For most people, it becomes obvious when they need a massage, through the stiffness or soreness felt in their muscles. But for horses, it’s not always so easy.
“A horse can’t necessarily say, hey you know what, can we not ride today. My shoulders sore,” said Vanessa Beach, registered massage therapist who also specializes in massaging horses.
She says when a healthy horse isn’t riding as well it was previously or is developing behavioural problems out of nowhere, it could be because it is suffering,
“They are passive aggressive animals by nature, if they get to the point where they’re becoming aggressive they are usually in pain,” Vanessa said. “If we think of horses as athletes, they need to work hard and use muscle for every task we ask them to do. So they get delayed onset muscle soreness just like you or I.”
Fortunately, these problems can often be solved through massage therapy according to Vanessa.
“After a massage there seems to be more freedom of movement,” she said. “Most riders will notice their horse is able to bend or flex in a way they weren’t able to before”
Vanessa says massage therapy can be key in maintaining a healthy horse.
“We are a valued member in a horse’s healthcare team because we can find small things before they become huge.”
Vanessa treats up to 10 horses every week, while running a full-time massage therapy practice for humans. Some of the horses she massages are athletes who aren’t performing as well as they should be. Other horses often have a suspected injury or have recently been in an accident.
Vanessa can also tell when a horse needs to see another practitioner, like a chiropractor or veterinarian, when the massage therapy isn’t quite solving the horse’s problem.
She says some of the challenges that come with massaging horses is the size of the animal and not being able to communicate with words.
“The horses talk to me non-verbally the entire time,” Vanessa said. “But its not the same as me telling a person on my table in the office, hold on a second this is going to hurt, take a deep breath, it will be better in a minute. I can’t describe that to a horse in words, I have to have that animal trust me enough to do what is necessary.”
Apart from the non-verbal communication and physicality of massaging a horse, the process is quite like massaging a human.
“We still do a health history; we still find out what is wrong with the horse. We have to do a gait analysis and see that animal move to see what their issue is.”
Unlike massages for people, Vanessa doesn’t do non-therapeutic, spa type massages. The types of massages she gives to horses are always to help with an injury or affliction.
“In registered massage therapy there is a scale for people from spa massage to therapeutic massage,” she said. “When we treat horses its always therapeutic massage. We are always going in for a reason, it’s not just to make the horse feel nice,” she said.
The many benefits of therapeutic massage are sometimes overlooked, it doesn’t only help reduce stress, pain, and muscle tension, it also boosts the bodies immunity and improves sleep.
Anyone interested in having their horse massaged can reach out to Vanessa over the phone at 416-997-6378 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org