Shea Massage

Equine Massage Therapy by Paula Shea

Frequently Asked Questions


Equine Massage FAQ

Where will the massage session take place?
You may choose the location on your farm where you feel your horse is most comfortable.  This may mean in their stall, or in a quiet area of the barn or field.  A lead rope is generally preferred over cross-ties, as it allows more movement of the head and neck, but loose cross-ties are also acceptable. 

The massage may instead take place on showgrounds - before, between, or after your events.  This is an excellent way to calm horses who are nervous during shows, and address problems that are noted during schooling, such as headtossing or resistance to certain movements, to improve performance in the show ring.

What should I do to prepare for massage?
Please have your horse well-groomed and clean when the massage therapist arrives (dirt can interfere with massage and irritate the skin).  For those with high energy, it may be wise to exercise them prior to massage so they will be more likely to relax during the session.  Remove any blankets, boots, fly masks, etc.  Only a halter should remain.

Can I watch the session?
Of course!  Owners are welcome to be present and observe the entire session, and may ask questions.  However, you are not required to watch the whole session, so some owners prefer to attend to chores or hobbies instead.  You are asked to remain on the premises and be available if needed.  You may be asked to walk your horse before and/or after the massage.

What parts of the body will be massaged?
A full-body session includes work on the back, legs, neck, chest, abdomen, hindquarters, head and shoulders.  The massage therapist is trained to understand specific anatomy, including the location and function of important muscles.  All major muscle groups are addressed.  If a horse is shy or sensitive in certain areas, the types of strokes and level of pressure will be adjusted to accommodate.  After several sessions, most horses are more willing to have sensitive areas worked on.

Are there different kinds of massage and bodywork?
There are numerous types of massage and bodywork; various techniques utilize different strokes and methods.  Over time, Paula has developed her own unique massage sequence using influence from several modalities.  She primarily applies sports massage which addresses all major muscles, both superficial and deep.  Only hands are used - no instruments or tools - with a variety of strokes and degrees of pressure.  Specific pressure points are targeted, and for a particular animal, areas of the body requiring additional work will receive more focus and time.  Paula does not perform acupuncture or chiropractic treatment.

How often should massage be performed?
This answer really depends on the individual, and the owner's preference.  For most horses that are receiving massage as maintenance, about 1 or 2 sessions per month is recommended.  Competitive/performance horses may need more frequent massage to match their high level of work.  Older animals may also benefit from regular massage, as they are less able to work their muscles, and massage offers an opportunity to increase tone and flexiblity, much like exercise.

Are there any medical conditions that would make massage inadvisable?
Yes. That's why it's imperative that you ask your veterinarian if you have an medical questions or concerns.  While massage can help reduce pain from certain conditions, it may worsen other conditions (cancer, in particular, is not advised to be treated with massage as some studies suggest it could increase the chance of spreading).

Does massage feel painful?

In general, no.  During the massage session, while applying pressure to muscle knots, your horse may feel momentary pain before a feeling of release.  Remember though, these stress points were already causing your horse discomfort and pain; massage is the way of removing such discomfort.  Unlike certain other types of bodywork, massage leaves the animal feeling much better at the end of a session than at the start.

Can I ride my horse after the massage?

Yes!  One of the wonderful things about massage therapy is that there is little to no "recovery" time afterwards, and your horse can be exercised or ridden as usual.  This is why massage is so commonly used with racing and show horses on the days of events.  Keep in mind though that massage does work and tone muscles, so avoid heavy amounts of exercise so as not to overwork.

Rarely, a horse may feel stiff or sore for one to two days following a massage.  This is more common with older horses or ones that have a history of joint or muscle issues.  To prevent this after-massage stiffness, avoid putting your horse directly into a stall or field after the massage, and instead first walk him/her for at least 5-10 minutes.  Think of this as being a cool-down period after exercise.


Canine Massage FAQ

Most general questions about animal massage are answered above.  Two answers are different for dogs:

Where will the massage session take place?

Most often, the sessions take place in your home, but you may discuss other options if you have a preference (dog parks, etc.). Some dogs may be more willing to relax when they are in an environment other than their own home.  This may seem non-intuitive, but the reason is simple: dogs are naturally territorial (NOT synonymous with aggressive!) and more willing to behave in a submissive manner (which for massage, means more willing to lie still and relax for a session) when away from home.  For other dogs, they fully relax when in their own comfortable setting (e.g., on their favorite blanket/bed).

If you are a regular customer of a doggie daycare, groomer, or similar facility, Paula will gladly contact them on your behalf and  request to perform the massage session at that location.  Of course, this is not always possible, but sometimes can be arranged and work well for everyone.

How often should massage be performed?

The answer really depends on your dog, and the reason for choosing massage.  It's recommended to group the first few sessions closer together, as often as once or twice weekly, to help familiarize your dog with being massaged and see positive results sooner.  After that, Paula can suggest how often massage should be continued for maintenance - often once or twice monthly.  Recommendations are only suggestions; you as the owner make the final decision about how often you wish to schedule.


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