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Fascinating Fascia - Why we should learn more about it...

Understanding the importance of healthy fascia is important for horse owners and trainers as it plays a significant role in the overall well-being and performance of the horse. Fascia, a type of connective tissue, is essential for maintaining posture, enabling movement, and transmitting force throughout the horse's body. It also contributes to proprioception (the horse's ability to sense its body position and movement), affecting balance and coordination.


Proper hydration of the fascia ensures smooth movement and functionality of the musculoskeletal system, making it vital for all horses, but especially those involved in performance disciplines.


In this blog, discover more about fascia and why horse owners as well as riders, coaches, therapists and professionals working with horses should understand more about this fascinating structure, and how we can use this knowledge to improve the comfort and performance of our horses.


Fascia – The Basics


For many years fascia was considered an inconsequential tissue that was disregarded in favour of the seemingly more important structures of the body such as organs, muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone.


In recent years, a greater understanding of fascia has led to an explosion in myofascial release techniques which really make a difference to the health of fascia and the horse.


Fascia is connective tissue and comes in many different forms.

The key thing about this structure is that it connects everything to everything.

It surrounds every muscle, it's between muscles, it surrounds muscle fibre bundles, it surrounds organs and is between the organs, it surrounds different tissues. It also surrounds bone in the form of the membrane called the periosteum.


If you have attended any of Gillian’s courses, or watched any of the online content available, you will have heard her say probably more than once that in anatomy, everything is connected to everything else. It's impossible to move just one part of the horse's body without it having an effect on the posture, balance, movement and the health, comfort and performance of the horse's body.


“This is why fascia is so fascinating,” says Gillian. “If we were to remove all the horse’s organs, bones and muscles but leave the fascia in place, the fascia would almost form a skeleton shape of the whole of the horse's body! This, really does highlight the fact that fascia truly does connect everything to everything.”

Horses Inside Out Academy on-demand recorded webinar Understanding Muscles and Fascia

If you want to learn more about this subject, then check out on-demand webinar available in the Horses Inside Out Academy - Understanding Muscles and Fascia. In this fascinating recoded webinar, Gillian explains how understanding more about your horse's muscle biomechanics, and the continuous web of fascia that surrounds them, can enhance his comfort, wellbeing and performance. 


Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out close up of equine fascia

We also have an upcoming online seminar – All About Fascia on Monday 2nd September 2024. Hosted by Gillian Higgins, this seminar is open to everyone and will look at the anatomy and structure of fascia in detail. You will get the opportunity to see fascia from dissection photographs and videos, as well as paintings to illustrate different connections. The seminar will also look at the function of fascia and how to keep it healthy to help keep the horse comfortable and able to perform at its best.  




“In my mind, it's up to us as horse owners, riders and professionals in the equine industry to learn as much as we possibly can to help our horses,” stresses Gillian.

What is Fascia?

Fascia is made up of different components which include fibres, an extracellular matrix which is basically a fluid type structure which these fibres sit within, and fibroblasts which make the fibres.


Fibroblasts are cells that produce fibres. What’s interesting about them is that they don't produce fibres in response to strengthening exercises or to nutrition. Instead, they produce fibres in response to force. This means that the fibres are laid down within fascia along lines of force or tension. When you study fascia, you can see patterns within it and the direction of the fibres within it tells us a story as you are seeing lines of force.


This means that the structure becomes really well adapted to the horse’s individual movement. It also means that movement in other directions is not going to be as well designed for that. The direction of the fibres has implications in terms of symmetry, soundness, and posture. For example, if you have a really asymmetrical or lame horse that's been like that for a long period of time, asymmetrical forces within the body can alter the balance of the fascial lines within the connective tissue. It means that the horse is adapted to go in a certain way and will take time to change.

 

“Fascial techniques can be an effective therapy, especially in terms of awareness, proprioception and feelings. However, in terms of changing the direction of the fibres within the fascia in one therapy session, that's not going to happen. Fascia adapts to how the horse moves and it takes a long time to make a change within the body.”

 

Fascial Fibres

There are three different types of fascial fibres:

  1. Collagen fibres, which are white fibres and are inelastic

  2. Elastin fibres, these are the yellow fibres and they are much more elastic

  3. Retinacular fibres which are in the middle of the white and yellow fibres in terms of elasticity


You will find these different types of fibres within areas of the horse's body. Where there is fascia that has more of the elastic yellow fibres, the area is going to be more able to cope with movement.


Then there are some areas which have a higher density of the white collagen fibres, these are more inelastic. You might be wondering why would you want an inelastic portion of fascia? The answer is, this is great for force transfer. If you want to move one part of your body and transfer that movement efficiently to another part, it’s going to be done through these more inelastic type of fibres. Areas of high density of collagen fibres are really good for force transfer, for the stretch and recoil of structures that help to create movement, and to reduce the amount of muscle energy and activity that's required to do that. Essentially, it's a great way of making movement energy efficient.


Gillia Higgins from Horses Inside out demonstrating massage techniques

It’s useful to understand about the different fascial types especially when it comes to doing different therapy techniques. Which one you choose depends on the type of structure that you're looking at and the type of fascia.






A number of myofascial release techniques are covered in detail in the Horses Inside Out Online Massage Course for Horse Owners. This easy to follow course guides you through the various different massage techniques in a step-by-step format. Each video in the course gives you clear and easy to understand instruction which is all back up in the handy massage workbook.



“It doesn't have to be dramatic to be effective,” says Gillian. “Sometimes a simple move can effectively stretch or bring awareness to parts of the horse's body. If you do yoga or Pilates you will know that sometimes just a slight variation in position of your body can significantly increase the intensity of a stretch.”

 

Steps to Healthy Fascia

Taking steps to ensure fascia is healthy will have a positive impact on the health and happiness of the horse. There are a number of different factors that will go along way to help keep fascia healthy.


Staying Hydrated

Hydration is important in keeping fascia healthy, but this isn’t all about drinking plenty of water – although that is important. Hydration in fascia is mainly due to the presence of a substance called hyaluronic acid. This is produced by cells around fascia at the edges of fascial sheets. Basically, it acts as a lubricant and helps with the smooth slide and glide. Remember about fascia being between muscles and structures? When the horse is moving, for him to move with a free, smooth flowing movement it’s important that all these structures can slide and glide. That’s why good fascia hydration is crucial for this to happen.


Access to clean fresh water and giving electrolytes when necessary are all important when it comes to healthy fascia.


Horses Inside Out Academy on demand online seminar Digestive Anatomy, Feeding and Nutrition

Delve into the world of equine nutrition and the importance of good hydration with our on-demand recorded seminar Digestive Anatomy, Feeding and Nutrition. Claire MacLeod, independent registered equine nutritionist with expertise in equine health and fitness guides your through the importance of a correct diet and nutrition for your horse.

 

Hydration of fascia is also down to pressure - if there is too much pressure in an area this can locally dehydrate the fascia. Think of it as a little bit like squeezing water out a sponge.

The saddle on the horse’s back can locally dehydrate the back. You can see a similar thing with the girth or a rug around the base of the horse's neck when they put their head down to graze, these areas of can cause pressure in that area causing dehydration.


Posture and Symmetry

Gillia Higgins at Horses Inside Out: Symmetry and straightness

Posture, symmetry and body balance are all really important for healthy fascia. Poor posture and asymmetry, for example if you sit with your legs crossed or you collapse one hip when you're standing, can affect the tension within certain muscles which can potentially influence the hydration of certain fascial structures.



The All About Fascia Seminar will give you lots more detail about this subject and how you can test for fascial hydration, and ways to help improve healthy hydration of fascia.


Keep Moving

Movement is key for healthy fascia. If there are restrictions caused by muscle tension, or maybe from discomfort within a joint, or from tack, or the way a horse is trained, whatever the cause of the restriction, this is potentially going to reduce movement and influence the health of fascia.


A horse that regularly has the opportunity to stretch in the field and has a variety of different exercise such as ridden and in-hand work is going to have much healthier fascia compared to a horse kept in the stable.

“One of the major differences between horses that move a lot versus horses that don't is the orientation of the fibres,” explains Gillian. “The fibres in a horse that moves a lot are much more aligned and ready to respond to movement. In contrast, a horse that doesn't move very much will have more disorganised orientation of the fibres.”

Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out close up of equine fascia

The All About Fascia online seminar will give you lots of practical ideas on how you can promote healthy fascia and lots more. So if you enjoyed this article and want to learn more your really don't want to miss it!

 


 


 

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