at a show, grab me and I will show you.)  Once there is a release from the tension, the muscle will be able to stretch. How much pressure to use is determined by the density of the muscle and the response. Some draft horses require a tremendous amount of pressure, while a lighter thoroughbred will need a very gentle touch.

Please Don’t Use Rocks!

I recently picked up a book written by a “Certified Natural Horse Practitioner” (not sure what that is) about how to massage your horse. I read with increasing alarm, and when I got to the chapter that instructed owners to dig their fingernails into the belly of the horse to lift the back, and if that didn’t work, use rocks (Yes, I did a double take on the rocks too!!) I knew I had to say something.

Equine massage can be uncomfortable when spasms are worked on, but the relief is immediate. If you hire someone to work on your horse and the horse is cringing, looking distressed, upset, angry, biting, kicking, etc. stop the session. The horse should look happier and more relaxed, even sleeping, as the session progresses. I look for deep sighs, chewing, licking the lips – all the signs of relaxation and even gratitude.

If someone claims to do bodywork and they are using rocks or rolling pins or their finger nails, I doubt if they understand the purpose of really balancing the body. Massage should be healing. I do sometimes use my elbow for deeper penetration on very densely muscled horses, like draft horses or Morgans, but it never is used as a way to exert force over them.

Do You Have a Draft Horse?

Draft, and draft cross horses generally have broad chests, short backs, long shoulders, and densely muscles croups. I have a draft client that I work on regularly. Even when he is in very light work, I find tight muscles in his hindquarters. The tightness travels down into his hind legs. Recently I was working on him and found alarmingly tight gastricnemius muscles on both sides:

I did Stress Point Therapy on the spot and got a bit of release, but it wasn’t until I loosened all the gluteus muscles that tension in the entire leg resolved. The owner, the horse, and I were all delighted with the softening easily felt in his entire hind end! The power of the muscles in his croup was too great to allow a complete release in surrounding muscles.

This kind of conformation is not limited to huge horses. I have a client that is a 13 hand pony who is built like a little draft horse. In his last bodywork session, I found similar stress points to the ones in the big draft horse.


Fast Twitch and Slow Twitch

First, I want to wish a Happy Birthday to my wonderful son, who is also a great athlete.

You have probably heard the terms: fast and slow twitch, but do you know what makes muscle fibers fast or slow?

Slow twitch fibers need oxygen to function. Slow twitch fibers require a good blood supply to deliver oxygen to them, and to remove the waste products that are created during exercise. They are the endurance muscles.

Fast twitch fibers do not need oxygen to work, so they are able to move quickly for a sudden burst of speed. They can only perform for short periods of time.

How many fast and slow twitch fibers a body has is determined by genetics. A Quarter Horse has more fast twitch fibers, which makes them good for sprinting. Draft horses have more slow twitch fibers and have great strength and  endurance. Arabians also have more slow twitch and excel in endurance.  There is controversy about how much the ration of slow to fast fibers can be changed through training.
I see part of my job is to keep muscle fibers spread and “unclumped” so as to optimize free movement.

Do you have a Draft or Draft Cross?

I have a particular love of Draft horses and Draft crosses. I knew a Clydesdale/Irish Draft cross in Oregon years ago that was an absolute saint. He stood calmly as kids with roller blades climbed all over him at the beach. His first event (after many championship years as a jumper) was at Preliminary and he got 9’s on all his canter work, even though it was his riders’ first dressage test. David O’Connor, upon seeing him the first time at a clinic, said “When we have cloning, I want 50 of these!”  Once, as I pulled into a show, I saw the horse standing quietly by the side of the road. I stopped, got out, and looked around for his owner. Apparently, his owner unloaded the horse, told him to wait, and then went to park the trailer. But I digress…

Draft horses and draft crosses tend to develop soreness in the hindquarters because of how they use their bodies. I have a Percheron/Dutch cross I work on now that verifies this. His pectorals seem very undeveloped compared to the rest of his body, because he works his hind end so hard. Regular body work, excellent shoeing, correct riding, and good grooming all keep this handsome guy comfortable, free moving, and eager to work.

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