Our practice philosophy
We are human and equine sports therapists. We are professional saddle consultants for both English and Western saddlery. Don has 40+ years of experience working hands-on with high performance equine athletes, which include Kentucky Derby winners and Olympic contenders.
In our opinion and experience, a healthy, strong back is imperative for correct biomechanical movement. In other words, if one has back pain their movement is compromised and undue stress is placed on other muscles/joints of the body. It is also true that there are situations where pain in another part of the body may be the cause of back pain.
In any athletic program the goal is to build speed, stamina, ability, and muscular strength while maintaining muscular flexibility and suppleness. This is why we are strong proponents of property fitting equipments, building core muscle strength and proper cross training exercises.
Healthy muscle tissue does not hurt. There are several types of athletic muscular pain:
The first kind of muscle pain is the kind that you want to see. This pain comes from a progressive exercise program that is within the individual’s ability. The pain is not extreme and generally resolves with rest. Bodywork helps the athlete recover quicker in these situations.
Another kind of muscle pain is due to overwork and overdevelopment of specific muscles. The muscles are strong, but have lost their flexibility and suppleness. We see this often in athletes that are in programs of repetitive stress. In people, examples would be tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. In horses, thoroughbred race horses in speed training frequently present with repetitive stress muscular issues. Bodywork can release these muscle restrictions so that the athlete can move on.
The third kind of muscle pain is due to weak, splinted muscles. This condition generally occurs when the individual repeatedly participates in an exercise program that is beyond their level of fitness. Or a program that neglects cross training and emphasizes one group of muscles and neglects the opposing muscles. This can also occur in horses due to improperly placed and ill-fitting tack. The back muscles splint to protect the spine. If the spine has been injured, the back muscles will remain splinted. Bodywork is helpful in these situations to get the individual out of muscular pain. Then the cause of the problem needs to be identified and eliminated and the individual needs a strength building program.
The fourth kind of muscle pain is splinted muscles due to compensation from pain in another part of the body. In people, chronic foot pain may result in painful gluteals and/or low back pain. We see this also in horses. Chronic front hoof/ ankle/knee pain will cause pain in the lower neck and shoulders. Stifle and hock pain can create back pain. In horses, we also see back pain creating the problems in the knees, ankles, hooves, stifles and hocks. Bodywork will help in these situations, but the root cause of the problem must be identified and corrected.
A fifth type of muscle pain comes from accidents. Horseplay in the paddock can result in muscular injuries. A slip and fall while on course can result in muscle injuries. Equine Sports Massage can help recovery from muscular injuries due to accidents.
The last kind of muscle pain comes not from an athletic training program, but from internal medical imbalances. Clearly these problems do not respond to bodywork.
Our approach to evaluation and treatment
When we take on an equine client with significant muscle issues, we recommend that the owner commit to a series of 3 bodywork sessions spread out over a 3 week period. We expect improvement after each session. Often, only 1 or 2 sessions are necessary. If the problems do not resolve after 3 sessions then we need to re-evaluate our approach and look at other parameters that may be causing the muscle issues.