Sophie Pickard Equine Bodywork

North Yorkshire

Head shy study results

Firstly, Thank you to all the participants who volunteered their horses as subjects for this study. It was wonderful to be able to work with you all and to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of your horses.

Secondly, please bear in mind that I am not an academic, I am an equine bodyworker so the data collection is crude but as accurate and neutral as possible! But it still provides some interesting information which for me verified the profound effect that bodywork can have on pain related conditions.

The figures

90% of owners noticed an improvement in their horses head shy behaviours with 2/3rds of those reporting that the improvement had lasted until their repeat visit 4-6 weeks later.

100% of the horses had tension in one or more muscles in their poll area, most commonly m.rectus capitis

Overall, after the bodywork therapy, the study horses were reported to tolerate sprays around the face better, as well as clipping, grooming, trimming and pulling.

100% of owners reported their horse more comfortable after a session

 Photos with kind permission from Jacqueline Sheedy 

Pesky flies 8/8/19

The tropical weather of summer 2019 seems to have brought with it an increase of flying irritants. With these warm, wet, weather conditions becoming increasingly frequent due to our changing climate, it is likely our flying friends will remain in abundance. 

But what effect do they have on our horses? No exposed flesh is safe with such a population of infection transmitting insects, and the bite of a horse fly can be extremely painful. In fact, my horse Elfine was bitten by something last week right on a tigger point of her biceps brachii muscle, causing so much pain that her movement was inhibited. She went lame for 2 days.

They are also extremely annoying. For us, this means a lot of hand waving to swat them away, but for our horses, it can mean huge increases of muscular contractions whilst they twitch to remove them. Beneath the skin of the ventral abdomen of the horse is a thin sheet of muscle called the cutaneus truncii. The cutaneus truncii has muscle fibres which extend into the skin creating that generalised twitch response noticable when flies land anywhere on their under carriage. Of course, most of the muscles elsewhere on the horse's body can respond with a localised twitch response but the cutaneus truncii is especially sensitive. The muscle itself actually extends into the area where we position the girth of the saddle but also where we use our legs.

This muscle is sensitive in all horses, you only have to place a finger on your horse's belly to demonstrate this, but in some horses can be hyper sensitive and cause 'girthiness' issues and reluctance to tack up.

If your horse suddenly resents the girth being placed or touching in this area it is definitely worth investigating potential causes. 

- check tack fit, particularly saddle fit and saddle length, a saddle which has long flaps may rub or irritate your horse

- check girth fit and placement. Often tacking up issues are not just due to saddle fit and discomfort, the girth is a huge factor. Look at the width of your girth, does it trap skin folds? does it pinch your horse's elbows? or is it too narrow, placing a lot of pressure over a smaller area? What material is it made of? Cold hard leather? friction inducing webbing? 

- Do what you can to remove irritants and reduce sensitivity. Groom your horse regularly so they can learn to enjoy having their body touched, it helps build a great bond with your horse and helps you to learn what is normal for them. Use a good brand of fly repellant and provide plenty of shade/escape from flies.

The cutaneus trunchii in action

Horse headaches? 19/7/19

Last week I was chatting to a friend in Norway and somehow the question 'do horses get headaches?' was raised.

Well, this got me thinking because, of course they must. Yes, there are some anatomical differences between the head of a horse and that of the human, but fundamentally they are very similar, the muscles involved in head and neck movement are similar and so are the nerves which act to transmit pain signals to the brain. Which again, is very similar in structure to the human brain,  (although the horse actually has a larger cerebellum; the part responsible for motor control, proprioception and co-ordination) so therefore, I expect they could experience very similar headache symptoms that we do.

It is surprisingly common for a horse to be 'head shy' or to resent touch, contact or pressure to the poll, ears or anywhere around their head or face. There are many causes, sometimes it is purely behavioural and previous experiences have created fear of having their heads handled, such as rough bridling, folding the ears to put a browband on or grabbing and twisting ears as an 'ear twitch'.

However, fortunately for the human conscience, often it is not all our fault. There are many tendons inserting at the poll and alot of nerve endings in this area too as well as acupressure points and some very delicate and sensitive structures around the head; the temporomandibular junction (TMJ), the atlas and axis, and the delicate cartilage of the ears to name a few. Sometimes conformation or muscle tension can cause pain in the head, neck and poll which can ultimately cause the reluctance to allow touch or pressure near these structures.

I have started to notice that a lot of horses release a lot of tension from these areas during massages and I wonder; how much can massage therapy do to help a head shy horse?

Wanted: Head shy horses!

Is your horse head shy? Do they resent you touching their ears? Do they raise their head when you try to put their bridle on? Do you have to sedate your horse to clip or trim his ears or head? I am currently running a study on head shy horses and the effects of massage therapy on these horses. I am looking for 10 horses in North Yorkshire which demonstrate the signs of head shyness to take part.

What I need

* 10 horses currently displaying behaviours attributed to being head shy

* Must be otherwise fit and healthy, any concurrent health issues must have clearance from the vet prior to taking part in the study

* any size, age, height and temperament considered as long as they are handleable safely!

* Owners that are genuinely interested in trying massage therapy as a potential way to improve their horse's head shy behaviour

* Owners which understand that there may be many compounding factors causing their horse to be head-shy and that bodywork may not be the most appropriate solution, in which case, referral to an appropriate practitioner or healthcare professional eg. dentist/vet will be recommended.

What's in it for you?

* Comprehensive initial assessment and full bodywork session FREE

* Reduced rate follow up sessions as required

* A happier horse!

What's in it for your horse?

* Full body massage therapy

* Relaxation and release of tension throughout their body

* A surge of happy hormones (endorphins)

* Relief from pain and discomfort caused by muscle tension

* And all the other wonderful benefits of massage therapy! 


The smallprint

* This study is fundamentally for my own interest and is not currently affiliated with any institute/product/campaign.

* Data collected from the study will remain confidential but results will be used by Sophie Pickard Equine Bodywork

* You will be asked to sign a consent form which will allow photos of your horse to be taken and used in reports of the study.

* It must be understood that bodywork is by no means a quick fix or a magic cure. It is likely that to improve any condition, several visits may be required. Prior to taking part in the study, you must confirm you are happy to comply with this and are available and willing for repeat visits  depending on the severity of the condition and the initial response.

* The aim of this study is to see if massage therapy can improve head shy horses, not to provide free massages. Please only nominate your horse if you have a genuine interest in improving their condition.