Keeping the Winter Horse Happy from Emerald Equine Massage

IMG_3958.JPGWinter weather is knocking on our door fronts, which means it’s time to start thinking about all that goes along with winter horse care and stable management. As you begin to pull out your heavier weight blankets and contemplate fixing that heat lamp in the cross ties, keep in mind that there are a few simple things that you can do daily to help your horse’s muscles when the temps drop.

Effluerage – One of the greatest things you can do to help your horse’s muscles warm up before a ride is to perform a stroke we call “Effluerage” in the massage world. This is best done right after grooming and before saddling. Simply use the palm of your hand with light to medium pressure to make long slow strokes from the withers, along either side of the spine, to the hind. Repeat this stroke 5-10 times on each side. You can then change the direction and run your hand perpendicular to the spine as well, starting at the withers and working your way backwards with each stroke. By doing this, you are warming the tissues of the Longissimus Dorsi muscle, which runs lengthwise on their side of the spinal column. After saddling, you can also perform Effluerage on the neck, the limbs, and hind to help warm up the muscle fibers throughout the body.

Warm Up and Cool Down – We all know we should warm up our horses (and ourselves) before intense workouts, but in the winter months it is extremely important to make sure to warm up gradually. I recommend at least 5 minutes of walking, which usually begins as a sluggish jaunt and develops into a forward march as the warm up progresses. If you have a hot horse, or one that just seems to be feeling his grain a bit more than usual, this can be done on a lunge line or (my favorite) simply hand walking. I like hand walking personally because it allows the rider to warm up as well, and allows the horse and rider team to begin to become in sync with each other’s gait rhythm, even while out of the saddle. Cooling down is equally important, and horses should walk briskly for at least five minutes to cool down before heading back to their stalls / pastures. This article in Equine Wellness Magazine has great tips for further warm up and cool down ideas.

Dealing with Sweat – Make sure you have the proper equipment to handle a sweaty horse if you’re pursuing intense training sessions. My favorite option is to immediately throw on an Irish Knit Sheet (Centaur makes some great ones), and a fleece cooler over it. The Irish Knit helps wick away moisture while the fleece cooler keeps the horse warm while its sweat is drying. Once your horse has dried, you can take the layers off, groom, and throw their normal blanket on (if you choose to blanket your horses during the winter). Keep in mind that a horse that sweats has lost a bit of water and electrolytes, so remember to keep the water buckets full, as you may have a thirsty pony.

Massage – Full body massages are an excellent way to keep your horse’s muscles healthy and active throughout the winter months. Massage sessions have been proven to help prevent injuries do to inflexibility in cold muscles, and can help ensure your horse’s body returns to competition readiness in the least amount of time possible come spring. Emerald Equine Massage, based in Western Washington state, is happy to book appointments throughout the winter months. To book an appointment or for more info, email Kara at

Happy winter riding to all!

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