Research on Massage as a Tool to Relax Racehorses

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Can equine massage help racehorse performance? One study seems to indicate that it could. Amy K. Dragoo

Editor’s note: According to the AAEP horse owner survey, the top three things that horse owners want from vets are 24/7 coverage, a veterinarian who values them and their horse and communicates well, and a practitioner who keeps up with medical advances. Watch for Keeping Up articles in EquiManagement magazine and on our website.

Massage as a Tool to Relax Racehorses

Horses in training—and especially purebred Arabian horses—often experience stress related to their training regimens and management. A study published in the Animal Science Journal (2016 Sep 4, Kowalik et al), examined the effect of relaxing massage on the heart rates in purebred Arabian horses during their first racing season. Just as massage relieves tension in people (who doesn’t like a massage?) the researchers wanted to examine if similar anxiety relief could be achieved in horses.

Both the control and the experimental group of 72 horses in the study were in race training six days a week, with the experimental group of horses massaged three days a week. Heart rate and heart rate variability—considered as indicators of emotional state—were evaluated every 4-5 weeks for a total of six measurements. To assess heart rate variability, the HR was taken during different states: a) at rest; b) during grooming and saddling; and c) during a warm-up mounted walk.

The study concluded: “Changes of the parameters throughout the season suggest that relaxing massage may be effectively used to make the racehorses more relaxed and calm. Moreover, the horses from the experimental (massaged) group had better race performance records.”

Editor’s note: You might consider whether your practice should partner with an equine massage therapist, or perhaps get training for one of your staff members or techs, and offer massage as a relaxation tool for your equine patients. It might make their owners happier, too!

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