This is my daughter's pony, Geir (and yes, I know he is due to have his mane cut). He worked pretty hard on Thursday with an hour of lessons early in the day, my daughter riding him with friends in the evening and a short training session after that in the evening. So, yesterday I gave him the day off and checked his back and neck and gave him a short massage.
He had been having issues falling in to the left at the trot and not engaging that side as well, especially on corners. Last week we achieved a huge release in his left shoulder and he is engaging the left side a little more efficiently, but of course there are still issues because he is now using his body differently than before so he's still struggling a bit for balance. Thursday during his training ride he was hesitant to bend at the poll, especially to the right and yesterday I found that when stretching to the right I felt a distinct "pop pop pop" in the area where the purple dot is. Just to clarify, stretching at the poll to the right is actually a very small movement so it was surprising to feel so much popping (like Rice Krispies) from such a small movement.
This is the kind of stuff I love about being a massage therapist. Invistigating "What is that popping thing going on?" I can tell you right now just from knowing horse anatomy that it is in an area with a few different muscle insertions. And where there are different muscle insertions there is a high probability of fascia getting stuck together. Fascia (for those who don't know - skip these next few sentences if you already know what it is) is a connective tissue in our body that surrounds all of our muscles. And it's consistency is a lot like Saran wrap. The really good kind that sticks to the side of the bowl as soon as you press it against it. If there is enough hydration and freedom of movement to begin with then the fascia slides over itself just fine. But fascia also has the propensity to get stuck together and then you have what we would call in layman's terms "a knot". So, imagine you have some muscle insertions that have gotten dehydrated and are about the consistency of a dried pepperoni stick, then you wrap those in some really good quality plastic wrap, and hold them together in the same position for quite awhile in approximately 99 - 101 degree conditions -
you're going to get them all tangled up and stuck together. That is what can commonly happen in our bodies and horse's bodies. And to clarify, dehydration in muscle tissue doesn't always mean that the horse is not drinking enough water, it can also happen when there is not enough circulation getting to the tissue.
Human and horse bodies are the most amazing mechanical inventions and what is even more amazing is how long we can live when we are the ultimate in planned obselensce. I believe horses even more so than humans because they are so delicate and can become ill and die so much more easily than humans can. It's because of this complexity of design that I find massage therapy so fascinating. I imagine if I were to do my life over again I'd probably go to medical school to become a surgeon or medical researcher because the mystery of what is going on in there where we can't see under the skin is so fascinating. It's a similar fascination I have with the ocean and this whole different world happening just beyond our reach.
What's even more exciting about learning about and making progress as a massage therapist is that the times of figuring out "what is that popping sound?" and then figuring out what to do to resolve it become more and more frequent. Sometimes there really aren't any perceivable results right after a massage and my client will either say they feel "relaxed, thanks" and it's not till a couple days later they notice a big change, or the horse will seem their same stoic self through the whole massage and it's not until the next week I hear that the horse was calmer, happier and moving better. But then there are times when changes are dramatic and those are incredibly cool.
Last weekend I was giving a friend of my husband's an impromptu massage because her shoulders were bothering her. She spends a lot of time at a desk and like most of us, has one direction that she tends to lean when she's sitting deep in thought. So, the first thing I noticed from my postural analysis was that one of her shoulders was significantly lower than the other shoulder. It took well over a half hour of working just on her shoulders, but when I asked her to stand up again and she stretched out her shoulders she said, "Hey! I have shoulders again!" and when she stood still I was able to see that her shoulders were even height! Yay me! Those kind of results are really cool and make this job very fun and interesting.
As for Geir, I took that photo so I could come home and look up in my anatomy book exactly what is going on in that specific spot. My assumption is that the insertion points of two superficial muscles Brachiocephalicus and Splenius, possibly along with the deeper muscle Caudal Auricular muscles. Of interest is that literally just below that spot is the Great Auricular nerve which I wonder if that much of an adhesion that close to the nerve could end causing some compression on the nerve and causing some nerve pain with certain movements? Another thing thing I like about massaging horses is having to try and figure out what they are telling you by things they do (and do not) do.