Treat your horse like a professional athlete

Photo © Evelyn Szczepanek / ES Equine Photography

Written by Nicole Bryan

If you look at professional human athletes, you will see that they have practices for staying in proper shape. They do certain treatments after every workout to help their body recover and prepare for the next practice or game.

Let’s talk about baseball players. They plan out schedules, including what games they’ll play or will be laid off so their bodies can be at peak performance all year long. They use old school therapies like ice, massage, acupuncture, and ointments. They also use newer therapies such as PEMF, TENS unit, and laser therapy. Some of these rehabilitation tools aren’t just used by human athletes for injury rehabilitation—they’re for preventive care.

So the question is – why aren’t more horse professionals doing the same?

After years of showing all over the country, I was so tired and disappointed to see lame horses and even sick horses on the show ring. My trainer raised me to put my horse first. She used to say, “If your horse isn’t moving properly or feeling well, it just doesn’t show up.”

We didn’t take shortcuts or use drugs to keep our horses going. I understand and believe that medications used properly is a good thing, especially for these horses that travel all over the place, show up after show. I also think that more use of treats as preventative care could be very beneficial in the long run for our horses. We have to keep a close eye on our horses and put them down if needed to add longevity to their lives.

At the higher levels of our sport, people spend immeasurable amounts of money in order to gain an advantage and win, but at what cost?

A pitching coach may pull a pitcher because he sees something on the field that he doesn’t like. The pitcher might say he’s fine, but this coach knows he’s seeing something. It is better to save him from harm today and to keep him for many years. My thoughts are that I want my 20 year old horse to be as happy and healthy as my 3 year old, while giving him a few more miles and lots of life under his belt. I understand that this is a business, but someone has to stand up for the horses’ interest. Isn’t that why we all started down this path for the love of horses?

Of course, with all aspects of your horse’s care and your plans for rehabilitation or preventive care, I recommend that you consult your veterinarian. Here are some of our favorite do-it-yourself practices for treating your horses like athletes.

Photo © Evelyn Szczepanek / ES Equine Photography


Ice after exercise is a great way to help reduce inflammation and reduce cellular damage that heat can cause in their legs from calf boots or wraps worn during exercise. Inflammation can be present whether you see it or not. The name of the game is prevention.


The ointment can help reduce muscle pain and stiffness and prevent inflammation.

therapy blankets

There are many companies that produce blankets and other useful items such as boots, blankets, saddle pads, etc. You should do your research and decide what is best for your horse and program. I highly recommend a blanket. It helps warm their muscles before a workout or competition and helps them relax and relieve sore muscles afterwards. Back On Track and Draper are two popular brands that I have gotten good results from.

Photo © Evelyn Szczepanek / ES Equine Photography

I also believe in the following remedies; However, you must hire a professional to provide these services. As always, it’s a good idea to consult your vet about them, too.


Massage has many benefits – far more than I can list. The main thing about home massage is that it helps improve blood circulation. It also helps with range of motion. It can reduce stress and anxiety and can help boost muscle strength. There are many other benefits, but they all help prevent injury and provide an overall good quality of life. You can do some basic massage yourself and bond with your horse; However, I believe you should have a professional bodyworker work your horse.


Acupuncture can relieve pain, anxiety, muscle pain, and other sources of discomfort. People have different opinions about acupuncture. I think it can be a great tool in your therapy toolbox. I’ve seen it really help some horses, but I understand it’s not for everyone. I always advise using a vet or at least consulting your vet for this.


Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy works at the molecular level to improve cell health and promote proper cell function. In layman’s terms, it helps improve cell health so that the horse’s body can heal itself better. Good cell health also helps the body heal faster and supports a better immune system. When you do this on a regular basis, you will usually notice faster hair and feet growth, shinier coats, and better overall health.

None of these remedies is a one-time solution. As with most things, with consistency, you’ll see the best results. Just like professional athletes, you have to work hard and dedication in order to reach the top and stay on top. Some of these remedies can be incorporated into your daily routine. In addition to the health benefits, you’ll get a little extra bonding with your horse, which isn’t a bad thing.

If people are going to spend all this money buying the best, competing with the best, and going to the biggest competitions, shouldn’t we spare any expense in treating these horses like professional athletes?

Nicole Bryan has been riding, showing and then training for about 30 years now. She started out in catchers/jumpers and was able to travel all over the country competing in many different national championship shows. Nicole is a certified practitioner and continues to study and learn all she can about horses and their health care.

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