It is the most wonderful feeling to help a horse overcome restrictions and imbalances and reach a new level of performance.
Besides the physical ability to perform, however, there is another aspect to the effects of soreness, stiffness and discomfort in the horse. This was recently once again illustrated to me by a wonderful tall Trakehner gelding, a true jumping talent, who had become distant and 'checked out' during work. The young gelding, who had previously made good strides in his training, was going on 'auto pilot' during work, seemed absent and unfocused and simply went through the motions. The rider reported, that the horse seemed to just 'get the work over with', which was very much unlike him. When handled on the ground, the horse seemed distracted, distant, unfocused and trying to 'get away'.
Upon closer inspection we found a severe imbalance in the development of his long back muscles, which often points to an imbalance in movement, since long back muscles are locomotion muscles. Sensitivity in the left front fetlock joint was another pointer to compensation for physical discomfort. Even during bodywork, the horse was distracted and not relaxed until the touch was softened sufficiently to stay under his defense radar. The horse was extremely uncomfortable in his front left limb and was referred to the vet for further investigation.
Why was no lameness detected? A horse, as the ultimate prey animal, will hide any discomfort or physical problem as long as possible. Of course, it also depends on the personality of the horse (we may all know a drama queen or two...). By nature, however, the horse wants to APPEAR WELL in order to escape the keen eye of a predator or avoid being left behind by the herd. The horse does not want to show weakness, but it KNOWS that something is not quite right, which leads to worry, fearfulness or dullness as defense mechanism. A horse who is very good at this survival skill will hide even considerable pain in a front limb, for instance, as long as he can and rather COMPENSATE with other parts of his anatomy to make up for the weakness. Often this leads to the fact that rider, trainer, vet or bodyworker will first notice the area of compensation instead of the underlying problem.
In short: A sore, stiff, hurting horse will be worried and display behavior such as fearfulness, dullness, unwillingness to work or even agression, often long before the soreness or stiffness is detected.
Walter Zettl describes this beautifully in his book "The Circle of Trust", when he says "Any soreness or stiffness will cause the horse to worry."
Of course there are numerous possible reasons for a worried, fearful or 'checked out' horse. The first thing you'll want to rule out, however, is physical discomfort, stiffness and pain.
Enjoy your horse!
“Any soreness or stiffness will cause the horse to worry.” (Walter Zettl in his book “The circle of trust”).
Or in other words: A sore horse is a worried horse!
If we consider ourselves to have the moral right to use the horse for our own purposes,
we ought also to accept the obligation to help him carry them out.
Baron Hans von Blixen-Finecke
cavalryman, Olympic gold medalist, trainer of Olympic riders
The above exercises are beneficial in my own personal opinion. Please ensure fitness of your horse for any exercises described on this website by consulting your veterinarian, if in doubt. Equine Massage is NEVER a substitute for proper veterinary care. If you are in doubt about the physical condition of your horse, please consult a veterinarian.
*) Please note: Equine massage and bodywork is a non-invasive, gentle wellness modality aimed at enhancing performance in the healthy horse and never replaces proper veterinary care. If in doubt regarding the physical health of your horse please consult your veterinarian.