Meet Michelle Murray, the lady behind Equine Sports Massage. Last month she comissioned a shoot to capture her at work - she wanted some lovely new images to go on her website and images that she could post to Facebook. Michelle also sponsors Jessie Kirby, so we thought that was a good place to start. The Huntercombe yard is very pretty, as are the ponies, of course!
Why should your horse have a massage?
Equine sports massage is the therapeutic manipulation of the body’s soft tissues that works to promote optimum muscle function. Equine athletes can benefit from massage in the same way that human athletes have for many years. From family pony to elite competition horse equine sports massage alleviates muscular tension and pain while promoting mental relaxation. The benefits are numerous:
Relieves muscular tension and pain
Improves suppleness and range of movement
Reduces adverse effects of training
Improves temperament and performance
Prevents stiffness following intense exercise
Encourages mental and physical relaxation
Aids recovery following injury
We began the shoot as Michelle would when she treats any of her clients horses - I always think it's best to run through the treatments as she would normally for me to get the most authentic shots. Apart from putting a nice clean jacket on, there was nothing else Michelle did differently!
A typical treatment...
A typical treatment begins by taking a full history of your horse followed by assessment of your horse both statically and moving in hand. High speed, slow motion video capture is used to examine your horse’s gait and movement and photos are taken to provide a record of your horse’s posture. A full body massage tailored to your horse’s needs is applied, including stretches and mobilisations as necessary. A first appointment takes approximately one and a half hours and subsequent appointments about an hour. After the massage a report will be emailed to you for your records, a copy may be sent to your vet if needed.
There's an assumption that horses only in full work or competing intensly will benefit from a massage. Michelle treats horses big and small, retired and competing internationally. Tom and Orlando are treated around every 3 weeks (more during busy times and close to competitions) or so and it's an important part of their routine to ensure they are kept supple enough. With this season being particularly busy, with an international planned almost every month, the boys really will benefit from their massages!
Michelle events herself and is based in West Berkshire. She covers Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire. Within a 30 mile radius of Pangbourne the fee is £40. Outside of this area a travel charge of 45p per mile is added.
How should massage be used in general maintenance of your horse?
Routine massage keeps muscles healthy maintaining strength and suppleness allowing your horse to perform to their optimum capacity. Tension can build up due to exercise and is transmitted from one muscle group to another preventing your horse from using his body in a supple balanced manner. By relieving muscular discomfort regular massage prevents compensatory movement which can lead to injury. In the event of injury massage can help the horse on box rested by maintaining flexibility and muscle tone and promoting mental relaxation.
Michelle is currently working hard to extend her knowledge, she's currently busy studying for some upcoming exams, with the focus being on performance and rehabilitation. It was really interesting chatting to her, I find things like this fascinating to learn more about! It was evident that keeping a horse fit and healthy involves many people:
What other professionals do you work with?
To maintain soundness and achieve optimal performance it is essential that the relevant professionals work as a team to care for your horse. The team includes your vet, farrier, saddler, therapist, rider, owner and trainer and communication between these individuals is essential to ensure the wellbeing of your horse.
Orlando really enjoyed his massage and you could see his whole stance and expression change as Michelle worked over the areas that were tighter. Although I think the favourite part of the treatment for both ponies had to be when the carrots came out for their stretches!
I have been working with the very talented young rider Jessie Kirby and her ponies Grayswood Orlando (Ginge) and more recently her new ride Cruz (Tom) for over a year. The ponies compete at elite level dressage and to ensure peak performance they have regular massage treatments at least twice a month and before every competition. This allows us to pick on any areas of muscular tension and ensure that they are always feeling at their best, in much the same way every elite human athlete uses sports massage as part of their training regime.
And one final question for Michelle:
Top tip from massage point of view to keep a happy horse?
My top tip is to get used to how your horse feels. Regularly, maybe when grooming, run your hands over your horse’s whole body and get used to the feel of the coat, the tone of the muscles and temperature. In this way, you will get to know what is and isn’t normal for your horse and will be able to call in the relevant professional before a minor issue becomes a problem!
Visit Michelle's website here: www.equinemassage.co.uk