HorseWorks - Intelligent, Healing Bodywork for the Equine Athlete
Maggie Mittuch, ENMS Equine Bodywork Practitioner
The Focus is on Fascia!
Most of us tend to think of bodies as being made up of bone, ligaments and tendons, and muscle. The bones are responsible for stability, tendons connect the muscle to bone, ligaments connect bone to bone, and muscle is responsible for movement. But what we overlook is that there is another, even more important element many often aren’t aware of; that is the connective tissue, soft tissue, or fascia.
Connective tissue is the support system for the entire body. If you were to do a cross section of a muscle you would be able to see that each tiny muscle fiber has it’s own sleeve, or sheath, of connective tissue surrounding it. There are also big sheets of fascia that join groups of muscles together into conjoined, complex working units. These fascia sheaths and sheets are lubricated and allow muscle fibers and muscle groups to slide across one another, enabling full range of motion.
Connective tissue forms into the tendons and ligaments that connect muscle to bone and bone to bone, and provides the end range of movement. Connective tissue also encases and suspends the entire organ and skeletal systems. It is the largest and most complex system in the entire body. It begins just beneath the skin, and like a 3-D web, it spreads through the entire body to its core.
So, why should you care about connective tissue, and how can bodywork help your horse?
Most horses at work develop some type of movement imbalance. Injuries, chronic stress or strain, aging, even normal wear and tear can cause fascia to thicken into adhesions. This is when the lubricated sheaths that support and surround the muscles dry out, get sticky, and adhere to one another. This is the actually the beginning of the formation of scar tissue. Scar tissue is what is responsible for restricted range of motion and improper and unbalanced movement. This is because once scar tissue begins to form it continually impacts the surrounding healthy tissue. An area of scarring, or thickened, drying connective tissue acts like a pull in a sweater. A little tug ‘here’ ends up impacting the horse way over ’there’. A big tug can have very serious consequences.
The goal of the type of bodywork I practice is to release the restriction that has developed in the tissue, return the elasticity, lubrication, circulation and function of the fascia, and restore the tissue to a healthy state. It is a process for reorganizing the soft tissue that helps restore full range of motion to the entire system. The work is accomplished through a series of treatments designed to break down scar tissue within the connective tissue structure of the body and release compression in the joint systems.
A standard treatment series usually includes five basic sessions, spaced over a period of several weeks or months. The time between sessions is flexible; whatever best allows the horse to move into and through its reorganization, allows compensating tensions and holdings to fall away, and helps reveal core tensions and holdings for more intensive release work in the later sessions. Session series are very beneficial for most horses, especially those with significant movement problems, imbalances, and/or soreness. Sessions typically last for 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the horse. In some cases, depending again on the horse’s acceptance of the work, some sessions need to be repeated.
Single sessions can also be beneficial, especially for horses who have gone through the multiple session series and who benefit from a maintenance session before a big training or performance event to help them feel their best.
I have been involved in this type of equine bodywork for nearly 15 years. The cumulative results of the work is nothing short of miraculous. I have taken a yearling filly who suffered a tragic head injury as a weanling that nearly ended her life, and over time helped her become a beautiful, well schooled saddle horse. Many of our farm members know her as Onyx and you can see many of her pictures on our website. Onyx is only one example of the benefits of this kind of work. And if it can help restore function, suppleness, flexibility and joy in the life of a horse so tragically injured, just imagine what it can do for horses with less serious complaints!
If you are interested in seeing how this work might help your horse, I am available for consultation. Sessions are $110, including travel. References available upon request.
Equine Natural Movment Certification 2008
Module I Adjunct Faculty 2010