As a trainer, owner or breeder, naturally you want to win more races. There are scientifically researched holistic methods available to your equine athlete that is proven to increase range of motion, reduce muscle and fascia related pain. Guess what? These methods don’t violate any racing restrictions.
In addition to an effective training and conditioning program, along with veterinary care and a competent farrier, investing in a skilled bodyworker for the equine athlete can play a vital role to successfully achieving peak performance.
Requirements in Conditioning the Thoroughbred Racehorse
Conditioning consists of several key components. Trainers must consider what’s required for optimal functional movement. Without optimal functional movement, range of motion is greatly compromised. And nobody wins races when the horse’s stride is short due to pain or injury—which results in a decreased range of motion.
Training isn’t just focused on biomechanics alone. Systems such as cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal must be considered. And ever deeper within these categories that concern racehorse conditioning is the connective tissues (ligaments and tendons), neural pathways and the topic of thermoregulation—which is inherent the cardiovascular system. The emotional state of a horse also plays a part in conditioning and performance. If the horse is sore or painful, it can manifest as a sour disposition, refusal to train or rank behavior that could result in further injury.
This post focuses on the muscular aspects of improving racehorse performance. Conditioning the musculature system of the racehorse properly is vital to winning.
The primary function of training the equine athlete is to increase aerobic capacity. The intention is to promote muscle growth, strengthen muscles fibers and to increase endurance and flexibility.
When horses are galloped, breezed or open galloped, the purpose is to increase fast-twitch muscle fibers (type II). The production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is essential, as it is the energy source from which the muscles draw upon to function at high levels. In this case, it would be to fuel the horse while it’s racing. The goal is to condition the horse properly, increasing ATP while avoiding lactic acidosis buildup resulting in the horse becoming "tied up."
Equine sports massage focuses on constricted and tense muscles that are unable to release on their own. Excessive or improper use of a muscle can manifest itself in a horse as “sensitive to the touch.” This is often an indication that the muscle isn’t functioning properly.
Racehorses, in particular, are equine athletes that tend to have more muscle-related injuries due to the competitive and stringent nature of training. However, with regular sports massage and PEMF therapy along with core exercises, many muscle related injuries due to improper muscle use could significantly be reduced.
Horses will adjust their movement and compensate (compensatory movement) by loading the pressure and weight from the painful area or limb to another area. Often times this manifests in a horse as an awkward way of moving such as: not changing leads or refusal to pick up a certain lead, lugging in or out, rearing, bucking, etc. Not addressing the issue that is the root cause of a decreased range of motion results in losing races. A shorter stride due to muscle restriction won’t go away unless properly addressed and treated.
Obviously, if a horse is lame, it’s essential that your vet has done a proper assessment and diagnosis ruling out soft-tissue, bone or other major injuries requiring surgery or medical interventional.
Fascia is the most abundant tissue in the body and it lays beneath the skin, covering, encapsulating, separating and stabilizing muscles and organs. It requires proper hydration for elasticity and function. If the fascia is stiff or restricted, it can’t receive the proper hydration necessary for optimal function. Restricted fascia can contribute to pain. Fascia also provides valuable proprioceptive feedback to the body because the fascial tissues are innervated with sensory nerve endings. Incorporating myofascial release as therapy in your horse's care is important in achieving a better range of motion and overall sense of wellbeing by being proactive in pain management.
Fascial health, coupled with dynamic stretching, hydration, nutrition, and exercise is the key to achieving better ROM and longevity for your horse.
There are many important factors to consider when implementing a training or conditioning routine for your horse and regardless of discipline, a stretching routine is highly beneficial to performance and development.
When muscle restriction is not addressed it can lead to a continued decline in racing performance or more devastating, catastrophic injuries due to a loss of range of motion. Common muscle and myofascial pain due to strain, fatigue, and tension can be treated by a certified bodyworker or equine rehab therapist. Sports massage combined with PEMF is a holistic and cost-effective investment that you can provide for your racehorse.
Since the horse is over 60% muscle, it is essential to properly develop and treat both the superficial and deep muscles in order for your horse to gain flexibility, improve range of motion and stay relatively sound.
Science has proven that massage can increase the range of motion. Increased range of motion for a racehorse means improved stamina, which equals a lengthening of the stride for faster running time. Sports massage is beneficial because the therapist can manually release the major stress points in the body—which aid in improving the range of motion by unblocking restricted areas of blood flow. The circulatory system can then provide the essential nutrients via blood flow to the area.
Adding dynamic mobilization exercises to a racehorse’s training can also improve performance by contributing to shorter running times. The deep core muscles can be reached and activated to strengthen the athlete’s posture. Dynamic stretches have also been proven to reduce muscular asymmetry in the m. multifidus—which provides vertebral stability.
A strong core is the foundation block of developing the equine athlete or performance horse because it provides the postural stability required for the horse to perform at its peak physical level. When core muscles are effectively supporting the racehorse, will be less compromised due to the utilization of improper muscle function and have an increased range of motion. This can result in a longer stride, more flexibility and faster running times.
What is PEMF Therapy?
There are many misconceptions about whether or not PEMF is effective. Here’s the actual science and research available about the benefits of PEMF therapy.
PEMF therapy uses short bursts of low-level electromagnetic radiation to heal damaged tissues, muscle, and bone. It helps to relieve injury-related pain and aids in organ stimulation.
PEMF does NOT = EMF.
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy has been used to improve:
The Actual Science behind PEMF therapy
In conclusion, all cells need energy to function at an optimal level. In the equine athlete, it's essential that ATP regulates cell metabolism. In order for this to happen, PEMF can provide the necessary components to aid in cell repair and regeneration and aiding in pain relief and reduced healing times. Equine sports massage is beneficial for manual stress point release along with myofascial release techniques that only a skilled bodyworker can provide. These two modalities combined can provide the necessary cellular, musculoskeletal and fascial remedies to help your horse achieve peak performance.
Raina Marie Paucar is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist Specializing in Equine Sports Massage, PEMF, Kinesio Taping, Laser Therapy, and Dynamic Mobilization.
Serving Greater Cleveland, Youngstown, and surrounding areas. For more information or to book an appointment send a message here.
*Disclaimer - Equine massage and/or PEMF therapy is never a substitute for veterinary care. If your horse is experiencing lameness or illness, please consult your veterinarian.
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