Floating teeth aids sore muscles.

Whenever I’m called to work on a new horse, I have a list of questions for the owner I like to go through before I begin. The questions include the obvious: Horse’s name, age, breed, use, shoeing or trimming schedule, what problems is he or she having and, always, when were his teeth floated last. Why do I care when the teeth were floated?floating teeth

Routine and scheduled dental care for our equine partners is a very important aspect of horse care. Not just for the health of their mouth but for their ability to completely chew and process food sufficiently for digestion, which relates to how they process nutrition and how that translates to body weight; correctly carry and respond to a bit in their mouth; but also, and rarely considered, to help insure suppleness of the muscles of poll, neck, and back. Consider the following.

The design of the horse’s mouth requires floating teeth on a routine basis because the teeth in the upper jaw are set wider than the lower jaw. The result of eating and chewing sharpens the outside of the upper teeth and the inside of the lower teeth. Without floating (filing and evening the sharp edges) the mouth becomes sore from ulcers, teeth don’t meet and chew properly and stress accumulates from the teeth being clenched to avoid pain. Also, if the jaws don’t align correctly front to back, hooks will develop that further restrict normal jaw movement. Again, creating stress.

Here are the events to consider. Sharp edges of the teeth or hooks from normal chewing and feeding causes pain … the jaw clamps and is held rigid to avoid pain … resulting in the lower jaw not moving during the flexing of the poll … the tongue becomes lodged at the back of throat or is pushed forward out of mouth … muscles of the poll become tight and stressed … stress in the poll causes the neck to stiffen … a tight neck and poll cause the head to elevate when contact is taken and the muscles of the back hollow and become tight and sore.

Every event in this chain may not occur all the time but you can see how routine dental care affects more than just teeth.

“For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe the Horse was lost;  and for want of a Horse the Rider was lost; being overtaken and slain by the Enemy,  all for want of Care about a Horse-shoe Nail.”    ~ Benjamin Franklin,  Poor Richard’s Almanack,  June 1758

Equine Massage and Bodywork is not intended to replace veterinary care.

Pulsing Magnetic Blanket

Pulsing Electro Magnetic Frequency therapy (PEMF) has been in use for more that 30 years in both equine and human sports medicine and has proven time and again to be an effective modality in the treatment of chronic conditions that cause pain and discomfort to muscle and tissue.

Pulsed Magnetic Blanket

Respond System’s Sentry PMF Blanket

All cells that make up tissue or bone have a natural electrical current flowing through them. These currents are caused by electrically charged particles called ions which flow in and out of cells and regulate cell activity.

Magnetic therapy applies a magnetic field to the body that sends a weak electrical signal to cells which influence their interaction with ions and regulate their functions.  PMF initiates biological reactions leading to acceleration of the healing process and recovery time of overworked and fatigued muscles, tendons and joints.

The Sentry PEMF blanket system, by Respond Systems Inc., has been chosen by the most discriminating owners and trainers of jumpers, dressage, driving and three day event horses. The US Equestrian Team takes the Sentry magnetic blanket with them to world class venues where they help to keep the horses supple and sound.

Indications for treatment include sore backs, arthritis, stiffness, poor circulation, joint problems, tendon or ligament injuries. PMF therapy helps all horses – from the elite equestrian competitor to the once a week trail horse.

I’ve added the magnetic blanket to my massage and bodywork and am excited in the difference it’s making with all the horses I work with.

Equine Massage and Bodywork is not intended to replace veterinary care.

Equine Core Muscle Development

Exercises for Building Your Horses Core Muscles.

The most common concern I hear from horse owners is, “I think his back is sore”, and usually the owner is right. Nature just didn’t design the horse to carry the weight of a rider over the weakest part of his anatomy. His back.

Think of the structure of a horse as a suspension bridge. The four legs are the vertical pillars and his center top-line as the long suspension cable that supports all the weight below. This includes the ribs, the internal organs of the thoracic and abdominal cavities, and the muscles around the barrel.

Now, add a riders weight on top of that cable and the physical effect will be to sag or hollow in the back. In dressage and other disciplines, we ask our horses to come under with their hind end and round their backs. This shifts the weight off their forehand (where 60% of the horses weight is carried) toward the rear, makes the horse balanced, more supple, responsive and lighter in our hands. For the horse to comply, he must be able to counter the physical force of the rider’s weight, remain balanced, soft,  and do this through three gaits and their transitions. If this is what we ask from our horses we must be prepared to invest the time with them for proper training and conditioning.

No matter what equine discipline your horse participates in, exercises that help to improve flexibility and strengthen core muscles groups are beneficial to your horse when performed correctly and as part of a regular routine. Below are three easy-to-do stretches for your horse. Do these after your horse has worked and is warmed up so blood flow is already increased to the muscles and they are warm. Do NOT do these stretches on cold muscles. Do equally on both sides and observe any differences. Be patient and go slowly and with consistency and routine you will see the difference. Always keep your safety and the safety of your horse in mind when performing these exercises.

The Neck Stretch

Neck Extension

  • You can use a rope across a doorway to prevent him from walking forward if you like. An open stall door is probably too tall.
  • Using a carrot, encourage him to reach forward
  • Keep the carrot at chest level for maximum effect on his back muscles.
  • Hold for 5 – 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • This exercise flexes the muscles of the neck and relaxes the long muscles in the back. It stimulates the abs and muscles surrounding the scapula and shoulder. Great for horses doing collected work.
The Head Between Legs

Between the Legs

  • Using a carrot, encourage your horse to lower his head down and then between his front legs.
  • Keep the carrot close but just out of reach of his lips to create a smooth transition downward.
  • Hold for 5 – 10 seconds. – Repeat 3 times.
  • This exercise flexes the muscles of the neck and back, contracts the abdominal muscles to lift the back and flexes the thoracic vertebrae. Muscles through the neck, withers and chest, flex to lift the chest up and between the should blades.
The Head Low and Toward the Hock

Low and toward the hock

  • Using a carrot, with your back to his side, lead the horse’s head down and across your knee.
  • Keep the carrot close but just out of reach of his lips to create a smooth downward movement.
  • Hold for 5 – 10 seconds. – Repeat 3 times.
  • As he gets good at this, move closer to his tail.
  • This exercise flexes the muscles of the neck and back, contracts the abdominal muscles to lift the back and flexes the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. It will improve suppleness though the neck and shoulder junctions.

If you are unsure about how to how to do these stretches for equine core muscle development, seek the advice from you vet or massage therapist. These stretches and other massage techniques are not to be used as a substitute for regular veterinary care.

To Download a PDF of these exercises ~ Click Here: BKEM-stretches-2014

Your horse’s ability to hide pain

We’ve all heard that horses are a flight or fight animal. That means that our equine friends are hardwired by nature and genetics to flee and run at the first sign of danger or fight. But fight is their last resort as they are not equipped with claws, sharp teeth or other means to incapacitate a predator. So, they run when presented with danger or the unknown in order to survive.

Newborn foals are on their feet within an hour and able to move with their dam and the herd in the event a predator should appear. This ability is by design not by accident.Donegan

How often have you presented your horse with a new object, obstacle, place, or situation and his first reaction is to brace, put on the brakes, back up, etc. It happens all the time and we’ve all learned how to handle those situations.

The second line of defense in nature is your horse’s ability to hide pain.  But do you know what to do when your horse engages this secondary defense mechanism? Probably not, because there are no obvious outward signs when it’s in use until it’s acute.

In the wild, if a horse were to start to show lameness, pain and lag behind, the herd would ostracize him and leave him behind for predators.  No horse wants that, so they mask and hide the outward appearance of problems and do their best to keep up.

Obviously, when the pain gets to be overwhelming and the horse can no longer hide it, he will begin to show outward signs of the pain in lameness or other and nature takes its course.

One of the most painful situations for a horse is colic and experienced horseman learn to recognize the signs. Some of the signs of colic include pawing, bloating, rolling, sweating, distress or loss of interest in food. If you ever observe these signs in your horse, don’t hesitate, call your vet. Colic can be deadly if not treated quickly. Colic is acute pain and beyond the horse’s ability to mask the signs.

But what about other aches and pains that are not acute: Stiff or sore muscles from the workout the day before or a slightly knotted muscle from over reaching or taking a jump too long. How do you recognize the signs of that type of pain?

A horse in motion is like a wave in the ocean – a constant wave moving gracefully across the ground. Interrupt that wave, and that motion or ability to perform at 100% is changed and diminished.

The muscles of a horse aren’t that different from yours. They represent nearly 60% of his total body weight and is the system responsible for motion.  Just like your muscles, a horse reacts to overuse, overstretch or over load of the muscle – first by tightening, followed by spasm.

A muscle has two movements. It contracts and it releases. Both are required to move a joint through its normal range of motion. It’s called reciprocating.  When one muscle flexes to move a bone, another muscle is releasing to allow it to move.

A muscle in spasm can’t fully contract or release and that interrupts the  free flow of motion. As such, the most overlooked factor in diminished performance is muscle tightness. A bit of knotted muscle no larger than the tip of your finger, that’s not able to perform its normal function, can destroy the synchronization of motion needed for 100% performance. Have you ever wondered why he’s not extending like he was, or he seems to lack power behind?

High Patriot & Mara Dean Photo by Cora Cushny

High Patriot & Mara Dean
Photo by Cora Cushny

Unaware of the knot, you continue to ask him for the same level of performance you’re used to, and he gives it.  But in order to give it, he compensates by asking the next muscle or group of muscles in line to do a little more because of the injury “up stream”.

Now this muscle group is being over used… and it spasms… and the spasm and tightening cascades from one muscle to the next until no amount of compensation will help. The desire to give what’s being asked overwhelms him and he pulls up injured. Now, you have a problem.

We tend to pay more attention to legs and tendons than any other part of the horse’s anatomy.  Tendons are the extensions of muscles and connect the muscle to the bone. But the tendon represents only ten percent of the stretching ability in a leg. The other 90% is from the muscle.  So, why don’t we pay more attention to the muscles?  We should and we can.

Here are some signs to watch for:

Short on forward movement                      Stiff to one side or the other

Off on a circle – OK on the straight            Switching or refusing lead

Jumping flat                                            Shortened Stride

Sore or ‘cold’ back                                   Restricted lateral bending

Scuffing with a hind leg                            Doesn’t track straight


Whether you hack out on trail or you are a serious competitor, a maintenance schedule of equine massage and body work is recommended.  Massage restores proper motion to a malfunctioning muscle and when all muscles are functioning as they should, your horse can work at his total potential.

Not only is it beneficial to the well-being of your equine partner, it will prevent injury. Don’t let a small group of muscle fiber, knotted or in spasm, keep your horse from performing at his total potential.

I love this quote from Poor Richards Almanac, a great example of an innocuous problem that leads to a rider’s demise.

“For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe the Horse was lost; 
and for want of a Horse the Rider was lost; being overtaken and slain by the Enemy,  all for want of Care about a Horse-shoe Nail.”
~ Benjamin Franklin,  Poor Richard’s Almanack,  June 1758


Bob Keller
Equine Sports Massage

Equine sports massage and bodywork is not a substitute for regular veterinary care.




Get Your Dressage Horse to Stretch Down into Contact

FEI dressage rider and trainer Jerry Schwartz gives you a six-step plan for asking your horse to stretch down into the contact.

One of the most valuable early lessons in dressage is teaching your horse to stretch down while maintaining contact. Not only does it confirm and improve his contact on the bit, it also provides you with a valuable tool for rewarding and relaxing him. First introduced as a movement at Training Level, it’s something you’ll use every day in your training no matter what level you’re riding. So, it’s all the more important that you don’t take any shortcuts teaching your horse to do it.

Step 1: Start at the rising trot on a 20-meter circle.

Step 2: Keeping your upper body balanced, squeeze your legs in rhythm with hour horse’s stride, thinking of pushing him forward into the bridle. As you use your legs, squeeze both hands on the reins, then immediately relax your hands, but don’t drop contact.  Read More . . . .

Relieve Your Horse’s Back Tightness with Massage

from Practical Horseman

You can address some types of back pain in your horse with a safe, simple sports massage technique.Jwilson

How do you feel and behave when you get out of bed in the morning with tight or painful back muscles? Chances are you move stiffly or tentatively and your range of motion is restricted. Until you get relief, you don’t have your usual enthusiasm for normal tasks.

It’s much the same for your horse when his back muscles are stiff or hurting. He may

  • flinch or sink away when you’re saddling him;
  • travel with his head elevated and/or his back hollowed;
  • canter less freely than usual;
  • experience a decrease in coordinated power;
  • trail his hind end rather than stepping under himself;
  • jump flat rather than with a rounded bascule;
  • drift sideways, either on the flat or over jumps;
  • resist lateral work.

One thing your horse will not do as a response to back pain or tightness, by the way, is buck. ~ Read More . . .