Treat Your Horse Like a Professional Athlete

Photo © Evelyn Szczepanek / ES Equine Photography

BY NICOLE BRIAN

If you look at professional human athletes, you will see that they have practices to stay in proper shape. They do certain therapies after each workout to help their body recover and prepare for the next practice or game. 

Let’s talk about baseball players. They have planned out schedules, including which games they will play in or be laid off so their bodies can be in and stay in peak performance for the entire year. They use old-school therapies like icing, massage, acupuncture, and liniment. They also use newer therapies like PEMF, tens unit, and laser therapy. Human athletes don’t just use some of these rehabilitation tools to rehab an injury—they’re for preventative care. 

So the question is—why are more horse professionals not doing the same? 

After years of showing all over the country, I got really tired and disappointed seeing lame and even sick horses put into the show ring. My trainer raised me to put my horse first. She would say, “If your horse isn’t moving right or feeling well, then he doesn’t show, simple as that.”

We never took shortcuts or used drugs to keep our horses going. I understand and believe that medication used properly is a good thing, especially for these horses that are traveling all over, show after show. I also believe that more use of therapies as preventative care can be very beneficial in the long run for our horses. We have to keep a very close eye on our horses and lay them up if need be to add longevity to their life. 

At the top levels of our sport, people spend countless amounts of money to have an edge and win, but at what cost? 

A pitching coach might pull a pitcher because he sees something in his pitch that he just doesn’t like. The pitcher may say he’s fine, but that coach knows he is seeing something. It’s better to save him from harm today and have many more years left in him. My thoughts are that I want my 20yr old horse to be just as happy and healthy as my 3yr old, granted with a few more miles and a lot of life under his belt. I understand that this is a business, but someone has to stand up for the horses’ best interest. Isn’t that why we all started down this road, for the love of horses? 

Of course, with all aspects of your horse’s care and your plans for rehabilitation or preventative care, I recommend you consult with your vet. Here are some of my favorite practices you can do yourself to treat your horses like the athletes they are.

Photo © Evelyn Szczepanek / ES Equine Photography

Icing 

Icing after exercise is a great way to help reduce inflammation and reduce cellular damage that can be caused by heat in their legs from leg boots or wraps worn during workouts. Inflammation can be present whether you see it or not. The name of the game is prevention. 

Liniment 

Liniment can help lessen sore and stiff muscles and prevent inflammation.

Therapy blankets 

There are several companies that put out blankets and other useful things like boots, wraps, saddle pads, etc. You should do your research and decide what is best for your horse and your program. I highly recommend a blanket. It helps warm up their muscles before a workout or competition and helps relax and relieve sore muscles after. Back On Track and Draper are two popular brands that I’ve had really good results from. 

Photo © Evelyn Szczepanek / ES Equine Photography

I also believe in the following therapies; however, you should hire a professional to provide these services. As always, it’s a good idea to consult your vet about them as well. 

Massage

Massage has many benefits—far more than I can list. The major take-home with massage is that it helps improve circulation. It also helps with range of motion. It can reduce stress and anxiety and can help enhance muscle tone. There are many other benefits, but they all help to prevent injury and provide overall good quality of life. You can do some basic massage yourself and bond with your horse; however, I do believe you should have a professional body worker come out and work on your horse. 

Acupuncture 

Acupuncture can relieve pain, anxiety, muscle soreness, and other sources of discomfort. People have many different opinions about acupuncture. I believe it can be a great tool to have in your toolbox for therapy. I have seen it really help some horses, but I do understand it’s not for everyone. I always advise using a vet or at least consulting your vet for this. 

PEMF

Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy works on the molecular level to improve cell health and promote proper cell function. In layman’s terms, it helps to improve the cell health so that the horse’s body can heal itself better. Good cell health also helps the body to heal faster and supports a better immune system. When done on a regular basis, you will usually see hair and feet grow faster, shiny coats, and overall better health. 

None of these therapies is a one-time fix. As with most things, with consistency, you will see your best results. Just like professional athletes, you have to put in hard work and dedication in order to get to and stay on top. Some of these therapies can be incorporated into your daily routine. In addition to the health benefits, you will get a little extra bonding with your horse, which is never a bad thing. 

If people are going to spend all this money to buy the best, compete with the best, and go to the biggest competitions, shouldn’t we spare no expense treating these horses like the professional athletes that they are?


Nicole Brian has been riding, showing, and then training for about 30 years now. She started out showing in the hunter/jumper world and has been able to travel all over the country competing at many different national championship shows. Nicole is a certified practitioner and continues to study and learn everything she can about horses and their health care.

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