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Do's and Dont's of Equine Massage

The atmosphere in which you work will directly influence the efficacy of the massage. What follows are some suggestions for making massage treatment safe for both you and your horse.


  • Do evaluate the horse’s health by checking his vital signs (pulse, temperature, eyes, breathing, etc.). Be sure there are no contraindications.
  • Do work in a large space, free from obstacles. Remove distracting objects such as boxes, shovels, blankets, and ropes.
  • Do keep small pets away.
  • Do avoid small stalls. Use the barn aisle or an arena, or work outside if weather permits, preferably in the shade. Windy conditions disturb horses.
  • Do maintain a soothing atmosphere: not too much traffic, not too many noises. Eventually you may play peaceful, quiet music.
  • Do have somebody hold the horse by the halter or the lead rope.
  • Do secure your horse between cross-ties if no one else is around, although cross-ties will restrict head motion and interfere with relaxation. It is preferable to allow the horse complete freedom of head movement since this promotes better relaxation and permits more feedback signals.
  • Do clean your horse before starting a massage.
  • Do begin massage with a very light pressure and progress to deeper strokes.
  • Do keep your fingernails short, and avoid wearing jewelry.
  • Do keep talking to the animal throughout the treatment.
  • Do pay attention to feedback signs from the ears, eyes, feet, tail, etc.
  • Do keep records of your observations and the types of treatment you give.
  • Do establish a treatment and exercise schedule for the following weeks, or until recovery.


  • Don’t disregard the physiological signs of contraindications.
  • Don’t work in a narrow space. This is dangerous if the horse suddenly moves or panics due to outside influences (loud noises, falling objects, storm, etc.).
  • Don’t stand between a horse and a wall as you work because you can be squeezed.
  • Don’t allow loud music, commotion, or smoking, especially when dealing with an auditory animal.
  • Don’t allow cats, dogs, or other pets to wander around your work area. Prevent that intrusion before starting treatment.
  • Don’t work a dirty horse with mud or manure on his body.
  • Don’t work hastily, too quickly, or too forcefully.
  • Don’t wear jewelry, have long fingernails, or wear heavy perfume.
  • Don’t stop speaking to the horse; he needs praise and reassurance.
  • Don’t talk loudly or shout.
  • Don’t talk to somebody else while working. It will affect your concentration and the quality of your work. The horse will definitely feel the difference.
  • Don’t use heavy pressure to begin with.
  • Don’t ignore the horse’s body language.
  • Don’t be angry or in a bad mood when working on the horse.
  • Don’t think negatively.

Safety Tips
When working closely with horses, follow these safety guidelines:

  • Wear large-size clothes to give yourself freedom of movement.
  • Wear strong boots. You could be stepped on.
  • In cold weather, keep your fingers warm by wearing leather riding gloves while giving a massage. The leather is thin enough so that you do not lose “touch” quality. If you only want to warm up your animal with some wringings, shakings or tapotements as described in chapter 3, you can wear warm mittens, but it is better to work with bare hands. Some people like to wear gloves at all times to protect their skin. This is fine so long as your gloves are thin enough to allow you to feel the quality of your touch.

Understanding how to properly approach your horse for massage will secure best results. Observing the Do’s and Don’ts of this practice will maximize the efficiency of your massage sessions. This overall knowledge will give you confidence during your home-care program application. Please read the article on the Do’s and Don’ts of home care practice to maximize your expertise.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found the information useful.  My goal is help you provide quality home care for the benefit of your animal.

Please visit our FREE library. Our many articles address important aspects of animal wellness and fitness. Take the time to scroll through our free library to find out how you can actively contribute to your horse’s wellness.

Animal Awareness also offers a large video library with over a 100 mini-videos that will show you how to easily perform the various massage and stretching techniques talked about in this article, and more. These videos offer you the correct start and visual guidance. With this knowledge, you will be able to develop a good home care program for the benefit of your animal friend.  He will love you for it.

Enjoy your new Awareness!

Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, LMT

If you are just starting with your home care program, consider our “Introduction to Animal Massage” package,a 20% discount value on the first 7 DVDs, to secure a sound foundation in your animal massage skills. Then take advantage of our other packages to increase your knowledge of home-care protocols for the benefit of your horse(s).