Like people, a horse’s life can become a struggle to cope with daily work when they’ve experienced an injury. Although they are superb athletes, they are not immune to injuries from their daily life activities of playing and roughhousing with other horses. They can slip, fall or knock their heads without us even knowing about it until it impacts our training and riding.
Myofascial release is key to keeping the horse balanced and confident, especially when there is any kind of accident or trauma history. It is a very effective hands-on technique that provides sustained pressure into myofascial restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion. Of all the forms of bodywork that focus on muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc., only myofascial release focuses on the connective tissue, or fascia, which ties all the parts together.
WHAT IS FASCIA?
Fascia, or connective tissue, is the white, filmy, stretchy tissue that surrounds the muscle. Think of a cut of meat, with the whitish filmy wrapping around it. Alive, it is a vital connecting tissue throughout the body. Amazingly, it’s randomly organized tissue with a brilliant capacity for immediately compensating the body to maintain balance and keep the body functional.
This total organizing ability of myofascia is vital to our stability and healthy function. When there is strain, injury or event, fascia all over the body activates for protection. It has a tensile strength of 2500 lbs. per inch and its job is to make sure the body, horse or human, can take care of itself. It does this by compensating for the injury. A front leg injury or shoulder injury brings restrictions in the left hindquarter, the neck, poll and ribs as the body works to keep itself balanced and functioning.
Horses are masters of compensation. An injury is not truly healed unless the fascia is released and re-organized. The horse will still be still stuck in holding patterns and strains without help. These compensations progress to less and less ability to move freely. Since the horse’s life is all about living in his body, physical restrictions cause anxiety, fear and trauma for the horse. Horses don’t distract themselves with movies, future plans or projects. Horses live their day in how they feel.
Fascia also carries the cellular memory of any trauma connected to the injury. If the horse banged his poll in a trailer, trailers may be a problem until this is released. If the horse did a sit down and pull back while post-tied, he may not tie safely. This cellular memory can be released during a myofascial and cranial sacral session for the horse. This is called Soma-emotional recall and release, named by Dr. John Upledger, Cranial Sacral pioneer.
Fascia gets very stuck and glue-like when strained. It can become almost wooden in feel, similar to a “frozen shoulder” in people. The good news is, myofascial release opens up, softens, releases and transforms the horse’s body in lasting ways.
The practitioner’s hands work the tissue and slowly melt the fascia, until it becomes softer, then the three different layers of fascia begin to open. These layers include a surface layer, deeper layers between the muscle groups and finally the deepest ones that go to the skeleton.
Cranial-sacral releases of the head are also included in myofascial therapy. This focus includes the poll, jaws, forehead, ears and mouth. Releases in the cranium often resolve anxiety, guarding, ear sensitivities and playing with the bit and other difficult issues.
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
As the fascia softens and opens, whole muscle groups begin to move freely again. A frozen shoulder can once again take a correct lead and a horse’s poll stays balanced for release of anxiety. Stiff backs regain softness and the topline is restored, not to mention the saddle fitting better.
This freedom of movement saves energy, stress and anxiety. It is lasting unless an event or daily conditions re-create strain. Balance and freedom of movement always bring a top response to challenges and demands. Your horse becomes more balanced and avoids injuries.
In our attempts to fix tack, get training results, and performance with our horses, we forget that the horse’s body is the main component of success. He must be able to do what we are asking him to do. If he’s had old injuries, correct leads, natural self carriage or flexibility may be impossible for him consistently. Like us, he may be able to do his work well on a good day, but not every day. The more compensated the horse is, the fewer good days he has.
All equine disciplines bring wear and tear for the horse. All require the horse to confidently face his work as our partner. If his shoulders are stuck he has no balance in his center of gravity. Or if his poll has been misaligned, constant anxiety disrupts his composure. Perhaps he can’t even eat well due to jaw misalignment and has become a hard keeper. These problems are resolved by myofascial release.
While there are many tools for helping our horses, consider the horse’s body when evaluating how to improve your rides and performance. If the horse has fascia limitations in range of motion, no training will solve that problem. It’s usually a case of “can’t” not “won’t” with most horses.
Margret’s involvement with horses started with ponies as a child. She rode the Connemara and Coast Trails with the Willie Leahy tour. Her best friend is her 41-year-old Spanish mare, Kleka. A desire to completely heal old personal injuries led her to Heller Work and structural integration. When her old compensation patterns resolved with her first Heller series, she was inspired to certify in the Equine Natural Movement program. Margret offers experience and success in helping horses of all types, ages and disciplines. Cranial-sacral in-mouth releases for horses are a specialty offered in each session. Margret brings an approach of “reaching 100% capacity" to each horse, in each session. A resident of New Mexico, Margret is available for out of state work and work abroad. www.equinenm.com