It reflects a change in their autonomic nervous system.

… AND it CAN happen following a threat or disturbance of some sort, not just when the horse is in a more relaxed state.

Pain, fear or confusion can turn on the sympathetic system, and when these feelings are lowered the nervous system reverts back to the parasympathetic state. When the horse is in this fearful state, saliva is not produced and the mouth and lips become dry. So, when the disturbance resolves, the licking and chewing commences (a reflexive response) “as a result of returning from a spell of acute stress or pain “

It is ‘relief ‘behaviour

“. . .You asked whether this licking or chewing might mean processing. I have heard trainers comment at this moment that the horse is “chewing on a thought.” It is usually in the context of working a horse by running it around in a round pen or pestering a horse to load into a trailer, then stopping to take a break and saying, “He’s thinkin’ about it”. A break in the pressure often allows the horse to return to parasympathetic, so you see the licking and chewing response as that occurs. It is simply neurochemically mediated responses that do not necessarily reflect any thought processes.”

Once again, it is a ‘state of relief’.

I think with equine therapy, there is a genuine relief of any discomfort the horse may have, if the horse is relaxed during the treatment, and they produce the licking, chewing and yawning etc. Kerryn


Ref: Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviourist and the founding head of the equine behaviour program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behaviour and management.

Excerpts from : http://www.thehorse.comtoba-massage




Equine therapy work comes under many different titles. They basically incorporate many techniques that are the same. The names may be different but there really is only so much one can do and call it something else to make it like you are doing better than the last person that came along. Having said this, I do know that static equine therapies work. I am an Equine Therapist and am always looking to update scientific/ medical knowledge as a therapist to improve my ‘help’ for the horse in pain and discomfort.

A good equine therapist will engage the horse’s mind into the healing and postural changes.

We make them aware of their body. No large, violent or forceful gestures.

I see ‘light bulb ‘moments in the horse’s eyes when I show them how they can utilise their body in a stationary position. Did you know that the hardest thing a mammal can do is to keep and maintain correct posture whilst just standing? It is much easier in motion, and I for one can relate to that statement

(In the horse – this ‘easier in motion ‘depends on the rider of course).

There is a big ‘but’ though, the ridden and in hand work have to be correct for the therapeutic effects of the static therapy to help the horse on the road to a full recovery.

I utilise the incredible natural ability of the horse’s brain to improve his awareness of his body /limbs in time and space (Proprioception).

Before a good therapist starts any body works, they will watch the horse walk and trot out straight, and the same back, and then watch both sides as well (usually 4 times each) and on a few occasions I have asked permission to ride the horse myself. I will ask the owner if I can watch them ride or jump the horse the next time they call me out.

The Proprioceptors are the position sensory receptors that are located in the muscles, joints tendons and ligaments and provide the information required to adjust posture and movement (and after accidents or incorrect riding techniques). “They influence the responses required to correct imbalance due to muscular or ligamentary tension” …. (Ref: Jean –Marie Denoix)

Stretching the equine limbs does not work if therapists expect the same result as in a human –this does not need explanation. One can only elongate a horse’s limb or flex it. But what a therapist can do is to bring attention to the horse where he is holding tension, or not using a part of his body properly so that his own ability of healing can bring that part of his living system to full function.

I work quietly and wait! There is no doubt currently that it is the ridden part that is THE most important part of the whole process, as it usually is what went wrong in the first place to make a horse’s biomechanical function go awry. Maybe as more horse people update their thinking re the training of their horse to take into account the functional anatomy, then the ridden aspect will become a lesser reason, and accidents etc. will take over as the main reason why people call an Equine Therapist to get their horse back on track. Kerryn




I have done the role reversal for the last few years… I test my therapies on humans before I do on animals. i.e. horses!
TENS machine
Red light
Massage tools – manual & electric.

Before I tested them, I studied their functions & expected outcomes.
So far, the above tools in my therapeutic kit work well for me – but I will always use the ‘hands’ first
The feel is more important than anything – as the first plan in treatment for human or horse & that it is done through ‘hands on’ experience.
There are other tools that I have dismissed as of any use, because I always research the latest scientific studies that are unbiased. That is the key word in any research article – bias. Manufacturers or distributors will always proclaim the benefits of a product. Many studies are also not worth the paper they are written on or the time to take to read them. All variables have to be taken into account for the research to be accepted as sound and true.
The tools I have tested on humans work. They all have different functions for various needs. For example:
Red light has shown me in so far 100% of cases treated – human & horse, that it not only works to reduce pain, but inflammatory responses. Definitely increases circulation and reduces tension. Used also on acupressure points as in traditional Chinese medicine – it can stimulate any treatment plan.
Equine Massage vibrator tools find and release ‘trigger points’, fascial adhesions, and sore and tender spots .The high-velocity vibrations produced by the electric massager triggers deep relaxation.
The muscles in the hind end of a horse can be 10″ deep – so it can increase the circulation to quite a depth of tissue, & decrease constriction, but I would only use this tool on horses I felt were ready for this type of treatment.

Ultrasound (sound waves at high frequency) is a good treatment for very concentrated areas of pain, & thus dysfunction. It like having aspirin. Ultrasound takes the pain away, so that normal function can be helped to resume. Promotes healing of injuries, and stimulation of tissue repair. Good for muscle tears, tendon and ligament damage, chronic arthritis and scar tissue.

TENS machines have been around for many years and can assist in pain levels and tightness, along with massage it can be a good tool with certain areas of the body.

There are some therapy tools that I am not interested in using, and would not use after reading scientific studies on their pro’s and con’s. Anything that has a chance of hurting humans or horses in the future of their lives is of no interest to me.

How a horse is trained of course will also affect the outcome of the therapists’ tools. By decreasing pain, does not mean that the horse will function better straightaway if they are trained in the same way they were before they got sore. So, if they feel better after a treatment, & then for example, you put them in running reins & lunged them on a small circle like you did before the treatment, then there will be no lasting improvement in the horse’s physical function. There may be a ‘wow look at that’! But this will not last, & then you spend dollars on getting it treated again & again.Kerryn