How many of you have looked at your horse knowing that he’s just quite not right, not able to bend, is slightly “off” and wondering what may be the cause. I am sure that this has happened to each and everyone of us....now if only horses could talk!
Just like us humans, horses too suffer from sore, tense muscles and depending upon what discipline you are riding, often the same muscle groups are affected. Let’s quickly review the discipline stresses that can be placed on your horse’s muscle groups. Below is a list of particular disciplines, along with the muscle areas most impacted in that competition.
- Hunter/Jumper - poll, shoulder, T-1
- Dressage - neck, shoulder, point of hip
- Arabian/Saddlebred/Morgan - poll, tricep, stifle
- Thoroughbred Race Horse/UK - right shoulder, left hind
- Thoroughbred Rac Horse/USA - left shoulder, right hind
- Standardbred Trotter - left shoulder, right hind
- Standardbred Pacer- left side
- Driving/Pleasure/Competition - deltoid, pectoral, gluteus
- Western Gaming Horse - serratus thoracis, semimembranosus
- Reining Horse - entire top line
- Endurance Horse - shoulder, back, semimembranosus
- Three-Day Event Horse - all of the above
Above you’ll see an image of the muscle groups and in the chart below, I have provided a brief explanation of those muscle groups with their purpose, cross referenced by number.
|1. Rectus Capitus Lateralis||Allows the head to flex and incline side to side|
|2. Splenius||Allows the neck to bend|
|3. Multifidus Cervicus (deep)||Allows the neck to flex and the head to rotate to the opposite side|
|4. Brachiocephalicus||Permits the neck to bend, and move the shoulder forward|
|5. Trapezius/Rhomboids (deep)||Allows the shoulder to raise, and permits the scapula to draw upward, forward and backward|
|6. Supraspinatus (deep)||Permits the shoulder joint to extend|
|7. Infraspinatus (deep)||Allows the foreleg to rotate outward|
|8. Deltoid||Permits the shoulder joint to extend|
|9. Tricep||Permits the shoulder joint to flex|
|10. Bicep & Anterior Pectoral||Permits the foreleg to extend|
|11. Serratus Thoracis||Allows the trunk to be at the proper level when legs are planted|
|12. Posterior Pectoral||Allows the foreleg to draw backward|
|13. Extensor Carpi Radialis||Permits the foreleg to bend and flex|
|14. Latissimus Dorsi||Permits lateral bending|
|15. Longissimus Dorsi||Allows the back to extend, and permits lateral bending|
|16. Intercostal||Supports the rib cage and aids in respiration|
|17. Oblique||Allows the hind leg to draw under|
|18. Rectus Abdominus||Supports the back|
|19. Gluteus||Allows forward movement and hind end action|
|20. Semimembranosus||Permits the hock to extend|
|21. Semitendinosus||Permits the hip and the hock to extend|
|22. Bicep Femoris||Allows for extension of the hind leg and hock, and bends the stifle|
|23. Tensor Fascia Latae & Fascia Latae||Allows the stifle to extend and the hip to flex|
|24. Long Digital Extensor||Permits the hind leg to flex|
Now that we have basic understanding of what the muscle groups do, remember that 60% of the horse’s body weight is muscle and that muscles respond to stress or injury by hypercontraction. This may also result in unnecessary stress on an opposing muscle or joint. Just like us, horses anticipate pain and their way of going becomes short and choppy which can result in uneven gaits.
The longest muscle group of the horse is the Longissimus Dorsi/Latissimus Dorsi and it would also make sense that this muscle is the one that often becomes sore either from poor rider posture, improper saddle fit or improper riding techniques. So what can we, the rider do to help our equestrian friend? According to Mary Schreiber “The How To Manual of Sports Massage for the Equine Athlete” and founder of Equissage, this muscle group can be addressed by this simple massage technique:
With one hand on the thigh as shown on the picture above, place your thumb behind the shoulder and using moderate pressure slide down to the tail, keeping your thumb two to three inches from the spine. Next with one hand on the thigh, apply percussion starting behind the shoulder with light percussion. Avoid percussion on the kidney area by staying a hand’s width away from the rump. Percuss back to the shoulder with light percussion, repeat with moderate and heavy percussion, two passes at each level. Make sure you avoid the kidneys!
Next, do the back rub! The back rub consists of six passes at Moderate to Heavy pressure from shoulder to rump. Do this in a back and forth motion, using the heels of your hands or your finger tips. I find that the horses really like this pressure and heat generated from the back rub!
Draw some large circles, again starting behind the shoulder and going to the rump and back. These are done with light pressure. Then, do medium circles with medium pressure followed by little circles with heavy pressure. Everything but percussion can be used over the kidney area. Starting behind the shoulder again, do a heavy zigzag stroke along the back, approximately two inches from the spine. If the horse is too reactive, add some extra percussion in order to desensitize the area and loosen up those knotted tissues.
Next, rest your open hand on the kidney area. With this laying of the hand, you are actually creating heat between your hand and the horse. Leave your hand here for about 15 – 20 seconds. Then, close off with heavy percussion, going back to the shoulder and then towards the rump, stopping just in front of the kidney area. This above routine is done on both sides of the horse and should loosen back muscles before/after your ride.
If your horse has had the benefit of a full massage, walk your horse at a fairly brisk pace for at least five minutes. The horse may pull back at first, as he may still be anticipating pain. That resistance, however, should last only a few strides and he should then begin to move forward easily. Walking your horse after a massage is an effective way to prevent after massage stiffness. Do not delude yourself into thinking that immediately turning your horse out to pasture after a full massage is a good substitute for walking the horse. It isn’t!
For those of you interested in horse massage, I would encourage you to read as much as possible on the massage techniques or even take a course. Along with the book I referenced above, which is a wonderful step by step manual, there are many that provide you with the instruction and steps necessary to give your horse the benefit of an equi-massage.
By: Barbara Cox, ESMT