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Conference chat - learning for you and your horse

Fascial Flow....

We are taught to warm up our horses before exercise, but ever considered why and what is going on inside their bodies?

The muscles contract to achieve movement in 2 ways:

1) Direct force transmission from muscle to tendon to bone and 2) Indirectly and in parallel through the fascial connections between muscle groups.

Fascia surrounds and is within muscle and organs being the earliest tissue developed in the first 30 days after fertilization, as the embryo folds and cells divide and differentiate. After birth the fascial planes slide over each other assisting movement as well as transmitting force and messages to the central nervous system that includes pain. Muscles with many fascial planes are those used in stabilization and/or repetitive movement such as the major hip muscles (psoas) or the chewing muscle (masseter), see below.

Hyaluronan (HA) a component of fascia and the joints polymerises (or gets longer) when the fascia is cold which increases the viscosity or stickiness of the tissue. As the fascia warms up it becomes more mobile and less viscous.

In the cold resting state the fascia provides support and strength to the skeleton. As the horse (or person) moves the muscles of locomotion contract become stronger and take over the support functions of the fascia which becomes flaccid or relaxed. This situation reverses when the horse comes to rest after exercise.

White fascial lines in the right masseter muscle (Rikke M. Schultz DVM

The fascial tone can remain too high if the horse is chronically stressed, or the body is compensating for injury or pathology in one area and the fascia is recruited for extra support.

It is really important that our horses are both warmed up and warmed down for several minutes on each rein in walk, encouraged to flex and extend their limbs over some ground poles and stretch over their back. A good warm up routine would include trot and canter in straight lines before commencing any jumping or lateral work. After exercise turn out is ideal to keep the horse in good fascial tone and a short hack before schooling in the winter will warm him or her up. We should also regularly review our management routines to ensure the horses are not becoming chronically stressed.


The fascia has 6 to 8 times the receptors that are seen in the muscle - these direct pain and proprioception/balance messages to the brain.


Factors affecting fascial health:

Injury to the body causing scarring - kicks, puncture wounds, muscle tears

Surgery, kissing spine, colic and gelding.

Pregnancy and birth, (mare and foal).

Cold weather

Long periods of stabling/ inactivity

Stress through travelling, change of yard or herd members

A significant part of my treatment and the exercises I leave you are to treat and/or prevent contractures in the fascia caused directly by the life events listed above or indirectly in other areas of the body that are compensating for injury.

Grateful thanks to Rikke M Schultz DVM, Vibeke Sødring Elbrønd, DVM PhD and the team at for their amazing 2 day summit.


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