What is Equine Structural Integration?

Structural Integration is a holistic bodywork modality that focuses on the fascia to balance the body, first developed by Dr. Ida Pauline Rolf (1896-1979).  Fascia is the connective tissue that supports muscles, blood vessels, organs, and nerves. As injuries and general wear and tear occur, the fascia protects the body and masks any weakness by tightening in a way to compensate for the injury or weakness.  The horse’s body then learns this shortened movement pattern that has less range of motion and fluidity. Balancing the body through structural integration removes compensation patterns that develop, and creates better communication through the fascial network that runs through the body.  

Structural integration serves as a way to influence the fascial network in each of us, to allow our bodies to function as naturally and gracefully as they were designed to do.  Balance, freedom of movement, and communication within the body are all wonderful side effects of an integrated structure. 

Why Structural Integration?

So why structural integration?  Why should your horse have a “series”?  While I do employ massage and stretching techniques, the foundation of my bodywork is structural integration.  Structural integration involves a series of sessions to systematically balance and align the body so it can maximize function.  In horses, this series is typically 4-5 sessions.  Throughout this process, we don’t just relax the horse’s muscles and focus on a particular problem area, but reprogram the horse’s entire fascial network and neuromuscular system. 

By releasing the tension in the fascia, we return elasticity back to the horse.  Due to the fascial network being completely connected, when we address tension and compensations in one area, we free up slack, so to speak, in the whole body.  The horse’s nervous system integrates this information, and new movement patterns with greater freedom are programmed.  The effects gained through structural integration are long lasting, often 6-12 months, with only infrequent maintenance sessions as follow-up.   

As prey animals, horses do their best to mask pain and discomfort. It is up to us to interpret their behaviours. While this list is not exhaustive, there are many signs that your horse may benefit from bodywork:

+ Sensitive to groom, saddle or blanket
+ Bucking, balking, stopping at fences
+ Difficulty connecting the hind end
+ Heavier on one rein, trouble bending in one direction
+ Moves with quarters in, or “drops” shoulder in
+ Lead swapping, or difficulty picking up a particular lead
+ Unwillingness to stand still for mounting, tacking
+ “Cold-backed”