Horse Disciplines

Damage to soft tissues is undoubtedly the most common cause of back soreness in the horse. The back involves a complex of muscles. The medical term is called the supraspinous ligament.

This ligament acts to extend and laterally flex the spine. Principal sites of damage are the withers (base of the neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions. The supraspinous ligament runs down the middle of the back and adheres to the thoracic (between the neck and the abdomen) and the lower back (lumbar) dorsal spine.

Because this area of the back is a ligament and not a muscle, recovery takes longer. Equine sports massage therapy addresses these problems and allows the horse to compete at his optimum level.

The nuchal ligament is part of the supraspinous ligament. The nuchal ligament originates at the poll and inserts at the withers and continues on down the length of the back and is called the supraspinous ligament. The nuchal ligament becomes very contracted during the stress of training.

With your hand on your horse’s neck, ask the horse to lower his head and you will feel the ligament “slide over” to the other side. This is a sign of tightness within the area of the lower back all the way up to the poll (behind the ears).

The following is a list of disciplines and the areas of stress that are created on the equine athlete.


Dressage requires flexibility along with controlled movements. The horse must be extremely sensitive to the rider’s aids. The majority of muscle problems occur in the lower part of the neck, shoulder, lower spine, pelvic area, and hocks. These muscle groups are in a constant state of tension. Spasms are common between the spine and hip joints. Collection will cause tension in the jaw area and develop stress points in the neck.


Jumpers suffer the most strain on their foreleg joints. Because of the enormous power these horses must generate from the hind end and the torque put on their hip joints executing constricted turns, they are prone to stress over the entire croup area.


Muscles in the shoulder and the lower back and hindquarters are stressed no matter how fit the horse is. These horses go for long distances over very rough terrain carrying the rider and the “gear”.

Barrel Racing

Starting from a standstill to a full gallop places major stress in the shoulder, ribcage and the hindquarters. There is also a major impact on the torso and joints when executing tight turns.


The backyard pleasure horse does not exert himself the way the competition horse does, therefore they become more susceptible to strains and tears. The problem area is usually the lumbar and hip joint areas. The rider should ride out at a walk for at least 30 minutes before proceeding to the trot. This ensures the muscles will be ready for work.

Pre-Event Massage:

Stimulates and invigorates the body
Increases muscle flexibility
Helps loosen tight joints

Post-Event Massage:

Assists in preventing muscle soreness
Helps to prevent cramping
Reduces post-event anxiety and stress
Assists the body to recover

Full Body/Maintenance Massage:

Improves performance
Increases flexibility
Increases range of motion
Separates muscle fiber