In between the last rib and the hip is a small, but very important area of your horse. There are five major muscle attachments that converge here that are responsible for bending, the swing of the hind legs, lateral movement, and canter departs. If any of the muscles that attach here are tight, the hind end will not work correctly. When you see very tight movement in the hind legs, it may be that the area from rib to hip point needs massage. The affected muscles are the tensor fascia latae, the iliacus, the external oblique, the internal oblique, and the transverse abdominus.
If your horse is having trouble passing a jog, try having these muscles worked on. There should be immediate improvement.
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.
If your horses’ breathing is shallow, it could be that the intercostal muscles, which attach each rib, are tight. When these muscles are tight, breathing becomes shallow as the ribcage is prevented from expanding. The rider will also notice stiffness during lateral work.
As long as the horse is not so fat that it is hard to find the spaces between ribs, this is a simple and quick problem to correct with massage. Once the space between the ribs is restored, riding with stretching in mind will help maintain the changes made during the massage.
A horse at rest should take around 10-20 breaths per minute. During intense exercise the rate will rise to between 120-180. A cool down is essential to allow the time the lungs need to release toxins, exchange gases (carbon dioxide) and take in fresh oxygen.
Make sure to never make your girth so tight that it restricts the expansion of the ribcage. Sports massage can help relieve stress and trigger points around the ribcage, which will allow deeper breathing. Massage also helps increase circulation, relax the nervous system, thus also allowing deeper breathing.