Decoding Trigger Points with Emerald Equine Massage

Trigger Point Therapy

It’s nearly December, which means the days of No Stirrup November are almost behind us.  You and your horse are probably both thanking your lucky stars that you made it through the month!  But even if you didn’t participate in this grueling yearly right of passage, muscle tension and musculoskeletal issues are bound to develop in your horse throughout his career.  One of the most common issues we see as an equine massage therapists is the existence of trigger points in the belly of the muscles.  These sensitive points are painful and, if left untreated, can cause your horse to develop incorrect posture, muscle spasms, weakness, irritability, and even dysfunction.


So what is a trigger point and how do they develop?  Let’s break it down…

The first step in the formation of a trigger point is to have a muscle that is already exhibiting hypertonicity.  A hypertonic muscle means that it is tight, dehydrated, and literally has “too much tone”.  This can be caused by muscle fatigue, overuse, lack of hydration to the muscle, incorrect posture, and a number of other various reasons.  Since the muscle fibers are already hypertonic, when they contract they can get caught on nearby fibers as they move, causing a snag in the muscle that can be felt as a knot or lump.  This is the early stage of a trigger point.  As the muscle is repeatedly asked to contract and extend through movement, the sarcomeres (muscle fibers) continue to snag onto the trigger point, causing the area to grow.  Once a trigger point is developed, the area remains in continual contraction, even when the muscle is at rest.  This causes the segments in the trigger point to be closer together (basically snagged on top of each other), and the fibers on either side of the area to be stretched further apart.


One of the most interesting aspects of a trigger point is that once it has developed, a referral pattern of pain will develop as well.  This means that, although the area of the trigger point will be sensitive, it will also affect other areas of the body.  For instance, a trigger point in the Tricep  (the muscle attaching the bones of the shoulder to the bones of the upper leg) will cause the horse to exhibit pain in his back muscles, chest area, and even instability in the limb as far down as the pastern.  Because the whole body is connected it is not surprising that the musculoskeletal system functions in this way.


Unfortunately, trigger points are extremely common in horses, whether they are in work, on stall rest, or happily retired.  There are some common trigger points that therapists see often depending on the horse’s discipline and training, and I highly recommend anyone who wants to offer a release to their horse to book a session with a massage therapist.  The good news is that once the trigger point is treated, it should only take one session for it to disappear and the horse to find its fluidity of movement again!  Just keep in mind that as you are asking your horse for activity, it is likely that trigger points will continue to develop.  If you are in Western Washington and would like to schedule a session for your horse, email Kara at Here’s to happy, healthy equine partners!

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!

The Sleepy Pony; Understanding Sleep Deprivation in Horses


One question I get asked frequently by “non-horsey” people is “do horses really sleep standing up?”.  Most horse people would answer a firm “yes” to that question, but if we  dissect equine sleep patterns, we can only give a vague “yes but no” answer.  We’ve all seen horses doze off in a field or stall while standing up.  In order to sleep this way they are engaging their “stay apparatus”, an assortment of tendons and ligaments that allow them to rest easily on three legs with one hind leg cocked in order to make a quick getaway if a predator suddenly were to appear.  While horses do indeed sleep this way, they actually need to lay down in order to enter deep sleep (Slow Wave and REM sleep).  Horses do not need as much sleep as humans do, but they do require between 2-4 hours of sleep per 24hours, and that includes at least 30 – 60 minutes of deep sleep. For a more in depth article on horse’s sleep patterns, check out Erica Larson’s piece on Understanding Equine Sleep Deprivation.


Horses who do not regularly receive the minimum amount of sleep required to function properly can become sleep deprived.  There are countless stories circulating the horse world of horses and riders standing patiently at the in-gate or warmup area of a competition when suddenly a horse drifts off to sleep and nearly collapses.  Usually this horse will catch himself before he falls, and wake back up instantly.  This is a classic example of a sleep deprived animal.  Sleep deprivation may also show itself in a number of ways, including sluggishness under saddle, dozing while grooming or tacking up, and even expressing agitation or irritability towards things that normally wouldn’t upset them.  And although the cause of narcolepsy in horses has not been fully determined, there are theories that suggest that sleep deprivation can develop into narcolepsy if sustained over a long period of time.


So why do horses become sleep deprived, and what can we do about it?  There are two common factors that influence a horse’s ability to sleep during a 24-hour cycle.  The first factor is pain.  If a horse is having a musculoskeletal issue, there is a good possibility that they will avoid laying down, as it takes quite a bit of effort from the body to lay down and get back up again.  They also may not want to lie down on an area where they are injured or are experiencing pain.

The second (and most common) factor for why horses may develop sleep deprivation is environmental.  As prey animals, horses are extremely in tune with their environment and they will not allow themselves to relax into sleep if they feel a threatened or stressed.  This could exhibit itself when a horse moves to a new barn, arrives to show grounds, during inclement weather, or any other adjustments that may make the horse feel out of sync with its environment.  Along with this also comes the impact that we as people have on our horse’s ability to sleep.  If you’ve ever taken your horse to a competition, you know that the “show” never stops.  Even after the riders have competed, stalls must be mucked, tack must be cleaned, and there is busy activity well into the night.  Then at the very early hours of the morning, braiders arrive, the lights go on, music might start playing, and the day begins. Some barns even choose to leave a light or two on throughout the night, which can affect a horse’s ability to sleeps as well.


If your horse is exhibiting symptoms of sleep deprivation, you should first investigate what factors may be causing it.  Is the horse in a new situation that is stressful to him?  Does your horse have enough shavings to make laying down inviting?  What is the evening / nighttime activity like at the horse’s home?  (Many horses choose to sleep at night because that is when activity at the barn has come to a minimum, but horses can and do sleep during the day as well).  If you cannot rule out any of the above issues, then you should begin looking for symptoms of pain which may be causing your horse to resist laying down.


Massage can offer great benefits to horses who are not sleeping properly.  By engaging the Parasympathetic Nervous System (the system of the body that is responsible for sleep), massage can encourage a horse who is under a stressful situation to “rest and digest”.  Horses who receive regular massage sessions are known to be better equipped to adjust their sleep patterns, even in new environments.  Massage can also offer musculoskeletal relief from pain, which can encourage a horse with muscle pain to lay down.  Working out trigger points, stress points, and adhesions in the muscles allows the horse to move with less pain, which in turn allows them to lay down more freely.  Emerald Equine Massage is always happy to work with horses who are exhibiting sleep deprivation.


Fascia in Your Horse; What it is and Why You Should Care…


In this article:

  • The Mysterious Word
  • What Is Fascia
  • How Fascia Affects Movement
  • How To Ensure Healthy Fascia In Your Horse


If you have ever been exposed to equine bodywork in the past, or even if you have simply browsed websites looking for an equine massage therapist, chances are that you have come across the word “fascia”.  Bodyworkers love to talk about fascia in horses, and we may even throw words at you like “fascial restrictions” and “myofascial release”.  I will admit, the first time I was told a horse needed fascial work, I thought to myself “Is he saying my horse needs a facial? I don’t think insurance will pay for that…”  So what is fascia, and why is it so important to make sure your horse has a healthy fascial system?


In its simplest form, fascia refers to the connective tissue throughout the body.  Fascia is soft tissue that is made up of collagen, water, and different proteins, and can be found surrounding muscles, below the skin, around bones, nerves, organs, and may other areas of the body.  It is a web of connective tissue that has a number of different functions, including offering protection and structural integrity, absorbing shock, allowing for intercellular communication, and offering an environment for tissue repair after injury. Fascia can be found in nearly every area of the body and its functions are numerous.


When fascia becomes unhealthy, which can be a result of various causes, movement may lose it’s fluidity, and seem painful or stiff.  If left untreated, the horse will begin to compensate for this in other areas of the body, which can effect posture and the horse’s overall way of going.  If fascia has been damaged, it may cause inflammation and extreme pain, but even if it is simply dehydrated, the horse’s movement will be affected.  For a more in depth article about fascia, with an incredible video of how it affects the body, check out Dr. Hedley’s article “Fascia and How It Affects Your Horse’s Movement”.


Movement is the key to keeping fascial restrictions at bay in your horse, and stretches can also be a powerful influencer for maintaining healthy fascia.  One of the most valuable things you can do for your horse’s fascial health is to schedule regular bodywork sessions.  Equine massage can influence fascia in profound ways and keep your horse pain free and moving smoothly.  If you think your horse may be exhibiting fascial issues, I suggest you call an equine massage therapist for an assessment. Having been trained in fascial care, including Myofascial Release (Muscular Fascia), I make sure to incorporate fascial care into my massage sessions regularly.  This enables me to keep a running tab on the health of my client’s fascial system, and allows for the prevention of fascial restrictions. Emerald Equine Massage Therapy is happy to book appointments for clients in the Western and Central Washington areas.


Transitioning Your Horse to The Off-Season with Emerald Equine Massage Therapy


The leaves are beginning to turn in the Pacific Northwest, marking the coming of Fall. For many, this is a busy season of returning to the routine of daily life, but for horse owners, it usually marks the winding down of competition season. Transitioning your horse from a heavy competition training schedule to lighter work can be a rewarding time, but it can also place a different set of stressors on the animal.

When routine changes, horses can become bored, anxious, and even depressed. The changing of the seasons and decreased workout schedule can also cause a disturbance in their circadian rhythms, altering their sleep habits. And as the Fall weather moves in, many horses spend significant time in stalls, restricting movement and impacting their digestive and circulatory systems. Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure your horse’s transition goes smoothly:

Slow and Steady – The best way to transition a horse into a rest period is to do it gradually. Take about two weeks to make the full transition, making the workouts less intense each session. When you’ve reached those two weeks, make sure to keep your horse’s muscles working throughout the down time by asking for small sessions of work at least twice a week. Not only will this assist in continual fitness and soundness during the off season, but it will also contribute to an easier transition back to pre-season training when Spring approaches.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat – Keep a routine for your horse as much as possible, horses feel secure and thrive under repetitive schedules.

Give Your Horse A Job – If you have a horse that loves to work, it is important for his mental soundness that he continues to believe he is working during his rest period. This might mean an easy hack through the trails or playing around with fun ground training. A horse that loves to work can feel abandoned and confused when his work schedule diminishes suddenly.

Encourage Sleep – make sure your horse has a comfortable place to lie down, as horses do most of their REM sleep lying down. Check to see if your horse has experienced REM sleep by noticing any shavings on his upper body or looking for other indicators that he is laying down.

It’s All About The Feed – Make sure you take into account that your horse’s feed may need to be altered if he is going from consistent heavy workouts to a rest period.

MASSAGE THERAPY – Equine massage therapy has been proven to greatly assist horses during these transition times. It not only improves your horse’s muscular health, but it also enhances their digestive, immune, circulatory, and nervous systems. It can benefit your horse’s mental soundness as well, alleviating boredom, anxiety, and depression.  The benefits of equine massage truly are staggering, and it allows the horse to transition seamlessly between seasons.

For more information on Emerald Equine Massage Therapy or to book an appointment, email