A common question that I get from both students and clients is if massage and other forms of bodywork are safe for pregnant mares and foals. The basic answer is yes. I will explain in this article the types of bodywork mares and foals can benefit from.
The Pregnant Mare
Massage Therapy is extremely beneficial for pregnant mares to help reduce muscle soreness due to compensated movement from the growing fetus. Many mares will begin to develop edema (swelling) under their belly and their legs towards the end of the pregnancy and massage can help mobilize that fluid and decrease the discomfort associated with it. There are some schools of thought that massage and cause pre-mature labor by unintentional stimulation of acupuncture points that are known to be associated with stimulating labor. I have not found this to be the case. I have been working on pregnant mares (both my own and clients) for the past 10+ years and have never had any issues. I do recommend avoiding the abdomen during the massage session (stay away from the fetus) and when in doubt, check with the horse's veterinarian first!
Body alignment is another very import modality that pregnant mares can benefit from. If the lower back, pelvis or sacrum are out of alignment, there is potential for a difficult birth. Ensuring that the mare is aligned will greatly aid in her ability to pass the foal through the birthing canal.
The images below are of Shea's recent birth. She was aligned using ANMR technique through her pregnancy and the morning before she foaled.
Kinesiology tape has been used on pregnant women for many years to help decrease back pain and add support due to the increased stress from the weight of the fetus. Mares can benefit from tape as well. The back pain support taping can be used to support the paraspinal muscles.
When Should You Refrain From Working on a Pregnant Mare?
Contraindications would include any underlying health issues, such as infection (placentitis), inflammatory conditions or any other health issue that would be a contraindication for massage in general. It is always best to consult with the mare's veterinarian before working on a pregnant mare.
It is never too soon to start massaging foals and introducing them to bodywork. This is a great time in their lives to get them used to having your hands on them and utilizing other tools such as mechanical massage tools, body alignment tools, red light pads, etc. Massage and bodywork will allow them to maintain proper function and range of motion as they grow and will also prepare them mentally to be handled as adults.
I always perform ANMR technique on my foals to ensure that they are in alignment after labor and also to get them used to the tool. Below is a video of Stoli, receiving her first ANMR session at 10 days old. They normally are standing during the session, but she was so relaxed that she slept through most of it!
Kinesiology tape has been shown to be very beneficial for foals who are suffering from angular limb deformities.
Take Home Message
Yes, pregnant mares, mares who have recently foaled and foals can all greatly benefit from massage and bodywork. I recommend utilizing someone who is trained in Equine Massage and Bodywork.
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Dr. Angelique Barbara is the founder of Angel's Animals LLC, a company that has developed online animal bodywork courses for both owners and professionals. Dr. Barbara's unique teaching style along with the dynamic layout of the courses allows people of different educational backgrounds from all over the world to benefit from her knowledge.