Muscles in Horses: Recognize and Relieve Tension

Do you also find that happiness on earth really rests on horseback? All the worse if it just doesn’t work out with the riding because the animal doesn’t seem to want to, shows itself stubborn, and simply cannot calm down. One of the most common reasons for this is the horse’s tense muscles, especially when it is very active. Fortunately, you can help your darling with this problem.

Causes of Muscle Tension in Horses

As with many other diseases, the reasons can be very varied and different. For example, it is possible that the rider himself affects the horse’s muscles through ignorance or improper riding. Too long periods of stress or the wrong fit can be the cause of the increasing hardening of the muscles.

Inappropriate Equipment

Incidentally, the rider does not always have to blame for the incorrect load, a saddle that is too small, too big, or simply not fitting can be the reason. Normally it should be placed in such a way that the rider’s weight is evenly distributed over the horse’s back. If this is the case, the muscles are spared and tension is prevented.

However, even saddles that once fit may no longer be ideal at some point. The structure of the back can change as a result of (muscle) growth, changes in weight, or old age. To prevent muscle hardening in these cases, it is a good idea to have the saddle checked by a specialist at least once a year. If necessary, he can immediately upholster it so that it is properly seated again.

Genetic Malformations

Some horses are pre-marked for back abnormalities. Their physique is created in such a way that they tend to have a short back, a gooseneck, or simply overweight, for example. It is essential to take these predispositions into account when training and, if necessary, carry out a special back training session.

When buying a saddle, there are also special criteria to consider in these cases so that you do not overload your horse. It is best to get advice from a specialist and check the fit regularly. Also, pay attention to symptoms of tension.

Deficiency in Nutrients or Vitamins

Feeding can also be responsible for muscle tension. It is usually a lack of antioxidants – such as selenium or vitamin E – that cause problem with the horse’s muscles. These are usually responsible for neutralizing free radicals.

Those free radicals – if they stay active – lead to cell decay and tissue damage and can attack the cell membrane. Only if they are rendered harmless by antioxidants can the muscle cell and with it, the entire muscle structure is preserved.

Other Causes of Muscle Hardening

Well-known reasons for such problems are (like us humans) blockages in the joints. These often arise when the horse is lying in the box. A fall while training or playing in the pasture can also be the cause. This is especially true if the landing is very unfavorable. Often the pain worsens because the horse unconsciously tenses the muscles and thereby puts additional strain on them.

Toothache cannot be ruled out either. Because, as with us humans, these can not only lead to a loss of appetite, but also to a general dullness. If they are not treated in the same way, this is often the reason for the tension in the horse’s muscles.

Consequences If Not Treated

If an animal suffers from muscle tension over a long period of time, this can have other negative consequences in addition to persistent pain. The muscles are often not supplied with enough blood, among other things due to the hardening. As a result, there is also a lack of oxygen and nutrients, which the cells urgently need.

This leads to cell breakdown and in extreme cases can damage the skeleton and the spine if the horse is subjected to further stress. If the tension is not treated at all, it can go so far that the consequence is osteoarthritis. So be sure to pay attention to the symptoms!

Symptoms: This is How Tension Manifests Itself

Just like the causes, the symptoms of muscle tension can be very diverse. They can usually be recognized best on the lunge in the form of stiffness of the affected areas, imprecision of the rhythm, or even lameness. These occur because the joints lose their usual flexibility to bend as a result of the hardening. If you observe these signs, you now need to find out whether tension is really the cause or whether there is another reason.

The best way to do this is to palpate your horse’s muscle groups. To do this, simply stroke the muscle cord with the palm of your hand or with your fingers. If the muscles are relaxed, they will simply give way under a little pressure. If, on the other hand, your horse suffers from muscle tension, it is often unwilling to act, even repelling you from being touched.

You will also find that the muscles are hard and immobile. You can also check this on the lunge: Normally, the muscles vibrate with the movements. If they do not, this is a clear indication of hardening. To be on the safe side, the veterinarian or a specially trained equine physiotherapist should also be consulted.

Tense Muscles in Horses: Treatment

In order to loosen the muscles in the horse again, the cause of the tension must first be found and treated. Veterinarians and physiotherapists help because they can localize the pain and know which location indicates which reason. Once treatment has been initiated, the following measures can also be taken to help resolve the hardening.

Proper Feeding

As already said, a lack of antioxidants is often the cause of tension. You can prevent this by giving special mineral feed fortified with selenium or vitamin E. Amino acids (e.g. from spirulina) are also often effective additives.

In addition, over-acidification of the body is sometimes to blame for muscle hardening in the horse. You can prevent this if, for example, you avoid feeding breaks for more than 4 hours. The portion reduction of hay and silage, as well as grain and sugar, can also be beneficial.

A deacidification treatment is also often successful. It is particularly important that the horse drinks a lot because this is how the acid is released in the urine. Special herbs that have a laxative effect can also be used as a supplement.

Massage: Off to Horse Physiotherapy

As with us humans, a massage can be relaxing because it effectively relieves blockages and tension. However, it is often not easy for a layperson to find the right points and treat them in a targeted manner. Fortunately, there is horse physiotherapy for this.

The therapists know the horse’s muscles inside out and know exactly which treatment makes sense and when. Often hardening cannot be loosened by just applying pressure. Then warm red light, pads with fenugreek, or even osteopathic measures are used.

By the way, if you would like to do this yourself, you can also attend special courses or seek advice from your own therapist. However, you should only act yourself if you feel safe because wrong actions can sometimes make things worse.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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