At the end of most massages I get asked, "How soon do you recommend the next massage?" There are so many variables that a straight forward answer is sometimes difficult. Generally speaking, a horse who is working harder will benefit from more frequent massages. This is also the case with a horse who has been dealing with some long standing issues.
I have worked on some horses who are on a bi-weekly schedule. These are often horses rehabbing from an injury who have some fairly serious muscle imbalance issues. This schedule generally does not last very long and as soon as the horse improves, time between massages does as well. Most of my clients, whose horses are in regular work, get massages at 4-6 week intervals. There is also a sizable group of horses I work on who are in lighter work and don’t develop too many issues. They do well on approximately an 8 week schedule. There are also a few I work on every 12 weeks or so and that is enough to keep them feeling good.
I do sometimes recommend a second follow up to be sooner rather than later if I find the horse is quite tight or too sore to do much deep work at the moment. This follow up is generally recommended for about 2 weeks following the initial treatment. It is only possible to do so much deep work in one session without causing the horse to be more sore afterwards and it also sometimes takes a couple of sessions for the horse to relax enough to allow more deep work. This is particularly beneficial in cases of long standing muscle tension. Long periods of time compensating for an injury (or old injury where muscle memory prevents the holding patterns from relaxing) or a horse who was ridden in a poorly fitting saddle for long periods of time (and saddle fit issues have since been resolved). In these particular situations, a follow up which is scheduled sooner rather than later allows for more progress instead of being back to square one at the next appointment. In situations where the goal is to improve, as opposed to just maintain everything feeling good, a couple of treatments closer together can make a big difference. While there are some situations where a horse would benefit from a few weekly or biweekly massages, it is quite rare.
Another time when clients choose to have their horse massaged more frequently than typical is during show season. Those who attend shorter horse shows (dressage, eventers, reiners, barrel racers, etc) tend to go with one of two options. The first is getting the horse a massage before the event to have them feel their best during the show. The second option is to get the horse massaged following the show to get their muscles to recover as soon as possible following the event. For the hunter/jumpers, there are a few additional options due to the length of horse shows. Many of these horses travel quite far to attend shows and are a little stiff and tired after a long trailer ride and receive a massage as soon as they arrive. While at the show, the horses work harder than at home while receiving less turnout. Those two factors alone will cause some more muscle tension than the horse would experience at home. Add to that the fact that the footing is often different than they are used to as well as the general stress of showing and it’s no wonder that these shows are my busiest times of year. Some clients choose to have their horses massaged before a big class. I do not recommend this for those who have never tried massage therapy on their horse before as it is hard to know exactly how each horse will respond. Most horses feel quite relaxed after a massage, but may be almost too relaxed to be competitive in a jump off situation. Other horses may actually feel quite fresh (this may be fine for a confident rider on a jumper, but not what most hunters are aiming for). It is better to have a massage not too close to a big class if you’re not sure what the reaction will be. Another option for a massage is between weeks of the show, so Sunday afternoon or Monday and that is a safe bet if you’re unsure how your horse feel right after.
The opposite to more frequent show season massages is the horses who get quite stiff and tight in the winter. Our wet climate is actually much harder on horses than the dry cold. Many do get quite cold backed and these horses often respond well to more frequent massages during the fall/winter months.
As you can see there really are many variables to help determine how often your horse may benefit from massage. Generally it is not as often as people think (or fear) may be needed. I have had quite a few clients act surprised when I don’t recommend weekly appointments. There are some extreme cases where treatments that frequent may be advised, but it is really quite rare and not generally recommended. More is not always better and massage should not be used as a band aid for poor tack fit or lack of conditioning. A good therapist should discuss a massage schedule with their client and explain why they recommend the frequency they do, especially if it is unusually high.
- Anna Drygalski, REMT - EquiKneads Equine Massage - www.equikneads.ca