Despite their size and strength, horses are really quite fragile creatures prone to injury and stress.
Two key points to remember about horses with injuries is
- They don’t like pain, some have a higher threshold than others.
- There is a major difference between the sexes. Fillies and mares are much more hormonal, subsequently leaving them more prone to tying-up and suffering a bit more muscle stress.
Problems with horses can start early in life. There has been many a horse started off with handling and training on a day to day routine, that have acquired minor issues that have gone unnoticed. These issues are carried for a while until there is something obvious going on. Remember that instinct to these creatures dictates that if they look weak they will be the first hunter down. So horses like other prey animals will look fit until they are seriously not. Know you animal, constantly assess them.
Problems go in diagonals, where one side will be working harder than the other to make up for a weakness.
Horses get tight all over. Massage techniques relieve stress and tension. When horses are tight in the wither and shoulder they are always tight in the forearm and below. Tendons of the lower leg bow because they have reached their limit of concussion and strain. There is a lack of blood flow down the leg to the frog in the hoof which acts as a pump to send blood back up the leg. In the back leg horse get very tight in the gaskin and below. The same principles apply as the front leg.
Below is a description of some of the most common and serious issues that I see regularly in my practice.
Conformation wise, horses can be pigeon-toed, parrot mouthed, sway-backed, turned in at the knee, short or long in the pastern, have a slight rotation of the pelvis and a plethora of other complaints. Some horses are born with these conformation issues, other horse issues may arise from excessive workload.
One of the worst causes of muscle injury can be a horse getting ‘cast’ in its stable. Equisearch gives great advice on dealing with a horse in cast position. Depending on the duration that the horse has been stuck in this predicament will have a dramatic effect on the muscles and skeleton of the the horse. You will definitely need to be able to help your horse with remedial treatment and massage during recovery.
Horses that have done a lot of work can be tired, physically and mentally. Despite being rested and freshened up, there are times when nothing can really put the vitality back in to the horses body. Whether it’s a performance horse, or just the second-hand horse bought for leisure purposes at home, sooner or later it can become noticeable that the horse is just not quite right.
The digestive systems of the horse are reactive to processed feeds. The horses stomach is only small really, and unlike cows they only have one to digest their food. The stomach, intestines and all other parts of the digestive process are sensitive to processed and other acidic feeds. Acidity in the bloodstream causes muscles to tighten up, and there can be a chain-reaction process form this.
A lot of high energy performance horses are prone to muscle tension, which places pressure on other body systems of the horse. When the ‘integumentary system’ or the horses skin tightens up, well, so does the superficial fascia that blends in with it as well. Superficial muscles provide locomotion or movement, so when the horses get too tight – and there is a limit, there will be a lack of dynamic or normal movement.
The list continues
There is a long list of the possible causes of muscle injury. Knocks and bruises, sprains and strains, bumps and erratic behaviour ( usually caused by an overload to the nervous system from either too much work and or feed or both), and the horse being generally sore. It is only occasionally when they will be sore in the one spot.
What to do about it
Don’t stress. You won’t need to keep me on speed dial for every little problem. I’ve written a book Remedial Massage for Horses which you can buy on amazon. I also do a lot of video blogging which will really help you solve some problems for yourself. I also run workshops and training programmes on my beautiful 100acres on the mid north coast NSW or I can come to you place.