Equine Sports Massage (ESM) is the application of massage therapy covering the whole body to relieve muscle and compensatory tension allowing optimum function and performance. In recent years so many riders and trainers have seen the benefits and rewards of massage therapy it is starting to become an essential element of the performance horse team. Many of the world’s equestrian teams competing at the 2012 Olympics had an ESMT (Equine Sports Massage Therapist) on staff.
ESM is a complementary holistic therapy often used in conjunction with conventional veterinary procedures and alongside other therapies including chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists, remedial saddlers and saddle fitters, equine dentists and farriers.
Massage can be incorporated into any training regime, pre and post competition/race, keeping muscles healthy by maintaining strength and suppleness to minimise stiffness. In the event of an injury, massage is of great benefit as it speeds up the recovery period by preventing muscle atrophy (wasting) of the muscles during a period of box rest or restricted work.
Using a range of professional techniques ESM incorporates Swedish massage, muscle energy techniques and active and passive stretches. ESM works on nearly all the muscles and soft tissues, but also affects the skin and many other systems such as the nervous, skeletal, circulatory and lymphatic systems. All the techniques use a hands-on approach allowing the therapist to explore the musculo-skeletal system for areas of tightness, spasm or soreness and relieve muscle spasms/tension even before the signs become obvious.
A thorough understanding of anatomy and the interactions of bones, joints and muscles are the basis of this proven physical and mental therapy that is the art of massage. A masseur looks at the horse as a whole and attempts to consider all the possible effects of any tension, while interpreting a horse’s reactions and expressions.
Regular massage hugely benefits the wellbeing of the horse by releasing tension and aiding mental relaxation. Evidence suggests that massage can help relieve symptoms of pain and discomfort, enhance performance and range of movement, and enable relaxation. These benefits can be felt by horses in all stages of life, from youngsters to retirees, and whatever level of work they endure, from happy hackers to high-level performance horses. The incorporation of passive stretches help to keep or restore joints and muscles to their full working capacity.
60% of the horse’s body is muscle so it is very important to keep these muscle groups working correctly to help prevent injury. This is especially relevant to the competition horse whose muscles and soft tissues are placed under added stress to cope with our demands as riders.