Tag Archives: eventing

Case Study of a 9 Year Old Holsteiner

I had an interesting case today: an upper level warm blood dressage and event horse. This horse is stunning and balanced, but quite large. He is over 17 hands, has a long neck and back, and big bones. His owner sent me video of a recent dressage lesson and pointed out that he was a bit stiff behind and not coming through over his back. I watched the video several times. The ride was lovely, but the horse seemed uncomfortable. I saw slight twisting of the head, occasional gaping of his mouth: just little signs that something was not quite right.

When I started working on the horse, I noticed one side of his neck was more hollow than the other. I also found big spasms in the rhomboid and brachiocephalicus. These muscles are in the neck, and even though the owner felt that jumping had left the horse stiff in the hind end, I thought that if I could release the spasms in the front end, the hind end would be able to connect and the back would come through. The brachiocephalicus muscle needs to contract properly for jumping and collected work. With the spasm on the left side of his neck, this horse appeared stiff behind because he wasn’t working through his back as well as he could. The big spasms in the rhomboid muscle also were preventing him from reaching and arching his neck.

I also worked on the splenius, a muscle that attaches at the poll, the atlas, and three vertebrae in the neck. As I worked, the hollow looking space in the neck started to match the fuller side. The splenius muscle must be functioning properly to have the flexion necessary in the upper levels. I then did some myofascial release on either side of the neck and there were audible snap,crackle, and pops!

This wonderful horse seemed very relaxed and happy by the end of the session. He will be competing this weekend and I expect to see more connection, balance, flexibility, and freedom of movement.

Send me a message if you would like to know how he places in his championship division!

Galloping is More Hazardous Than You Think!

Did you know that it is not uncommon for a race horse to dislocate a rib when galloping? It can happen to event horses as well. The horse expands and contracts his rib cage at a rapid pace to meet the increased oxygen demands at high speed. The vigorous breathing that occurs during a gallop can cause the ribcage to be over expanded to the point of subluxation of a rib. A rider that kicks too hard can also cause the problem. During body work that rib will feel higher than the others. Muscles surrounding the sternum and the dislocated rib will feel tight. For upper level event horses and off the track thoroughbreds, checking the ribcage is routine during our massage sessions.

Interesting Case of a Preliminary Event Horse

I recently worked on a preliminary event horse that has been stumbling behind. Since he has a visible hunter’s bump (see other posts I have written on this topic) I immediately went to work on the area around the sacroiliac joint, as well as the lumbar area. I found nothing out of the ordinary for a horse in rigorous training and showing, but I did find tightness in the illiacus. (I was not able to find a great diagram, but it is in the general area of Number 24 below). This muscle, which attaches to the pelvic crest, flexes the hip joint and rotates the thigh.

When tight, the illiacus can cause the hind leg to buckle. Massage can definitely help, but since this is a tough little muscle, several sessions may be required. This is one area that I can show clients to massage on their own horses.


Insanity in the Middle!

British Eventing officials recently released this statement:

“Event horses are very fit and sharp enough to run for their lives. Minor disobedience and keenness should not be punished too severely….Distractions such as close proximity to the show jumping and cross country should also be taken into account. If a horse is presented showing good training and way of going and does cope with the environment then it should be rewarded with very high marks.”

I was recently at an event where the dressage arenas (and the warm up areas)  are right next to the start box on the cross country course. So many of the most fit horses looked on the brink of explosion during their tests.

Cold lasers are not just effective for injuries. They can also be used for relaxation. Lasers are often used at the race track to calm young thoroughbreds before a race. There are three spots on the head where the cold laser should be applied:

_Between the nostrils

_Just below the ears

_Between the eyes



My Hyoid Mystery

I went to work on a Thoroughbred who is competing at the 2 star level in eventing. I ran my hands over his body to get to know him. When I got to the area where I feel for the hyoid bone, I felt nothing, no matter how much I probed with my fingers.

The hyoid is a series of bony structures that supports the tongue, larynx, neck, sternum, and the pharynx. Where did his go??

This horse carried a lot of tension all over his body. Even his tongue seemed to bother him. This gave me a clue, that while it appeared he didn’t have a hyoid bone, the overall tension in his head, was pulling the hyoid up into his skull, out of my reach. Tension of the soft tissue surrounding the hyoid can affect breathing, swallowing, and even vocalizing. If your horse sounds hoarse (!), an adjustment of the hyoid may be called for. It took several adjustments from a wonderful chiropractor, and quite a few massages, but this horse now has a supple and easily manipulated hyoid, and is a beautiful specimen of health and fitness. He does love to get his tongue scratched, but it is merely a sensual delight, and not stress, that is motivating him!

How Can My Horse Pass the Jog?

At 3 day events, I often see people practicing the jog repeatedly. The horse gets more and more stiff, gets held, and sometimes fails to pass. For many horses, I think there is a better way to prepare, and pass the jog:

Step One would be a thorough sports massage before the jog. I often combine this with cold laser in spots that are especially tight. The cold laser also helps release calming endorphins when used on strategic points on the head and face.

Step Two would entail a long walk. The walk uses all muscles without using momentum, so it is an excellent warm up. Walking also reinforces the body balancing work that was done during the massage.

Step Three would be to skip the trot and go directly to canter. This could be done on the longe line. Just a few circles in each direction would make a huge difference, as canter is the gait that lengthens all the muscles.  (Trot is the gait that shortens the muscles, so continuing to practice the jog will make the horse appear more and more choppy.) Canter lengthens the back muscles, which is so important for every breed, but especially thoroughbreds that tend to shorten up when excited.

I hope these ideas are helpful to all of you this show season. Let me know how it goes!

Does Your Horse Have a Kissing Spine?

Many horse owners believe that a diagnosis of “kissing spine” is career ending. It does not have to be. The condition occurs when the bony ‘spikes’ at the top of the horse’s vertebrae start to rub together, causing pain and swelling, especially when in motion. If the long back muscle is very contracted, it can pull the vertebrae together and cause pain. Kissing spine is most prevalent in dressage horses doing many collected movements, jumpers, and upper level event horses. Thoroughbreds seem to be predisposed to developing the problem.

Surgery and injections are often recommended, but I have seen horses recover with the following:

Spreading out the fibers of the tight muscles through massage is one way to allow the spine to return to a normal state. Teaching the horse how to raise his back by releasing the posterior pectoral muscle also helps. Cold laser is another way to ease pain and help relaxation. Proper saddle fitting is essential. Don’t overdo sitting trot. As in humans, it is always worth trying physical therapy solutions before surgery. Chiropractic treatment, cold laser, acupuncture, and massage have all been very effective in many cases.

How do I condition my event horse?

I received this question, the first in the Ask a Question on Monday series,which I will attempt to answer from my point of view as an equine massage therapist, not a trainer. The question is from a rider who is aiming to compete at the 2 star level this season:

“I was wondering if you could explain the correct process of building a proper baseline of fitness in an event horse before starting with the fast-paced gallop sets when conditioning for competitions.”

I met Jack Le Goff at Malcolm Hook’s, our very popular event announcer, in the 1990’s, as he often gave clinics there. Jack developed the science of interval training for 3 day horses.

When a horse is fit, the heart and lungs carry blood and oxygen to the muscles. Oxygen converts into lactic acid that is then used for energy.( This is a simplified description.) When there is not enough oxygen getting to the muscles, the muscles tire ,which puts stress on the attached ligaments, and puts the equine athlete at risk for injury. In my work, I do all I can to keep muscles and ligaments stress free, but the rider needs to monitor their equine athlete’s temperature, pulse, and respiration rates.

Interval training is used to challenge the horse’s cardiovascular system by asking it to do bursts of speed, followed by periods of cool-down to allow the heart rate to return to slightly above normal before starting out again. Keep a chart! It takes at least 6 weeks to build up before galloping sets can be started. Whole books have been written on this subject, so rather than trying to get into specifics here, I would suggest you read more on the subject:




Thanks for opening up this very huge topic! I will be at April Twin Rivers and May Woodside to start the competition season,  so feel free to find me there, email me here,  ask questions, schedule body work or cold laser, etc.


If You Are Having a Problem With Lateral Movements:

Sometimes I watch my clients in a dressage test and see restricted movement in only one lateral movement. For instance, if the half pass going to the right looks good, but then half pass going to the left is poor, I am given a clue as to where to feel in the next body work session: there is likely a knot in the right external oblique attachment. The external oblique attaches to the hip bone (or tuber coxae) and part of its’ job is to flex the trunk laterally. This a stress point that I find and treat often in dressage and event horses.

Another important note!: When a horse has tied up and is unable to move the hind legs, he can often be given great relief by releasing the external oblique stress point.


The Real Problem With a Ewe Neck

We have all read books and taken fantastic clinics that point out the correct frame for our horses. Usually the focus is on the neck and head, but the problem really begins in the shoulder blades: When the shoulder blades go forward (just the same as in humans, see photos below) the withers sink and create a ewe neck. The vicious cycle begins: the muscles on the underside of the neck bulk up and the crest gets tighter and underdeveloped. Once proper posture is restored through various releases, self carriage is possible. The neck will appear longer and the withers will look higher. I have a client (a thoroughbred) who had a devastating accident a few years ago. His withers were shattered in three places and were completely sunken. There was a literal “valley” between his shoulder blades  Gradually, through chiropractic treatment and many massages, this horse appears to be “growing” withers. He is ridden correctly and seems to be regaining the several inches in height that he lost in the accident. He is now competing at Training level in eventing and is back to his naughty, chestnut ways!



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