A pre-ride massage will help your horse limber up, and get him mentally and physically relaxed; a post-ride rubdown will help speed blood and oxygen to muscles that may need reserves restored.
You can spend from 2 to 20 minutes massaging your horse; he'll get the most benefit if you rub for about 20 minutes before and after each ride. Start at his head and work back to his tail, first on one side, then on the other, as far down as the muscles above his hocks and knees.
1. Ease out tension by gently rubbing a small section of muscle, about 5" across, with your fingertips, using a circular motion.
2. Release muscle spasms by applying direct pressure with one finger. Press down gently until you see an indentation in the muscle; maintain that pressure as you move your fingers in tiny circles over the spot. Apply this circular pressure, called cross-fiber friction, for about 10 to 20 seconds to individual spots along the length of each muscle group.
3. Improve circulation and help relax large areas by softly massaging the entire length of a muscle with the heel of your hand or your closed fist. Apply just enough pressure to make a slight indentation, then rub in a circular motion.
4. Finish by gently rubbing the muscle with your fingers, using the same motion you started with.
Your horse may tense up when he sees you, especially if he associates you with work. Ease that tension with a proper pre-massage greeting. Stand slightly off to one side, face him without making direct eye contact, and cup his lips in your hands, lightly rubbing his muzzle. his nose is his "fingers", his main means of contact with the physical world. Such a non-threatening and non-demanding greeting will communicate to him your intent to have harmless contact.
Begin your massage just behind the top of your horse's head, where his halter lies. This is the area of the atlas vertebra, the first in the neck. If your horse resists flexing at the poll, it may be due to muscle soreness here. Work the muscles under and behind the halter and an inch or 2 below the crest. First, gently rub the area with your fingers. (technique #1)
Then apply spasm-releasing direct pressure (technique #2). Use a single fingertip to softly press, not jab, into the muscle then rotate your fingertip over the spot. If you were to press too hard, your horse would resist by raising his head or trying to step away, in an effort to evade the pressure. If this happens, he's telling you to "lighten up". Do so and begin again.
Next, rub with the heel of your hand to relax the muscle through compression (technique #3). Finish the area with a light rubbing action (technique #4). Using all four techniques, work down the top and side of your horse's neck.
Move to your horse's shoulder, massaging below the withers, near the middle of his shoulder, and above his leg. These muscles help move the scapula, the major should bone. A poor-fitting saddle can pinch here, cutting off blood flow and creating muscle spasms.
You'll know you've found the "ahhh spot" when your horse reacts like this: neck and upper lip extended, in a please-don't-stop expression. Other signs of enjoyment include a lowered head and neck; sighing and working his mouth slowly in a chewing-like manner; reduced respiratory rate; and slow blinking.
If your horse walks stiffly after being cinched up, he may be reacting to spasms in the muscles just behind his shoulder and around the rib cage. Use massage to release those spasms before saddling him. This area is sensitive, so start slowly, placing your hand on his withers or shoulder, and slowly sliding it into the area.
If your horse suffers from a shortened stride, he may be sore in one of his shoulder's major flexor muscles. Focus your efforts there, then move toward the front of him, massaging the muscle crease that forms his chest "V".
Your horse's forearm muscles attach to the tendons in his lower leg. When these muscles are tight, the tension is passed along to his tendons. Strains, even bows, can result. Pre-work massage can help prevent those problems.
Massage the pectoral muscles below your horse's shoulder, behind the leg. These muscles help him draw back his leg; tightness there can produce a short stride or stiffness after you cinch him up.
Continue along his back, working the long muscles that run just below his spine. These muscles carry your weight, and your horse uses them to bend laterally. Spasms will make him unwilling to round his back or bend through the rib cage. Be careful not to put too much pressure on this area. If you overdo it, the muscles will stiffen in an effort to protect them against the painful pressure. If you feel him tense, lighten up.
Run your fingers over and between your horse's ribs. Tight muscles here can affect his breathing by making him less willing to fully expand his rib cage. Follow up by rubbing with the heel of your hand, which makes a handy massage tool in this area.
Continue back along the spine to your horse's croup. Work over the hip where the long back muscles meet the gluteus maximus, one of the major hindquarter muscles. This area comes under a great deal of stress no matter what you do with your horse. Collection, balance, thrust, they all come through these muscles.
Follow the major muscle group that arcs from croup to stifle. This area is the main source of your horse's forward movement, so it takes a lot of stress. Use direct finger pressure to relieve spasms and compression with the palm of your hand to relax large muscle areas.
The long muscle that extends from below your horse's tail to his hock should feel quite firm, almost like soft rope. This makes it hard to manipulate. By taking a handful of muscle and softly shaking it, you'll loosen the muscle, releasing tension there. When you're finished, move to the other side and repeat the head-to-tail sequence.