Used for a long time on human athletes to provide pain relief and support to all areas of the body, kinesio tape is now being applied to the horses of some of the world's top dressage riders. 2012 European Young Riders Champion Cathrine Dufour is a firm believer in kinesio tape and does not hide her frequent use of the product.
"Kinesio tape is a thin, stretchy, therapeutic tape that can benefit a wide variety of injuries and inflammatory conditions," horse osteopath and physiotherapist Gitte Soeby told Eurodoressage.
Almost identical to human skin in both thickness and elasticity, Kinesio tape is easily worn without binding, constricting, or restricting movement.
"The tape interacts with the skin, the nerves under the skin, and the circulatory system in the injured area," Soeby explained. "When kinesio tape is applied to the skin, the stretch in the tape gently lifts the skin, creating a space between the skin and the tissues below. This creates an area of negative pressure, allowing both blood vessels and lymphatic vessels to dilate (open), increasing the circulation of both fluids. Improved blood flow enhances delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the injured tissues, accelerating the healing process. When lymphatic vessels dilate, the fluid that has collected in the injured area can drain away. This reduces swelling and relieves pressure on the pain receptors, providing immediate pain relief."
Involving an intricate interplay between the body’s sensory system, neurological system, and muscular system, Gitte explained that the ongoing, low level sensory stimulation from the tape on the skin activates pain gating mechanisms that assist in the relief of chronic pain. "They also allow restoration of normal muscle activation, restoring strength and mobility in muscles that may have been inhibited by pain or injury," she said.
Soeby Brings Kinesio Tape to High Performance Danish Dressage
Educated as an Equine Massage Therapist in Sweden, Gitte went on to study the Monty Roberts preliminary certificate in horsemanship and at the same time completed an education in human sports therapy. "I learned that it was not always the horses that had the problems, but the riders too that had problems with their bodies, meaning that the horses were the ones to suffer," Gitte stated.
Heading to Germany, Gitte studied as an osteopath, physiotherapist, and acupuncturist for both dogs and horses and started her own Danish Equine Academy to educate equine massage therapists. "I've had horses all my life, but I have worked in this area professionally since 1998. I treat all kind of horses; dressage, race, jumping, islandic," she said. "Some of my customers use my treatments as prophylaxis, meaning I come to treat the horses once a week, while others I come to one time every 14 days or once a month."
Kinesio tape has beed used for a long time and rather frequently on human athletes and when Gitte studied in Germany she became interested in applying the tape to horses. "When you try the tape on yourself, or you see the effect the tape has on humans, you think "Why not try it on horses?. It simply works!"
Used as an effective supplement to her usual horse treatments, Gitte knows that "the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more opportunities you have to give a good and effective treatment".
Designed to allow for a longitudinal stretch of around 55-60% of its resting length, the tape's degree of stretch approximates the elasticity of the human skin. The tape helps/assists the body return to normal function through the application of the tape onto the skin.
It has several possibilities of use:
- 1. You can use it to increase the muscle tones
- 2. You can use it to decrease the muscle tones
- 3. You can use it for mechanical correction
- 4. You can use it for fascia correction
- 5. You can use it for space correction (inflammation, oedema, swelling)
- 6. You can use it for functional correction (sensory stimulation to assist or limit a motion)
- 7. You can use it for lymphatic correction
Preaching Tape to the Converted
When Gitte introduced the tape to European Young Riders Champion Cathrine Dufour, the sympathetic Dane was all for trying it out on her competition horses. Cathrine has been very impressed with the results. "I think the tape is fantastic and it has helped Cassidy a lot, because he was quite uneven when I bought him," Dufour explained. "He was initially much more developed on the right side and through the treatments with Gitte, training, and the use of the tape, he is now almost evenly developed on both sides!"
Danish Olympian Anna Kasprzak was the one who recommended Dufour to get in touch with Gitte to use the physio tape. Cathrine contacted Soeby immediately. "Gitte applies the tape whenever she treats the horses and if necessary she shows me how to do it myself, until she returns," said Dufour.
Due to problems with Cassidy's mechanical use of his right hindleg and his lumbar region, Gitte applied the tape to the chestnut gelding to assist him and help to strengthen his weaker areas. "We tape him after normal treatment to "force" the movements in the right direction, and to relieve pain, and thereby to help him . When he uses muscles that are weak it can hurt and they can be sore, but the tape restores the strength and mobility," said Gitte.
Now familiar the tape and its application, Cathrine applies it herself, as Gitte has shown her a thousand times. "However, while I can do the most simple 'combinations' by myself, when it gets more complicated I need the expert," she admitted.
Cathrine applies the tape almost everywhere but her focus is on the back, neck and hind-legs of the horse, and while she doesn't know exactly what the tape does, she knows enough to know it works! "I know that it increases blood circulation as the tape kind of lifts up the skin, and furthermore it keeps the muscles in the correct position after a treatment," Dufour explained. "This means that the treatment keeps longer and the muscles will stay in the correct position and not go immediately back to the 'old position'. If one of my horses is a bit stronger to one side, the tape can help the horse straighten up, bend better and so on, and so on."
While she doesn't use the tape everyday, Cathrine has it on standby should any of her horses need 'help' during a tough training period. "I also don't use it for competition warms-up, but take it off before I go to the warm up," she said. "People always keep asking me 'what's that?, what's that?, and I don't want this to bother me in the warm up. As it also has to be taken off before going into the competition arena, I feel that would take too much time."
Italian eventing rider gone Grand Prix, Silvia Rizzo, did not believe the tape would work in the beginning, but after her physio applied it to her sore shoulder, she "couldn't believe how good it was". "After the good result on me, my physio began taping my horses and applying the tape mainly to the neck area," Rizzo explained. "On two of my horses is has worked absolutely and the third one will be taped in the near future. After 2 days I could really feel the difference in the horses, as they were more supple to both sides and more easy and willing to stretch."
A Take on Tape
Under FEI classification, the tape is grouped in with bandages, as a means of protecting the horses legs. "The use of bandages is permitted in training and pre-competition warm-up to protect the horses' legs. Physio tape is not permitted. Neither bandages nor physio tape are permitted in competition," Trond Asmyr, FEI Director Dressage and Para-Dressage, told Eurodressage.
Certain of its effectiveness Gitte uses the tape as a supplement in about 50-70% of her treatments to horses, particularly if she has a horse with subluxation, and manipulate the joints. "To make a successful treatment you have to work the muscles around the area. The big issue is that muscles are "creatures of habit". That means that when a muscle has had hold over joint for a period of time, and I try to manipulate the joint, the muscle will try to get back to the position that held the subluxation. So, by applying kinesio tape, I can get the explained benefits, and the muscle will be working 24/7, without me being there. With oedema and inflammations you see the success immediately."
Gitte, however, warns that success is limited by the practitioner's ability to evaluate the patient's (horse) condition and there is always the possibility of mistakes in tape applications. "In other words, you have to know the anatomy and biomechanics of the patient (horse) to apply the tape in the correct way," Soeby stated. "This is particularly important in horse treatment, due to their lack of speech. The horse can't tell you if your taping has made the problem worse!"
Text by Sarah Warne for Eurodressage
Photos © Astrid Appels
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