Massage for your horse is best utilized when the horse is massaged on a regular schedule. For most horses, this will depend on the amount of work he is doing. Conformation, type of work, and preexisting conditions are also factors when trying to figure out the best schedule for your horse. In my opinion, it is ideal to have a horse doing work that benefits him in many ways. When we ride our horses, we should be aiming to improve his fitness, balance, flexibility, muscle tone, and coordination, much like a personal trainer or physcial therapist would do for you. A sound work program coupled with a regular massage program can optimize your horse’s comfort, health, and performance level. Massage therapy is a great preventitive tool. A horse that is massaged regularly will have minor problems treated and addressed before they turn into major problems.
I recommend a monthly massage for any horse in light to moderate work, and a bi weekly massage for heavy working horses. These are just average horses who don’t have any other soundness issues. I work on horses with Lyme disease, EPM, and navicular that benefit from weekly schedules. My own horses get massaged about once per month, except an older school master of mine who gets done every 2 to 3 weeks. I have noticed that horses on a consistent schedule consistently improve with each treatment. This is due to the massage therapy, but also in the work that their owners do with them in between visits. If they focus on correct bending exercises, hill work, lateral work, and gymnastics, the horses develop more evenly and properly, thus having improved muscle tone. This is what I recommend to all of my clients and how I school my horses at home. The two work really well together: a pain-free horse that has had his muscles loosened up by a massage therapist regularly is more able to freely do his job and is also more willing. The work he does under saddle will hold more value and the horse will get more benefit from it than if he was stiff or had pain in his body. This contributes greatly to the longevity of the horse and his attitude toward his work.
Often, massage therapists are called out as a last resort to help a horse in need. By this time, the horse has already been developing an ailment over time and it will take several massage sessions to see some noticeable improvement. I tell my clients that one massage is not a cure-all remedy. It takes time to reverse damage done to muscles. Each time a horse is massaged, he will have improved circulation, relaxation, flexibilty, and range of motion. It only gets better with more sessions.
Another point to make here, in the interest of approaching the horse holistically as an athlete, is that we need to make sure everything we are doing for the horse is truly benefiting him. This means that your saddle must fit the horse well, the horse’s feet should be well cared for by a reputable farrier, and he should be getting the nutrition and supplementation he needs to maintain his health and body function. There are plenty of vitamins, minerals, and supplements to consider when you have the horse’s muscle function and soundness in mind, which will be included in another entry. If one of these things is not addressed, for example a saddle that doesn’t fit well or hooves that are unbalanced, it will only cause pain in the horse that cannot be cured, no matter how much massage is used. A saddle that doesn’t fit will cause the horse pain every day until you get a saddle that does fit. A horse that is improperly trimmed or shod cannot go well until he is trimmed or shod correctly. Paying attention to all of these things will maximize the massage benefits as well as the overall horse’s well being.