Presenting Problem: Hanging a front leg while jumping; appears short in front leg at extended trot.
Problem: An event rider called because her horse had been placing in the top 5 all year until her last competition when the horse knocked three rails in show jumping and scored poorly in the lengthenings and extended trot work in dressage.
Problem Solving: After watching the horse walk toward me and away from me in a straight line, I could easily see he was labored in the right shoulder. By labored, I mean the right leg and shoulder were harder to move forward. Thus, he didnít move the leg and shoulder freely and with ease. I assumed this labored movement may have been responsible for the horse to hang a leg while jumping and be short in extended trot work.
Muscle tightness effects the release process of the muscle. Muscles appear in pairs of opposites. When one contracts or shortens, the other must lengthen or release to allow for a motion to occur. I had to think about what muscle was not releasing to allow the horse to bring the leg forward and into shoulder extension. Since the triceps muscle brings the leg back toward the tail, I immediately assumed it may be the triceps muscle responsible for the problems because, the triceps must be loose in order to release and allow the leg to go forward. The horse was not lame. Simple muscle tightness was more than likely the cause.
I palpated the triceps which is located on the shoulder. I determined the triceps was very tight and found a distinct spasm present where the triceps was anchored to the bone. The muscle belly felt hard and not pliable to my hand when I palpated. The horse also swished his tail and flinched when I palpated the triceps, indicating he was uncomfortable.
Mechanics and Wilson Meagher Method of Sportsmassage: The triceps basically flexes the shoulder resulting in the front leg moving back toward the tail. It also extends the elbow as when a horse is standing. In order for the leg and shoulder to move forward toward the head , the triceps must let go or release. As stated earlier, when a muscle is tight, it effects the release process or lengthening of the muscle in order to let go and allow for the opposite motion to occur. Thus, I found the right triceps so tight that it was limiting the right leg from moving forward. Movements such as lengthenings or jumping clear over rails are effected when the triceps is tight, compromising forward shoulder and leg motion.
Solution: I began by using compressions over the entire shoulder muscle. Compressions is a rhythmical pumping motion similar to CPR or cardio pulmonary resuscitation. I used both the heel of my hand and loose fists to do the compressions. The compressions spread the muscle fibers allowing for more blood to flow and more space between the fibers. Your hand and arm must be soft and relaxed, not tight when applying the sportsmassage techniques. Using the heel of your hand or loosely clenched fists, begin a rhythmical pumping action into the belly of the muscle. Do not skip spaces when doing the compressions. Overlap the compressions. Do not ever use knuckles or an elbow to work on a horse because you cannot feel with them.
Using a braced finger, I used direct pressure and cross fiber friction at the three triceps attachments. The muscle loosened easily and I then worked on the entire horse. Always work on the entire horse, so that he is not just loose in one area. A body is a unit and it must function like a unit. Therefore if you just work on the effected tight area you will throw the horse off balance.
If you are unsure of how to work on the entire horse using compressions, please check out my DVD: A Course in Equine Sportsmassage.
After the treatment using the Wilson Meagher Method of Sportsmassage, I had the rider jog the horse in hand to be certain the horse was sound. The horse was sound and no longer short in the right front!
Follow Up: After my sportsmassage treatment, I made two recommendations. Exercise and passive stretching. Exercise should become part of the treatment. The exercise prepares the horse to be used, and further lengthens and stretches all of the major muscles. I recommend the canter as the best exercise to maximize the stretching. I also suggested she use passive stretching after applying the three sportsmassage techniques. I recommended she pick up the front leg at a ninety degree angle and gently ask the horse to bring the leg and shoulder forward. Do this two times following the sportsmassage.
Result: The following day my client reported the horse felt great. He was jumping evenly in front and was even at the trot. She was ready for her next competition with confidence. The horse was relieved too!