One of the most common questions I am asked when treating a horse, is how often should they be treated. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules on this, and many factors need to be brought into consideration.
Typically, sports massage is used in pre, inter, and post event (or competition) work, as well as being a part of a good training regime (maintenance massage). So the first question to ask yourself is, 'what is the purpose of the massage?' In short, pre-event massage creates a state of readiness in the muscles in order to optimise performance, inter-event massage prepare the muscles for the next event by improving recovery, and post-event massage brings the muscle tissue back to it's pre-event state, by flushing out the waste product accumulated, and identifying any conditions that may need further attention.
Whilst I perform all of the above during the competition season, the main form of massage my clients use is maintenance. This ensures the muscles are working at their optimum by releasing tension and stiffness, decreasing any muscle spasms, and ensuring optimum mobility through the joints. In this instance, the frequency of treatment is directed by a number of factors, including, but not limited to the following:
- nature of work
- is the horse increasing it's work?
- frequency of work
- previous or current injuries (eg is the horse on box rest, is it being bought back into work)
- is the horse on a rehabilitation programme
- is the horse presenting any signs of discomfort that are new?
The list is endless......! This means that each treatment and schedule of treatments needs to be bespoke to each individual horse, and needs to be adapted as and when needed. This is probably best illustrated by just some of the horses I work with and their current treatment schedule*. (with owners permission)
Freeze is just being brought back into work (dressage) after some time off during the summer. Prior to that, he was worked approx 4 times a week, a mixture of flat work (novice / ele) and hacking. Treatment schedule has been the same for the past two years as his work has mainly been consistent and he has been injury free. He is treated every eight weeks.
Mason has been having regular treatments every two weeks for the last four years. Recently retired, his owner has decided to continue with this schedule to combat any stiffness that may occur now he's not in work, and also to help him mentally in keeping his previous routine.
Cici is working at Medium / AM, and just learning her changes.
She has been treated regularly since a four year old (now eight), every two weeks for maintenance, as well at competitions, post travelling
Winnie is an Internationally competing Para Horse. As her main work is always in walk, it is vital that she receives regular treatment (physio and Sports Massage) once a month to keep her supple. working closely with both her home Physio and the World
Class Team Physio.
Brian is in the process of upping his work after a relatively relaxed life over the past few years. Muscle memory has kicked in and is building well. In order to keep his muscles in as good a shape as possible whilst his work increases, and due to him being a large, big moving horse, he has sports massage once a week, to keep him comfortable and injury free.
So, how often should your horse have sports massage? The answer is as often as is required for the situation at any given time. All treatment schedules should be tailored to each individual horse and should be fluid to change with your horses needs.
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