Let's get into the facts and science behind different modalities in the equine bodywork field. There are plenty of gimmicks out there. Fads and tools that one can use. But the bottomline is, the most healing element to any animal is ones own hands. Our hands have thousands of receptors. They can stimulate, regulate, and show compassion with good timing.
From traditional Chinese modalities such as acupressure and more present ideas of healing such as Pulse Electromagnetic Field Therapy also known as PEMF, there are literally hundreds of ways to heal and help. But you should know what each modality does, if it's safe and if it would work on your individual horse. Recent studies have indicated that Shockwave therapy can now have negative effects depending on how it is used and when the horse preforms. Once thought to be a very reliable treatment, you can see how any sort of invasive or semi-invasive therapy does have it's share of backlash.
You see, horses don't need invasive. In fact their bodies tend to work well once "helped" or "nudged" in the right direction. Seen in almost every single horse I've come across, our interaction and intention with the animal is key to any form of healing whether it's in the saddle, or on the ground. The truth is that many of the results from these hyped-up alternative therapies come from the fact that the horse relaxes. And things go back to being balanced when a horse relaxes.
I am trying to be as fact-based driven as possible and have cited throughout this blog many articles from reputable places. Please check out the links and investigate your own thought and intuition when it comes to your horse. Far beyond a competitor, they are our allies and friends and their best interest should come first. I am not a veterinarian and my opinions are based upon experience and education. Please know that bodywork is a choice and can be different for each horse. What works for a horse that has PTSD might be far different from a pony suffering from PPID.
Many people wonder about this modality. Even when watching me do it, most people have questions about what I am doing because they see the result in the horse with very little pressure or try. Well, that's actually not true at all. There is a lot of try. But Cranial Sacral is one of the most non-invasive and influential practices I have seen. Before I became an equine bodyworker, I had other people work on my competition horses. Getting ready for a big endurance race like the Tevis Cup means doing everything you can to help your horse feel great!
I tried vets, and people who used machines and massage therapy and injections. But something I came across that helped more than anything was cranial sacral and an osteopathic approach. So it is no wonder that I was inspired to take the next step in becoming an equine bodyworker myself
and implement this into my work.
What is Cranial Sacral?
Cranial Sacral works with the central nervous system and the cerebral spinal fluid. The "core frequency" of a horse is assessed and the area of greatest restriction is found. Using hands and intention and anatomy and feel, one can with precision, get results from the horse. Tapping into the horse means the horse allows you to influence blood, nerve, organ function, diaphragm function, nerve impingement off the spine, and much more.
Opening up the cranial rhythm allows for fluidity throughout the whole body. Working mostly with the cranial and cervical parts of the horse, you can truly influence attitude, motility and retain the horses natural rhythm. Science tells us that all parts of the body work together and need to be "in sync". This makes sense to me and I have seen the results first hand.
Cranial Sacral is doing great work in humans too! For people with chronic pain and emotional trauma. OTTBs tend to love cranial sacral as is listens more than tells. I love using this modality at horse shows because it can be helpful for horses currently in competitive work. It is soft and easy for the horse to understand.
The equine massage or possibly the equine sports massage is probably the most widely used modality for horses in western culture. And why wouldn't it be? It feels nice, relieves tension and can have many benefits. We as humans get massages regularly as well and so it is easy for us to understand how it works and what happens. We have all the same parts as the horse, just pieced together differently.
Becuase of large influencers such as Equissage and The Masterson Method, massage and modalities like it have been main stream for many years. This is a fairly non-invasive approach to helping horses muscle groups function better and possibly even keep horses from injury. The downside to any massage is that the muscles that relax can often tense right back up unless other parts of the body are assessed and taken care of. For instance, if the back is constantly tight and sore, you may have a diaphragm in spasm or spinal nerve impingement which must be taken care of before the muscle can function properly. This is why many times we must go back for a massage every few weeks.
Massage also cannot "detoxify your horse". Organs are the only thing in the body that are used to detoxify. This is a common misconception. Let your organs function properly and the rest will fall into place. Sweat can also help detoxify us, so don't be afraid to let your horse sweat. Make sure he is replenished by plenty of water and electrolytes.
Massage is a great way to relax a horse and reduce stress. This is a healing element in itself. It can increase circulation of blood flow to the muscle. The muscle is the key to keeping your horses tendons secure. Massage can improve flexibility. Again the muscle can only improve if the layers underneath are also assessed. This includes: nerves, organs, blood, fascia.
What is PEMF for horses? PEMF or Pulse Electromagnetic Therapy is all the rave right now. How much is a PEMF machine? As I write this, someone somewhere is buying a 20 thousand dollar machine in hopes of making a horse-friendly career with PEMF. PEMF is a great tool for many horses. Here is exactly what PEMF is and what it does.
Devices that utilize PEMF technology emit electromagnetic waves at different wavelengths in order to stimulate and encourage your body’s natural recovery process. Basically we can think of PEMF like a battery charger for our cells. When used correctly, these low frequency wavelengths can heal and help. Most commonly used on humans suffering from cancer and chronic pain, PEMF for horses has other benefits. Many distributors in the equine field say that PEMF can work wonders on mares who have heavy heat cycles. Because I have limited personal knowledge of PEMF, but am hoping to implement it in some small way into my practice, I have mostly research based knowledge to give.
There are pros and cons to using a machine. It depends on who is using it and how powerfully it is being used. Some horses need very light touch and are sensitive. Others can really benefit from full frequency. But the case for PEMF is that it can help regenerate and heal. Healthy cells mean a healthy body. Basically with this machine, cells get "re-charged" by getting electrically charged.
This is my interpretation. But a direct quote from Pulse Equine is this: As the electromagnetic field is pulsed ON, electrons are excited and the cells are expanded and “Exercised”. The electrically charged cell membrane is gently pulled by the pulsating electromagnetic field and the cell is “Recharged”. When the pulse is OFF, the cells relax. As cells Recharge themselves, they heal and return to optimal health.
Photonic Therapy And The Red Light Movement
I love red light therapy. It was used on my horses before I became an equine bodyworker and I see results every time I use it. Ok so that part was a biased, but it's my blog after all. I didn't know when I first started using red light how it would work or affect the horses. But I see it time and time again- they love it. I tend to use the red light on acupressure points. I feel like this is not only beneficial but gives results pretty quickly. What do I mean by results? I mean very distinct signs that the horse is relaxing, like the light, and that they are "letting go" so to speak. I want to see this in the horses I work on. It's like I am helping them to turn off their brain and turn down their prey-like instincts for a minute. Only then can healing begin.
Horses block pain with emotion. We do this as people as well. But horses are professional at it. They have to put their own "stuff" aside for their riders all of the time. They often are very stoic creatures who only show about half of what is really going on. The equine bodywork I like the most is the kind that starts with the mind and flows naturally into healing the body. Have you ever seen a horse getting a massage or bodywork that is distracted or anxious? That's usually not a good sign. And until that brain can turn down and the central nervous system can quiet, real healing cannot begin.
These are a few of the modalities that are regularly used in equine bodywork. I happen to use these modalities or some fashion of them. I use what I see works. The results are in and healing your horse is possible! Look for part 2 of this blog for more information on modalities such as acupressure, shockwave therapy and more!