Shea Massage

Equine Massage Therapy by Paula Shea

Benefits of Massage

Animals provide us with a lifetime of loving memories and compassion, and the best we can give them in return is to provide a wonderful home and attentive care to all their needs.  Regular veterinary care by a licensed and professional veterinarian is essential to your animal's health.  Massage therapy is an excellent option for supplementary care, to tone muscles, reduce stress, and promote overall well-being, benefiting both physical and emotional health.

It is simply amazing how much massage can enhance the lives of our beloved companions.  Old animals seem young again, and even young animals begin to move with increased flexibility and motion.  For certain afflictions, such as arthritis, your veterinarian may recommend massage as a supplemental approach to care (please always consult a veterinarian first).

In conjunction with proper saddle fitting and training, massage brings your horse to his or her full potential.


The following is a list of red flags that could indicate muscle knots or tension - does your horse do any of these?


___ stretching the neck excessively

___ difficulty in picking up the lead on one side

___ resistance to change leads

___ difficulty bending to one or both sides

___ holding the head unusually high or low when at rest or working

___ head tossing/shaking

___ pinning the ears back (other than temporarily expressing mood)

___ head shy, difficult to bridle or halter

___ flinches or pins ears when girth is tightened, or otherwise shows reaction

___ saddle often slips to one side when riding

___ resistance to extend legs; moves with short stride or appears lame at extended gait

___ frequently stands with one bent knee

___ appears sensitive or sore when grooming

___ resists backing up

___ resists sideways movement


The same benefits recognized in humans who receive massage therapy are true for animals.  Massage therapy additionally is a wonderful method of communicating with our animal companions, to express to them that they are loved and cared for, particularly if they have a history of mistreatment or trust issues.

Massage is an effective tool for managing stress, which translates into:

  • Decreased anxiety.
  • Enhanced sleep quality.
  • Greater energy.
  • Increased circulation.
  • Reduced fatigue.

Additional benefits of massage therapy:

  • Lessen muscle pain and increase range of motion.
  • Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow—the body's natural defense system.
  • Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles.
  • Help athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from, strenuous workouts.
  • Increase joint flexibility.
  • Lessen depression and anxiety.
  • Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation.
  • Reduce spasms and cramping.
  • Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles.
  • Release endorphins that work as the body's natural painkiller.

Nearly all dogs and horses benefit from massage, whether or not you have a specific "reason" for beginning sessions.  Horses are big, bulky animals - an large mass of muscles piled up on four skinny legs.  They have very limited flexibility in their backs compared to many other animals, even humans, and that is a large part of the reason why we see so many muscle-related problems in them.  Massage helps to stretch and work a horse in ways they cannot naturally do themselves, and undoes the stress that riding and groundwork incurs on them.  Many of the common vices seen in horses (see list above) can be avoided by proper care of their muscles, and furthermore massage can lessen the impact of certain health issues (please ALWAYS consult your vet first if you have medical questions!).  Just as with humans, massage has cumulative benefits, and routine massage (usually 1-2 times per month for maintenance) can make a huge difference in your horses's performance.

Dogs too can benefit greatly from massage.   If you are interested in canine massage, I encourage you to discuss your pet with me prior to scheduling.  I strongly suggest you commit to more than one session to decide if your dog is a good fit for massage.  The reason I say this is that unlike horses, who are used to standing still for humans for periods of time (e.g. grooming and tacking), dogs like to stay in motion.  If they have not received any kind of physical therapy or bodywork before, they may take some time to get used to the concept of being massaged.  For most dogs I have worked on, this takes about 3 to 4 sessions.  I am very patient and careful with my work, and always allow extra time for the first few canine massage sessions, knowing that it's quite likely your pet may get up and walk away for a few minutes more than once during the session.  I ask for you to be patient as well, and not be discouraged by the lack of 'instant gratification' as you wait for the benefits of massage to become clear.  If I feel your pet is NOT a good fit for massage, I will always give my honest opinion up front.


Disclaimer: massage therapy is NOT a substitute for proper veterinary care.  If your pet has any medical problems or concerns, they should be discussed with your veterinarian.  For any animal, it is advisable to ask your veterinarian if massage therapy is appropriate for your pet.

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