Equine Body Work- So Much More Than Just Massage!

By Vera Brimacombe EBW www.suppleequine.co.uk

Sports massage, stretching and a range of motion exercises form the hands-on foundations of Equine Body Work.

However, Equine Body Work goes beyond just treating the area that appears to be hurting; unlike many other therapies, the evaluation of the horse's posture, movement, tack and training form an integral part of the treatment.

Equine Body Work requires knowledge of the Horse's anatomy

Equine Body Work demands knowledge of the
Horse's anatomy

Much the same as the human body, the well being of the equine body relies on the entire system functioning without restriction.

Blood needs to freely circulate to all parts of the horse's body, nerves must have sufficient room around them to fulfill their function as messengers to the brain, and joints need to move without restriction throughout their range of motion.

Muscular health has a huge effect on the functioning of all major aspects of the horse's body: contracted muscles which are unable to release back into their optimal functioning length restrict the flow of blood around the body.

At the same time the muscles can also clamp down on the surrounding nerves, causing potentially severe pain and a lack of communication with the brain.

Muscles are also responsible, with the help of tendons and ligaments, for moving joints. Therefore, when the muscle is not functioning as it was designed to do, it will restrict the movement of its correlating joint as well as putting a strain on tendons and ligaments.

The horse's body functions as a team, the blood vessels, ligaments and tendons, muscles, nerves, and joints being just some of the team members. Therefore, when one team member is no able to fulfill its role, the others end up taking some of the strain as well as compensating for it. This is why it is important to assess the entire body and not just focus on the area that appears to be injured.

Equine Body Work is therefore a unique approach to equine health care and so much more than 'just massage'! An Equine Body Work session normally starts with the full medical history of the horse being taken down.

It is not unusual to find, for example, that the stretched tendon on the foreleg the horse suffered 3 years ago is still causing tightness around the shoulder area. The Body Worker (EBW) will then assess the horse's posture and conformation, followed by an assessment of the horse's movement.


The tack and quality of shoeing/trimming should also be inspected. For example, a long toe and low heel combination usually leads to a strain on the structures on the back of the leg as well as muscular restriction higher up the leg.

In a case like this the horse will not only benefit from soft tissue work, but a visit from a farrier/podiatrist too! The entire muscular system is then investigated for signs of pain, tightness or stress using a series of trigger points.

As a follow-up to the gait analysis, the range of motion of the limbs and hips are also examined. The EBW will then work on the issues found, be that pain or a restricted range of motion, leaving the owner with follow-up exercises to perform and advice on ridden work.

Further visits will focus on improving the issues identified and advising the hores's owner on ways to prevent the issues from reoccurring.

A visit from an EBW can be useful in a range of scenarios: the horse may have started napping, rearing, bolting or bucking, or he may object to being touched on certain areas. He might lack impulsion or 'put the handbrake on' when ridden. He might refuse to work on a slope.

Often owners complain of the horse 'not feeling right' without being able to pinpoint the exact problem. These are just some of the typical symptoms that a horse in pain or discomfort may present.

Usually the horse is not trying to be difficult, he is trying to tell you that something hurts. That something may be an injured muscle, a strained ligament, skeletal pain or a badly fitting saddle, just to name a few. Again, the importance of evaluating the entire horse becomes evident.

After your vet has diagnosed your horse with an illness or injury, Equine Body Work can make a difference in the horse's recovery.


A muscle which has suffered a trauma usually builds scar tissue, which when left untreated can cause long term problems, restricting not only the function of the muscle itself but also the 'team members' around it.

Equine Body Work during recovery helps to both prevent scar tissue from forming by keeping the area flexible as well as helps to break up and re-align existing scar tissue. A box-rested horse loses muscle tone and mobility surprisingly quickly.It is therefore vital to maintain those aspects through massage and range of motion exercises.


Massage also relieves boredom and reduces stress in the stable-bound horse. Even if your horse seems happy and well, Equine Body Work can still make a difference in his athletic abilities: tight or contracted muscles put a strain on tendons and ligaments too, therefore restricting the normal range of motion of the joints.

A horse that moves without restriction is more efficient in his stride as there is less wear and tear on the joints, ligaments and tendons, equating to a longer working life. By returning tight muscles back to their optimal functioning length, Equine Body Work increases the existing range of motion, which usually leads to a longer and more expressive stride. This can be particularly beneficial to dressage horses.

A longer and more efficient stride in a racehorse can make the difference between winning and coming second at the finishing line. A jumper uses a vast number of muscles during his take off, flight and landing. If his musculature is flexible and agile with the muscles synchronized properly, he will be less likely to suffer strain and injury.

A restriction-free muscular system also optimises the horse's capacity for power, which can add inches to the height he can clear. When we talk about a tight muscle, what we usually mean is a muscle that is not able to release back into its optimal functioning length after contraction.

A muscle that is in a permanent state of contraction, even a mild one, has to rely on other muscles as well as ligaments and tendons to compensate for it. This burns excess energy and forces the horse to work against itself.

Allowing the muscles to return back into their optimal length equates to less fatigue and more stamina. This is especially relevant to endurance and hunting horses.

The qualification Equine Body Worker can only be given to candidates trained and certified by Equinology. Equinology trains EBW's all over the world, and the title EBW is recognized in the UK by the McTimoney Chiropractic Association.

Anyone can set themselves up as a ' back person', sometimes these people have little or no professional qualifications in equine health care.

More worryingly, these 'practitioners' often attempt to manipulate the spine. Just ask yourself, would you allow anyone apart from a certified professional to touch your most vital body part, your spine?


The Veterinary Surgeons' Act 1962 in the UK states that all physical therapists should seek the attending vet's permission before treating a horse. In most cases, all this takes is a simple phone call. However, there are many unscrupulous people out there who flout this law, therefore potentially placing the horse at risk.

Ask yourself, would you allow someone willingly breaking a welfare law to work on your own body, especially someone without any recognised qualifications? As EBW's hold a recognized professional qualification, you can be sure that your horse is in safe hands.

For more information on Equine Body Work or to book an appointment in the South West, please visit www.suppleequine.co.uk or call 07527 804445.

Evaluation of posture, Equine Sports massage, stretching and a range of motion exercises are the foundations of Equine Body Work that go beyond just treating the area of the horse that appears to be hurting.