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Equine Belly Lifts
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During a massage, you communicate through your hands, teaching your young horse to accept human touch at a casual pace.
When introducing massage to your foal, try not to bring your agenda to the session; rather explore what they will accept and keep the work short. The time and areas can expand with progressive sessions.
You’ll want to relay a comforting level of touch and confidence. Tension on your part immediately transfers to your horse. Relaxed hands have a slight bend in the knuckles with finger pads resting lightly on your horse. Breathe.
It is best to establish a pattern for your work. Most horses settle readily if they know what to expect. Start at the neck, work to the shoulder and down the front leg. Follow with work along the back then to the belly. If that goes well, continue to the rump and haunches and down the back leg. Tailor this pattern to suit the horse. If he starts to fuss when you go to the limbs save it for the next session. If she is overly concerned around the hind end, wait until next time to attempt work in the area. Any time things get tricky, go back to a favorite place.
Place your relaxed hand anywhere on the neck that is accepted. Some will allow you to be close to the poll where others will be more comfortable if you start lower. If all is well, continue to the shoulder. Offer long gliding strokes in these areas.
Continue down the front leg to the fetlock. Remember to stand just off to the side so you can move out of the way if the youngster strikes.
Continue along the back toward the rump with long gliding strokes.
When you introduce the belly work, start closer to the front. Before you begin the long strokes check that they accept the relaxed hand in the entire area first. Make sure your hand offers some weight so you are not confused with a fly!
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Continue the relaxed hand placement along the rump and haunches. Follow the pattern to the fetlock of the hind limb. Watch your position and ensure that you can step back out of the way if necessary. Make sure your hair is not tickling the barrel as you reach.
If your foal readily accepts the gliding strokes, consider adding the Hand Curry on the same areas, leaving out the legs. Your hand remains relaxed, but the finger pads are curled further inward. Move your hand(s) in a circular pattern with enough light pressure to move the skin tissue, not just sliding across the hair (a good test to determine light pressure is placing your finger pads on your own eyelids with as much weight as is comfortable).
Teaching a young horse to pick up its legs is appreciated by your farrier. Rest the working outside hand under the pastern (below the fetlock) and rest the same arm on your outside leg. Avoiding clamping your hands on the pastern. If the horse pulls, try to relax your hands and move with them to avoid a tug of war.
For the hind limb, stand at the shoulder at first, lifting the hind leg toward the belly. Reward the horse with soothing strokes. It’s best to keep the limb a little higher to begin; if you hold the leg too low, the horse will lose its balance and want to place the limb back on the ground.
Any areas of concern should be examined by your veterinarian before you introduce massage to your foal. Many equine massage practitioners will include short sessions with your weanling or young horse when they are attending to your other horses.
Debranne Pattillo is the CEO of Equinology INC®, an educational company with affiliates around the globe offering over 40 courses taught by leading veterinarians and specialists. Debranne has been featured in various major media publications in the US, UK, New Zealand and Australia and her work was showcased on BBC’s Country Files. Debranne lives at The Sea Ranch in Northern CA. For more information, see www.equinology.com