Written by Fran McNicol, this guest blog post zooms into a crucial biological component that can be argued to lack attention – fascia.
The Importance of Fascia
I started noticing the buzz about the fuzz a year or so ago. The “fuzz” is fascia, a form of connective tissue which importance is generally overlooked.
When we bought Rocky – our fancy warmblood – we bought a young horse with international standard genes. We had to have him gelded, and we were told to make sure we got some massage done on the gelding scar to preserve his fabulous movement.
Fascia is the stringy substance in between the muscles in your chicken breast, or the marbling in your steak. It keeps muscles separate so they can slide over each other and work independently. In surgery fascia is critical. It provides planes of anatomical cleavage that determine where incisions should occur. Interestingly, French surgeons appreciate the importance of fascia. They refer to fascia as “cheveux d’anges”, also known as angel hair… illustrating the delicate little tendrils visible when biological tissues are separated. If a tissue is disrupted by injury, it is partly the fascia that stabilises that injury, by thickening into a scar. Hence, it is important to keep optimum mobility throughout life, and especially following injury.
Myofascial Release Therapy (MRT)
Barbara Dreyer-Rowland was the first person I saw demonstrate the art of MRT. The subtlety and gentleness of the movements struck me first; simply a gentle finger pressure on acupressure and meridian points. There is a theoretical belief that acupuncture actually works along fascial lines, not along the pre-determined paths of blood vessels, nerves or lymphatics. Had it not been for my horse’s dramatic reaction, I would not have known there was any treatment going on…
Not Fran’s horse Cal, but another equally emotive horse.
My horse Cal is very demonstrative; in between manoeuvres he stretched, adjusted, licked and chewed. As the treatment progressed, his eyes softened and slowly blinked. His posture also improved, which had a positive influence on our gymnastic schooling exercises.
The Importance of Correct Schooling for Maintaining Fascial Health
In a perfect world, correct schooling work in itself should be therapeutic. We all feel that our horses generally have a hollow side and a longer side. If we strengthen to equalise to the shorter hollow side we end up with stiff and equally contracted horses. However, if we reverse the contraction of the short, stiff side to the length of the relaxed side of the body and then strengthen… we build strength upon suppleness. This enables the power to come through from the hindquarters without blockage. A basic knowledge of gymnastic schooling is lacking in current training regimens. In the rush for progress and prizes, an understanding and desire to take time to build the horse up into an athlete prior to increasing physical demands is largely lost. Hence my search for an understanding instructor to allow me and my horse to progress in a correct and harmonious manner.
A Biological Entity
The hyoid and tongue apparatus of the horse is connected to the shoulder and tarsal joint by an uninterrupted fascial sheet that varies in its thickness. With this in mind, action of the bit that constricts the tongue and hyoid will consequently and adversely effect hindlimb movement (Hands Healing Horses). This biological theory is the foundation for the Roller argument that is a hot topic of discussion.
The mostly sedentary lifestyles of humans can serve to hinder our ability to ride at our best. We get told we need a strong core to baron the movement, but actually it is a stillness in motion we need to seek, not a stiff brace.
Open and flexible hip sockets, a nice flat back with good tone of our core and spinal musculature, the line from armpit to hipbones… these factors all come together to produce a correct and effective position. It is common to have over developed or hypertonic back and shoulders accompanying weak abdominal muscles. Strengthening contracted abdominal muscles will only increase the dysfunction – we need to open up the hip flexors before we can engage our ‘core’ to get the balance required between front and back lines. I found a human physiotherapist to help with this, whom also had a specific focus on MRT. After six months of breaking down the “fuzz”, I can now access front and back trunk muscles as required, and even use my hand or leg without the other joining in, and mostly without bracing or stiffness. This is progress indeed.
So, quite rightly, there is a lot of buzz about the fuzz. Is your fuzz soft and pliable, or tough and stringy?
And how about your horse? Does his skin move smoothly over soft muscles or can you see stripes or striations in the muscle? Have you inadvertently strengthened a stiffness? Does he pound the ground or float softly?
Supple horses with soft pliable fuzz and efficient energy transfer have a decreased risk of injury and prolonged health… isn’t that what we all desire for our dream four-legged partners?
About the Author
Fran and beautiful Cal
My name is Fran and I work as a consultant at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, specialising in colorectal cancer surgery. Nelipot Cottage is a pseudonym for a novel equestrian set up, based on barefoot and holistic herd living, on the outskirts of Delamere Forest. My blog is about our barefoot herd, our adventures, experiments, experiences and learning. I hope that sharing our stories will bring new friends, kindred spirits, shared knowledge and lots of positive energy into our lives. We are learning to keep the sports horse holistically: healthy hooves, healthy bodies and healthy minds.
We also offer short stay B&B accommodation if you would like to bring your horses to stay and enjoy our wonderful off-road hacking. You could even become a part of our story!