Horseplay “University” Session 1: Equine Massage and Hoof Health

What an information-packed day we all enjoyed here at Horseplay Sanctuary last Sunday.

In the morning, Equine Therapist Lorna Bell instructed clinic attendees on the theoretical aspects of a range of therapies including massage, acupuncture, cold laser therapy and more. We discussed anatomy, the structure of muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones, the effect of exercise and injury, and how to mitigate the ill effects to keep horses limber and happy in their work.

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Lorna briefs the group, with Memphis modelling.

Then it was time to catch some horses and head up to the arena to practice what we’d learned (massage only!!!). As Lorna explained, with massage, the worst you can do is “nothing.” We humans are simply not strong enough to cause damage to a horse with massage (after all, we SIT on these lovely creatures). Not so with the other forms of therapy, of course, which should be left to the pros.

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Carmen and Carolyn practice on Sunny.

We tried out several massage techniques, working two to a horse in five-minute intervals until we’d massaged our volunteer equines from ears to tail. I worked with Sue on our Tennessee Walker Memphis. He’s a hard-working school horse in our therapeutic riding program and, as expected, we found a couple of ouchy spots, but were able to work them out easily.

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Henk loving his back massage!

Although he was apprehensive at first, within a few minutes Memphis had his head down low, eyes half closed, tongue flicking as he gently chewed, and finally rewarded us with a series of huge yawns. “The best compliment a horse can give you,” Lorna told us. When I looked around the arena, most of the other horses seemed to be loving their massages just as much.

This being spring, of course we ended up covered in horse hair, and the arena had six little hair islands where each of the horses had been standing as his or her students worked away.

Then it was back into the house for lunch and a comprehensive presentation on hoof health by Rodd Turnbull and Carmen Theobald of T&T Farrier Services. With illustrations, PowerPoint slides, a skeletal foreleg and rear leg anatomical cut-away, they covered everything from basic hoof structure and skeletal alignment to thrush, laminitis / founder, navicular, and the pros and cons of shoeing.

One of the most important take-aways for me was the importance of nutrition to a horse’s hoof health – both in terms of horses carrying too much weight, making them prone to laminitis, as well as lack of essential nutrients leading to weak feet. With rescue horses, of course, we see the effects of poor nutrition all the time, and know how long it takes to re-build a horse from the inside-out. Carmen and Rodd’s presentation provided useful tips on helping horses gain and maintain optimal hoof health.

We all know the proverb “No hoof, no horse!” Everyone who attended the clinic is now much better equipped to make sure our horses have strong, healthy feet.

Thanks to everyone who attended the clinic, and thank you most especially to our three expert clinicians who shared their time and wisdom with us so generously, with all proceeds from the clinic donated to support Horseplay Sanctuary’s horse rescue.

Up next – First Aid with Dr. Catherine Hunnisett (Part 1 April 26th, Part 2 May 17th). Email horseplaysanctuary@gmail.com to reserve your spot.