Head and neck discomfort can be alleviated with simple, safe soft tissue work
Factors contributing to head and neck pain include routine dental work, improper tack fit, neurological issues, conformation, and poor self-carriage. Whatever the cause of your horse’s head and neck discomfort, in the vast majority of cases, massage can help.
When addressing the neck area, the strokes are a combination of soft tissue mobilization using gravity and a hold or glide technique. The moves involve setting your relaxed hand or loose fist and asking the horse to lean into you as you direct the move in relationship to the targeted muscle.
Place the palms of both hands so they cup the lower edge of the rhomboid and trapezius area of the neck. Apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to lean into your palms. When the horse is ready he will actually lower his head and neck which will in turn lengthen the muscle fibers. Hold at least 90 seconds; 3 minutes is even better. If your wrists get tired, straighten them by pointing your elbows downward.
(Photo 4) and (Photo 5)
THE GRAVITY GLIDE
This move can be easily utilized on the serrated muscle of the neck and many other muscles where no bony prominences are present. Make sure this stroke stays well above the neck bones, and try to avoid bending your wrists. Place your loose palms or fists on the lower part of the neck (starting with line 1 indicated in the photos) and lean into the horse just enough so he meets the pressure without stepping away. Using gravity as your anchor, allow your palms or fists to slowly slide up as the horse lowers his head. This may take over a minute. Repeat for lines 2 and 3; continue for as many passes as the horse requires (at least three full passes of all three lines).
(Photos 6A, 6B and 6C)
WORKING THE MASSETER
This is a distinct stroke using your fingertips directly under the facial crest, working toward the edge of the jaw. Start out lightly, increasing the pressure as the horse allows. Remember to lighten up as you run over the area that crosses the teeth. After a few passes make your circles smaller, concentrating on any areas of concern. Like the previous techniques, your horse will step or lean into you if he requests more pressure.
All of these moves are perfect for the horse who is a bit defensive, especially those who have had a rough start in life or seem to carry emotional baggage. By slowing down the moves and inviting the horse to work with you, a communication of good intention is relayed to the wary horse.
Some horses tend to rest more than usual after this type of slower release work, so don’t be surprised to hear contented snoring soon after the session. Just hang up the “Do Not Disturb” sign.
Debranne Pattillo is the CEO of Equinology INC®, an educational company with sister affiliates around the globe offering over 40 courses taught by leading veterinarians and specialists. Debranne is the chief instructor for the Equinology Equine Body Worker Certification Courses (equine massage and EBW techniques), Advanced Equine Massage Techniques Level One, the Progressive Equine Anatomy and Equine Stretching courses. Learn more at www.equinology.com
Photos by Laura Payne, Debranne Pattillo, Paul Hougard, Megan Kanz and Sarah Linton