Heart & Soul Equine

Heart and Soul Equine was established out of a real desire to help horses. I also love helping folks, through useful information, become better partners with a horse. This information provides for a happier horse, therefore a better outcome and relationship for both.

The A.R.T. of Pain Relief – Introducing Active Release Therapy – Not Your Typical Equine Body Work

Until very recently, the idea of massage therapy or bodywork for horses was mostly unheard of. People would just get on their horse and ride. Horses were a necessary source of transportation. Armies rode them into battle. Cowboys used them to tame the west and work cattle. The animals were bought and traded like a commodity.


In modern times, the horse has become more a symbol of recreation and competition than a beast of burden. We have begun to understand them as athletes, with similar needs and considerations as their human counterparts. Top competitors in equine sports recognize the need for their animals to be in the best physical condition possible, and the role that routine bodywork plays in keeping a horse’s muscles and frame in top shape and minimizing injury.


People seek after bodywork for themselves all the time. Nothing feels better than a good massage, or a chiropractic treatment for a pulled muscle or stiff back. Top human athletes seek many forms of bodywork and invest in themselves, spending hours upon hours keeping their bodies finely tuned.


Recreational horse owners can also benefit from the practice of bodywork, but many are skeptical or simply unaware of it. It may never have occurred to us that our horse might have a sore muscle or ligament out of place. Imagine how even the slightest amount of discomfort might affect your horse while you’re riding. If your horse is finicky or resistant, it’s worth checking out. One session with an educated and intuitive practitioner could make all the difference in your overall enjoyment of your horse.


One of the breakthrough therapy techniques, or “modalities” used by elite human athletes is a called Active Release Therapy, also known as ART. Active Release Therapy is a dynamic and rare therapy developed in 1985 by P. Michael Leahy, DC, CCSP, who actually acquired a medical patent, a rare pursuit for any modality of bodywork. Although still little known to the public, ART has been highly sought after by some of the top competitive athletes and athletic events in the world over the last 20 years, including Ironman, an event that draws some of the world’s most intense competitors.


Active Release Therapy addresses nerve entrapments or repetitive motion tissue adhesions by combining pressure and range of motion to release the adhesions and scar tissue from the surrounding muscles. Scar tissue is an accumulation of small tears caused by lack of oxygen, produced by the body to protect areas affected by an acute condition, injury or simple overuse. Scar tissue restricts the surrounding tissues from moving freely, resulting in a lack of range of motion. Repetitive motion, whether in human athletes or horses can cause weak and tight muscles, leading to friction, inflammation and decreased circulation. ART provides a way to open up the adhesions and relieve the pressure from subtle (or not so subtle) scar tissue. ART also aids healing by alleviating acute pain, reduces muscle fatigue, reduces bruising and swelling, promotes relaxation, increases circulation, promotes balance, muscle tone and flexibility and prevents future injuries.



Active Release Therapy, in short, is a dynamic treatment for soft tissue ailments and limited range of motion. It alleviates pain and promotes healing. All athletes can benefit from increased range of motion, whether rehab from an injury or just routine maintenance. Although our equine friends are built on a much larger scale than human anatomy, aside from a few subtleties, our physical structures aren’t that different.


Dixie Snyder is a prominent, certified ART therapist from San Jose, California who has performed bodywork for human patients for over 40 years, and horses for over 20 years. Dixie, who saw the dynamic results from Active Release Therapy with her human athlete clients started to translate the technique to horses. She has now introduced ART to a number of horses with highly successful results, relieving repetitive motion adhesions and scar tissue. She considers this to be one of her most productive modalities in equine bodywork, particularly with muscles and ligaments in the legs, due to the nature of a horse’s motion. A top performance horse, whether a hunter Jumper or dressage horse, barrel horse or working cow horse will go through many repetitive movements in their training and daily exercise program. Relieving the scar tissue provides a major opportunity to increase the range of motion in a horse. Trainers in several disciplines are noting quantifiable improvement after the first session of Active Release Therapy with Dixie. Some of those cases alluded to over 60% improvement in gaits, maneuvers and transitions.


We can’t overemphasize the overall benefits of bodywork for horses. As we are fond of saying, a horse can’t use words to tell you when they’re uncomfortable. It takes a keen awareness to recognize limitations in a horse’s movements. Human athletes frequently acknowledge the benefits of body therapy in conversations with fellow athletes, but it’s an uncommon conversation among horse owners. Bodywork accomplishes the same thing for your horse as it does for you: keeps you limber, loosens tight muscles, relieves aches and pains, accelerates healing from injury, increases confidence, allows you to perform better, and enhances your overall enjoyment of any physical activity (which is, after all, the whole point). Again, it’s worth your while to check it out for your horse. You’re bound to have more fun when they’re feeling good.


Active Release Therapy isn’t your typical bodywork; it’s more like bodywork with a turbocharger. It’s a wonderful way to keep today’s horses in top shape, whether for performance or recreation, and offers huge benefits in routine and long-term health care. For more information please visit or Call Dixie Snyder from Athletic Body Concepts at 408-280-0303.

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It is easy to forget in our day to day work with horses that there is much more involved than just hopping on and riding. Sandi reminds us that it is our responsibility to be the best caretakers possible for our trusty friends. It is also important not to become complacent in our dealings with horses and people connected with them… we should always strive to educate ourselves more, staying up to date with the latest news and information. Sandi’s 8 essentials are exactly that… Essential!

A. Milne – 36 Year Riding Veteran, Horse Owner and Equine Artist