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Natural Awakenings Northwest Florida

Equine Pain Care: Myofascial Release for Troubled Horses

Dec 10, 2017 09:03AM ● By Janet Hardy

Why would a sweet horse gradually become irritable or act strange? As prey animals, horses are good at hiding pain; instead it can manifest as behavioral change.

All horses are subject to stress and soft-tissue strains, such as neck sensitivity or tightness, a sore jaw from a bit, back or hip misalignment impacted by the rider’s posture, and soreness from an ill-fitting saddle. Any of these problems, in addition to poor hoof care, can lead to connective tissue problems. 

An area of connective tissue that is shortened, dehydrated and inflamed is called a myofascial restriction. Physical imbalances from myofascial restrictions can create a domino effect, tugging on other areas and causing discomfort or limited movement. 

Think of the fascia as a volleyball net: if one part is pressed in, the entire net is affected. Similarly, one tight area in the web of connective tissue can cause issues nearly anywhere in the body. Surgeries and injuries also take their toll; scar tissue, which is less pliable than healthy tissue, can put a drag in the fascial web, creating various symptoms. 

Myofascial release (MFR) is a hands-on therapy that applies gentle, sustained pressure to fascial restrictions in order to ease pain and restore motion. 

An equine MFR session begins with an assessment of the horse’s gait and standing posture as well as a general palpation assessment. The therapist then addresses areas of limited movement, softening dense tissue using methods developed by noted physical therapist Mark Barnes based on the principles of John F. Barnes’ Myofascial Release.

It’s amazing to witness the transformation in a horse after MFR—from a stiff, restricted gait to a freer-moving one, and from a sullen, drawn face to bright eyes. It’s incredible that the same techniques used to treat people work just as well on horses.​

Janet Hardy is a Florida board-certified licensed massage therapist and an expert level in Barnes’ Myofascial Release. For more information, visit

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