I’ve learned wonderful things on this journey of providing equine bodywork. There are few things that can make me happier than getting a call by someone asking me to come out and work on their horse. I am delighted to see a more comfortable horse and a content horse owner in my rear view mirror when I leave.
Almost all the initial calls I receive are for specific problems folks are having with their horses. Sometimes the horse is lame or stiff in the neck and back, sometimes performance has suffered and the horse is off and tight. Bodywork has always brought the horse a measure of relief and improvement. Sometimes the change is immediate and dramatic, sometimes subtle, evolving over a few days.
So what is my point? If horses have problems and bodywork is helpful what am I needing to say?
I want you to know that horses suck up a great amount of discomfort before we humans can tell. It is the nature of a prey animal not to show pain, weakness, or vulnerability. It is part of the natural survival strategy of every horse. By the time we can see the lameness, feel the stiffness or notice that they are getting cinchy when saddled they have been struggling with a problem for a while.
I had someone once tell me that my horse was “faking lameness so you won’t ride him.” I believe I was called a sucker. I wondered if he was right, this was long before my education in horses and bodywork began in depth. I decided to ride and didn’t check his back (this was a horse that barely survived rescue and rehabilitation for multiple problems so I should have known better). My usually calm beast taught me a memorable lesson. I sat on his back and he eliminated his additional source of pain by sending my flying. I brushed myself off, calmed myself down and assessed his back. It was rigid with spasm. Lesson learned.
What I am asking you to do is consider bodywork for your horse not only in times of obvious trouble, but as a means of rehabilitation, promotion of comfort and performance, and prevention of problems as well. Consistent work often prevents problems from occurring or escalating.
Professional athletes, human as well as equine, trust in the benefits of consistent bodywork whether there is current soreness or injury, or not. As horses will hide their discomfort as long as they can, please observe them closely or consider a regular plan for increased comfort and potential prevention of troubles.
And, if I may make a final suggestion… always get a sense of your horse’s comfort level before you mount!