We had a different type of lesson tonight (an extra, so I didn't include it in with the rest of the lessons for the purpose of this blog). We had a group lesson about massage- with 3 other horses/owners, and we went around from horse to horse watching and feeling with our hands, elbows, shoulders, etc. to learn the sore spots and feel tight muscles and anatomy on each horse. Julie has a lot of experience in massage, not only through personal certification and education programs in equine massage and chiropractic, but from years of practicing on her own and client horses.
Julie started with a little bit of her usual assessment- running the fingers forward down the spine from the SI joints to about the base of the withers (fingers about 6 inches apart so that they travel along the paraspinal muscles). A horse showing a lot of tenderness with this first assessment may have a chiropractic abnormality and may require some adjusting. We divided the horse into portions, with the most forward portion of the back indicating problems in the neck and the most posterior portion of the horse (from the loins on back) indicating the hind end. She also pushed on the SI joints and on the C7 vertebrae at the base of the neck to look for soreness or maladjustment in those areas.
After that, we moved along to muscle assessments, and basically just rubbed over the major muscle groups looking for signs of soreness, tightness, or "stringy" feeling muscle bands. When we found something sore, we would rub that area, either with constant pressure, cross-fiber massage, or rubbing along the length of the muscle belly. Julie noted that her preference is constant pressure over tight spots until they loosen, she has found this method to give her the most bang for her buck. When working areas on the back, it is useful to stretch the back (do an ab lift exercise) right after massaging the area.
We noted common areas of soreness in many of the horses: around C7 and completely around the scapula (should be able to bury the fingers under the scapula all the way around it essentially), along the triceps area above the horse's elbow, along the paraspinals and loins, in the hind quarters, hamstrings, and between the hind legs. Louie's most sore spots were in the back (big surprise there)- basically the entire area the saddle panels cover (which, it turns out, may not be the best area to work to release the tension- the soreness may be referred from somewhere down the muscle belly or the kinetic chain), and in the hamstrings. This has some bearing on how we ride as well, as it is interesting to note that a horse who spends a lot of time without its hind end engaged, and legs trailing behind itself will typically have tighter hamstrings, just based on principles of kinesiology.
We worked on our horses on each of these areas for almost an hour, then worked on some stretches. We stretched the front legs- extended straight out and a little bit medially and laterally (Julie says laterally is where she tends to get nice adjustments), neck (pressing on each vertebrae and bending the neck around the hand in each direction), and "hulas" in which you push on the horse's rib cage to the side in points moving from front to back pulling the tail around so the horse's body bends laterally throughout the back. We worked on treat stretches like the ones recommended in Hillary Clayton's book "Activate Your Horse's Core" (which I own and love)- reaching to each side and down between the legs. One important note that Julie wants to see is when the horse reaches around for the treat, their ears should remain pretty level- they aren't doing the exercise correctly if they twist their heads and turn it sideways as they reach to the side.
Of course Louie and I also added in a lot of abdominal exercises and back-lifting exercises, per the Hillary Clayton book, which are a great compliment to all of the rest of the body work we're trying to accomplish.
It was an interesting lesson and I think I learned a lot, about how to assess and massage a horse, finding sore spots and working them out, and improving flexibility and joint mobility. Hopefully doing some form of regular massage work with Louie will help us to improve not only his comfort level, but may even improve his soundness and movement.