Equine Foundation Massage Week 2



This week we are looking at the psychological effects of massage. Whilst many people focus on the physical effects, these are not entirely separate to the psychological and in fact the closer we look at how massage works, the more obvious it becomes that the physical and psychological effects complement each other.

  1. Increase the bond

When we experience massage, either as the recipient or as the therapist, we release a chemical in our bodies called OXYTOCIN. Oxytocin is also called the bonding hormone as it is released in very large quantities when animals and humans give birth and feed their young. It is also present in larger amounts when people experience the feeling of being “loved” and of course, if we feel loved then we feel a strong bond with the person we associate that feeling with. Simple touch will stimulate a strong nervous system response, indeed people who live alone with no physical contact are statistically far more likely to suffer depression. It has even been shown that baby monkeys given comfort but no food live longer than baby monkeys given food but no comfort….. TOUCH IS THAT IMPORTANT TO LIFE!

While your horse may not be able to articulate a feeling of love for you, he or she will still experience an increase in oxytocin levels which combined with other chemical changes, results in deep relaxation and builds trust between horse and masseur. And it isn’t all one way, as you providing the massage will also get a boost in oxytocin. It’s a win win situation and develops the bond between you and your horse.

So can you see that by improving the bond between you and your horse, you improve his or her relaxation and physical well being too?

  1. Lift the spirits

Have you heard of the runner’s high? It is due to an increase in chemicals called ENDORPHINS which sit on little receptors in the brain and produce feelings of happiness, joy, calm and contentment. Various activities can stimulate this release, and massage is one of them. Endorphin release also tends to limit the release of another chemical adrenalin. Adrenalin is the fight or flight hormone, the one which makes your heart race and makes you feel a little sick when you are about to do something new or frightening. When a horse is producing adrenalin, his or her brain is going into fight or flight mode and it is difficult for the horse to moderate this. While we might be able to reason with ourselves, the horse cannot. Using massage to increase endorphin release can help to negate the release of adrenalin over a period of time, so a horse can learn a new way of responding to a certain situation. It is not an instant fix though, as the horse as a species would not have survived without such an effective adrenalin response to perceived danger.

A horse who regularly gets very high level of adrenalin release will likely have tense muscles generally. By increasing endorphin release and calming the horse, physical changes in muscle tension can also take place.

  1. Combat the stress

Studies in humans have shown that massage results in a reduction in a chemical called ACTH or adrenocorticotrophic hormone. ACTH is formed into cortisol, commonly known as the STRESS HORMONE. When we experience a potential threat, the brain stimulates the release of ACTH and cortisol. However, when levels of cortisol are high for a prolonged period of time, this causes damage to the brain and increases the chance of depression. In horses, chronic cortisol production is associated with stereotypic behaviours such as weaving, cribbing and wind sucking. By reducing the levels of cortisol circulating the body, the potentially damaging effects on the brain and other systems of the body are also reduced. When combined with the production of endorphins and oxytocin, the psychological effects of massage are clearly promoting feelings of well being, deeper bonding and reduced stress.

By improving the psychological welfare of your horse, you enable the physical effects to be maximised and your horse benefits from feeling better all round….


Last week we looked at the various checks you should make to ensure your horse is in good health before carrying out massage. This week, watch the video on health checks and then carry out these checks on your horse.



This week we are focussing on assessing tension in the back and hindquarters of your horse. You will need to watch the accompanying video and we would advise you do this several times and take some notes as well. As we said last week, do not panic if you don’t think you can feel anything to being with. It will take time for you to build up your skills and confidence. Instead concentrate on how your horse reacts to what you are doing and use this as a guide. Remember that the more often you put your hands on your horse, the more relaxed he or she should become which will help you to feel more. Just doing five minutes assessment every day this week will make a big difference to your sensitivity and your horse’s receptiveness.

Once you have practised assessing the back and hindquarters, put this together with last week’s assessment of the neck and shoulders too. Write down the reactions that you observed in your horse.



This week we begin our massage, using a light and gentle sweeping stroke over the whole body of your horse. Watch the video here, make your own notes and then go out and try this on your own horse. Keep your movements slow and careful and remember to watch your horse’s reactions to gauge how or she is feeling as you go along.



  1. Read through all the course notes for this week, making sure you understand the information given to you.
  2. Look back at your notes from Week One for any potential health issues your horse might have. Practise your health assessment of your horse including taking the temperature, pulse or respiration rates as shown in the video.
  3. Watch the video on assessment of the muscles in the back and hindquarters, make notes and then try doing the same on your horse. Put this together with last week’s assessment of the neck and shoulders. Write down the reactions he or she gives you.
  4. Watch the video of massage, make your own notes and practise on your horse.