One (of the many) thing that Murray has made quite clear to me over the years is that he doesn’t really appreciate human touch. He loves to groom and play bitey face with other horses, is very interested in snuggle time with doggos and cats, but would really prefer if we humans just touched him as little as possible.
Which does make riding challenging. But it also means that trying to help Mr. Heisenberg work out the soreness, muscular imbalances, or other weird-body-stuff that might be hindering his movement and comfort is a real challenge. I got Murray a couple of massages back in 2014 and 2015, he pretty much hated them and didn’t improve after them, so I figured I’d just leave him to his tense, sore devices forever.
doesn’t want to be mellow
I chatted with one of the local body work experts, Andrea, about this exact problem during someone else’s appointment (I end up holding a lot of horses for her so it’s a good opportunity to chat). She’s seen Murray being his standard gooftacular self enough that she thought she could come up with a plan. It also helps that she’s a GP dressage rider and former trainer. So I made an appointment with her!
We started by watching Murray on the lunge line (and I was terribly pleased that he showed off his newly-installed stretchy walk and trot!), while I described my concerns. Murray tends to step short with his right front, which he typically works out of, but it would be great if we could help him along with correct biomechanics and some body work. (Interestingly, on the lunge Murray wasn’t lame going to the left, though he was his standard amount of lame going right. As usual, it got better with a couple of circles. One day we’ll know what that is about.)
his mouth is saying yes but his eye is saying noooo…?
I told Andrea to do what she felt was appropriate and within Murray’s ability to tolerate and, as with all of my equine professionals, to discipline him as needed. Whatever we did or didn’t get to in terms of his muscles was fine with me — I wanted this first appointment to help us make a plan, and not get Murray feeling defensive or more tense. Andrea started on the right, which is Murray’s stiffer and tenser and more tender side. I probably could have warned her… but failed to do so.
Andrea started with really light pressure on Murray’s neck — about a third of the pressure she usually uses when working on a horse. She moved slowly and purposefully, and wasn’t digging in really deep the way you see some body workers go to town on a horse. Murray was suspicious at first, for sure, but Andrea just kept moving slowly and carefully, and eventually the tense baby horse started to relax…. and then, he kinda started to enjoy it.
Andrea spent most of her time working on Murray’s right shoulder and the associated neck muscles on that side. There was more work to do in his neck but she didn’t want to push it. His biceps were tight but not out of the ordinary (I’ve been poking and prodding them ever since Emma mentioned tight biceps a while back!). And then the impossible happened — Murray started yawning. At first it was a little yawn, and then another little one. And then I he let rip one of those great, big, drawn-out, tongue-flapping and eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head yawns that I did not think my horse was capable of. AND HE DID IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. Right up until I took my camera out, of course, at which point he promptly quit showing any signs of joy or pleasure.
As she moved toward his lumber region and hind quarters, Andrea was able to start using more pressure on Murray. His lumbar and booty were sore, but not out of the ordinary for a horse who is coming back into work after a while off. That right hind is also pretty weak right now, I suspect from just being basically out of commission for the last five months.
murray substituted biting the pole for yawning because it’s so much cuter?
Murray’s left side was much less tight and sore than his right, and Andrea could get a little more work done. She noticed that his obliques were tight on both sides (more on the right), but didn’t want to tackle them as they can be a particularly sensitive area and it wouldn’t be worth his potential objections. And despite his lack of yawning on the left, Murray did seem pretty relaxed and happy, and only moderately bored and frustrated toward the end of the massage.
Andrea gave me some really useful advice for keeping Murray even side-to-side as we get back into work, and helping him approach exercises in a way that will help him instead of making his issues worse (e.g. poles should help him lift up his shoulders and reach, not make him bear down and flail forward). It was great that she really seemed to get Murray, and work with his sensitivity and quirks, instead of ignoring them or becoming annoyed by them.
All in all, a pretty successful body work adventure! Murray and I are going to keep on with the clicking and treating, as we work our way back up to full work! And hopefully we can loosen up and stretch out that right front, and even up those strides a bit more!