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Healing Touch | Fall 2015 Out Here Magazine

Equine massage therapist Richard Valdez uses massage therapy to relieve pain and inflammation caused by strain injuries and issues caused by different kinds of riding disciplines.

Equine sports massage therapy good for a horse’s body and soul

By Colleen Creamer

Photography by Mark Mosrie



Early in his career as a certified equine massage therapist, Richard Valdez got a request from a horse trainer to look at a racehorse with a shoulder issue.

“After finishing dead last in the last several events, this was the last-ditch effort,” Valdez says. Indeed, the trainer didn’t put much stock in a “spa service” for a horse, but she was desperate.

“I worked on the horse a couple of sessions before his next race,” Valdez recalls. “I arrived at the barn the week following the race and the trainer was ecstatic. She told me that not only had the horse finished the race, but he won by several lengths.”

Whether your equine companion is a stakes winner or a beloved trail pony, he or she can benefit from equine sports massage therapy, one of the newer practices in the health care of horses. Forward-thinking experts, such as Valdez, of Columbia, Tenn., who sees about 1,000 patients each year, believe it’s not only a sound idea, but also a humane idea.

Massage therapy can be used in all riding disciplines: Jumpers experience shoulder and neck trauma; racehorses feel the cumulative effects of running in the same direction; dressage horses may develop issues related to the exacting movements of that discipline; and endurance horses compete in grueling, long-distance events.

Massage, he says, is preventive. “Prevention is really important because most strain injuries are cumulative in nature,” he explains.

When he assesses a horse, Valdez narrows down where the issue might be. He begins with some reassuring movements over the hips. Then he will “rock” the horse back and forth.

“I do that to assess how they are responding to shifting their weight,” he says.

Valdez uses no tools — only his fingers, palms, shoulders, and elbows.

“Horses mimic people very well as far as problem areas: low back, neck, behind the shoulder, in front of the shoulder,” he says. “There are a whole host of things that could be causing soft tissue problems, and if it’s soft tissue, you'll see a drastic improvement. If there’s a joint problem going on, that’s another issue.”

Some of the signs that your riding horse may be a candidate for massage are: shortened strides; wrong canter lead; limping; stiff on one rein; head carriage issues; problems moving laterally; bucking or rearing; and toe dragging.

Valdez is working on some methods for one-day clinics where people can learn to recognize signs of soreness and apply a few basic techniques. On a deeper level, he maintains, massaging your horse regularly can develop more trust and a deeper connection.

“When a horse knows that you are working on him or her to help them, they will come to you when you step away. I think it’s a really cool thing for riders to learn to have that kind of relationship with their horses,” Valdez says. “And your horse will be happier and healthier.”


Colleen Creamer specializes in equine writing.

Fall 2015 Out Here Magazine Home Page