Throughout history, different forms of massage have been used in cultures to relieve pain and tension in soft tissues. We humans know that massage usually feels good and provides relaxation to us, so we assume that the same will be true for our horses. Although it might seem improbable given the many forms of manual therapies, the wide-ranging term “massage” can be defined as simply the application of pressure and traction to the soft tissues of the body, whether that body is human or horse.

If you will make it a habit to use your hands regularly on your horse, you will soon see the benefits of the opportunity this provides for close and intimate contact. You will begin to develop manual sensitivity for areas of tension, heat, or swelling. You might even begin to recognize trigger points, small areas of muscle that contain an irritated nerve structure.

When an area of the body is stressed repeatedly, the local nerves become over-excitable or hyper-irritable. These localized points will be painful on palpation and the muscle will react with a twitch response. Muscles containing trigger points are held in a shortened position, reducing the muscle’s functionality. The goal of trigger point therapy is to deactivate the point and eliminate the source of pain. Trigger point locations often correspond to the locations of acupuncture points, but unlike acupuncture points, which can be mapped on charts of the body, trigger points are not in the same place in everyone. Also unlike acupuncture points, trigger points are sources of pain, rather than access points to energy channels.

The mechanical action of the hands compressing and rel