This is a simple technique I learned from jumper rider Buddy Brown. At first I used it as a way to help loosen up horses that tended to come out of their stalls feeling particularly stiff, but it works so well and takes so little extra time that now I do it with all my hunters.
I perform the massage when my horse is already tacked up and ready for schooling; sometimes I do it as I’m leading him to the ring.
Placing my hand just behind the cantle, I gently palpate his topline–the muscles right along the spine–from the loins to the croup and all the way to the base of the tail, to see whether I can feel any knots or areas of stiffness that will need special attention.
Then I go back to my starting point and massage the length of the spine behind the saddle. I press my thumb and fingertips firmly into the muscle with a kneading, not a poking, motion, pausing wherever I’ve found a knot or stiffness, until the muscles feel consistently pliant and relaxed.
When I first started this mini-massage I think my horses wondered what I was doing. Now it’s become part of the ritual of the daily ride. I think they quite like it. And when they take their first strides at the trot, they feel to me as if they’re just that much more comfortable in their hind ends.
Read the whole story of Morgan Thomas’s successful system for producing quality hunters in “When You Do It Right, It Works,” featured in the June 2003 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.