Equine Cupping Therapy
What is Equine Cupping?
Based on the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) cupping, vacuum cupping allows the equine massage therapist to apply static cupping methods and/or move the cup over a muscle system. The vacuum lifts and separates the muscle tissue to promote the movement of lymph fluid over and between tissue layers. Addressing
deep muscle layer restrictions, scar tissue, and swelling becomes easier as the body releases tension throughout an entire muscle system.
Pairs of glass, plastic, or silicone cups are moved symmetrically and continually to "lift" soft tissue in this modern and dynamic massage modality. This technique leverages the contrast of the benefits derived from creating a localized vacuum (negative pressure) with the benefits of manual tissue manipulation (positive pressure).
As in manual massage, different levels of pressure can be applied by the level of vacuum achieved within each suction cup. But as soft tissue is lifted within the vacuum rather than manually depressed and pressurized, it is reported that this releasing treatment is invigorating and energizing.
Debra chooses coconut oil to obtain a consistent vacuum created by the suction effect of the cups against the skin. This increases blood and lymphatic circulation systemically and locally relaxes and stretches muscle and connective tissue; draws out toxins from the tissues and releases muscle tension.
Why is it Important to Use Equine Cupping Machines Instead of Machines for Humans?
Debra Redman is a pioneer in equine cupping in the United States as she becomes the sole equine massage therapist to import the Schroepfmaster Hippo Cupping machine from Austria.
This machine's motor is designed to be quiet and the cups are especially designed to filter hair, dirt, sweat, and oil from the horse's skin while creating a therapeutic vacuum that lifts the muscle tissue. Human cupping machines are not designed to be quiet enough around horses. The human cups do not filter hair, dirt, sweat, and oil that get sucked up into the machine and they are not designed to create a viable suction pressure on a body that is covered in horse hair.
Manual Lymph Drainage
What is Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)?
Manual Lymph Drainage is a technique originally discovered and developed by a physician named Dr. Emil Vodder. The Vodder Technique is the original technique and is considered the best one. As a human medical massage therapist, Debra was trained in Vodder MLD. This training serves her in understanding how to use the technique with horses. The person credited with bringing Equine MLD training to the U.S. is Theresa Mueller, founder of Holistic Equine Academy of Lymphodema (HEAL). Theresa trained at the veterinary school in Hanover, Germany and given permission to teach MLD in the United States.
MLD requires an understanding of the connective tissue structure of the lymph system, how it works, and what the consequences of congestion are in the body. The technique used is very specific and requires a fine palpation skill. Equine anatomy knowledge helps understand how lymph flows in the horse's body.
Benefits of Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)
A soft, slow massage that aids in faster recovery from physical exertion.
Aids in breaking down fibrotic scar tissue.
Promotes pain relief and calms the nervous system.
Has no negative side effects.
Can be used alone or in conjunction with other equine massage modalities.
Application of Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)
Swollen sheaths and udders
Soft tissue injuries: tendonitis, tendons, ligaments
Recuperation from surgery
Swelling for unspecified reasons
Tensegrity Balancing Therapy
What is Tensegrity Balancing?
"The concept of tensegrity describes the forces in play between compression and tension, the stability of the structure, and through that, the functionality of the structure." - Tami Elkayam, founder of Elkayam Equine Therapy and creator of Equine Tensegrity Balancing Therapy.
This modality requires fine palpation skill, a keen eye for observation, knowledge of equine anatomy, and movement. The application of techiques influences the entire body of the horse, helping to release compensation patterns, fascial restrictions, and restore a horse's sense of proprioception in the whole body. For example, if you've ever said of a horse something like "he doesn't seem to know where to put his feet" or "she has difficulty going to the right", you have a horse that would benefit from Tensegrity Balancing.
Tensegrity Balancing is a way of looking at the entire horse and asking how an equine massage therapist can influence structure, shape, and motion in order to restore the horse's ability to regain functionality. It's looking at the fascia of the body, understanding neuroplasticity, and motion. Tami Elkayam explains that "This form of therapy offers the body fascial release and fascial remodeling that allows the body to incorporate and assimilate changes."
Tensegrity Balancing is used alone or inconjunction with cupping and MLD modalities. There are no negative side effects.
Sports Massage Therapy
Equine massage therapy accomplishes all of the same goals as a human massage. This is a good choice for in between cupping sessions, for horses who can’t do cupping, or who simply won’t accept a cupping massage. An equine massage can be for relaxation or to relieve muscles after a workout or injury. Equine massage modalities include craniosacral therapy, acupressure/trigger point, myofascial release, manual lymph drainage, and energy work.
A strong knowledge of anatomy and how a horse’s body moves informs a good equine massage therapist’s ability to palpate where the restrictions are and how to release them. But, it goes much deeper than that. Using the Tami Elkayam’s concept of Tensegrity, the knowledge of where the release goes and how it is connected to other systems in the horse’s body make an equine massage more effective. This level of massage works toward the release of restrictions all along the body, not just relieve symptoms in one particular area. As a licensed medical massage therapist for humans, I appreciate this level of work for horses.
Introducing The Equine Cupping Machine
The Equine Cupping Machine (ECM) is manufactured in Austria. Debra Redman is the authorized importer of the ECM. She choose this machine after researching the requirements of doing horse and dog cupping. Machines designed for human cupping are not designed to filter out hair, dirt, sweat, and oil. The cups designed for human cupping do not have the ability to control the vacuum pressure, won’t hold a filter for hair, dirt, sweat, and oil, and the lip of the human cup is not wide enough to create the surface area needed to create proper vacuum pressure on animal hair. Pictures of the ECM and a human cupping machine are below.
The ECM motor has been especially designed to be very quiet - as opposed to the human cupping machine - so as not to spook horses. Both machines can control the pressure through a pressure gauge and create a pulse of pressure/release cycles. In addition to the control dials on the machine, the glass cups have holes in them to allow the equine massage therapist to control both vacuum pressure and the release cycle with finger pressure. In addition, the ECM has an external filter that pulls hair, dirt, sweat, and oil away from the motor. The human cupping machines do not have this ability.
Wait, did she just say the cups are GLASS? Around horses?!? Yes, the cups used for gliding and static cupping technique are made of glass. The manufacturer explains that this decision was made after much experimentation with polycarbonate, silicon, and glass cups. They found that glass is easier to keep sanitized and glides the most smoothly over the horse’s body. Glass cups are used in warming strokes, moderate treatment strokes, and static cupping of targeted areas.
Two polycarbonate cups are also available for use. The polycarbonate cups are designed specifically for static cupping and do not have the pressure holes. The poly cups are typically used in the last phase of the treatment process.
Both types of cups are designed so that the cup pressure can be released quickly and easily when the horse indicates that a release has been completed. The glass cups are attached to the machine via a silicone tubing system. There are two tubes included. One is a single cup tube and the other is designed for up to 4 cups to be attached. The 4-cup tubing system has two pressure clips to control which two sets of cups are in use.
The ECM has two vacuum stems that can ultimately allow for 5 cups to be in use at the same time. The yellow tubes for the polycarbonate cups are single cup tubes with filters built into the tube. They can be used individually, together, or in combination with the glass cups.
Debra performs necessary sanitization and maintenance on a regular basis. Glass and poly cups are sanitized after each equine patient. The yellow tube and external filters are cleaned regularly as needed.
An equine cupping research study on Arabian Horses. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5993763/
Here is a research article about the effects of vacuum cupping on equine laminitis. https://repository.najah.edu/.../Effect%20of%20cupping...
Transcript of an interview with Diana Landskron (Germany) done by Ane’ Lloyd of Onlinepethealth.com. Diana is one of the first people to use an actual equine vacuum cupping machine in Europe. https://onlinepethealth.com/2020/06/18/the-inside-scoop-on-cupping/
Debra constantly searches Google Scholar and other search engines for updates on research related to equine vacuum cupping. If you know of a source, please share with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Case Studies of Equine Cupping
Case Study #1: Trigger
Trigger is a 20+ year old Quarter Horse living out his life at Trinity Horse Rescue in Acworth, Georgia. He is blind in the right eye. He is occasionally exercised with lunging and English riding by volunteers. His primary rider is an experienced rider in upper level dressage. Trigger presented as pretty grumpy and clearly telling us that he was in pain by biting at the handler and myself. I began my assessment by using a craniosacral technique at the top of the jaw, using the TMJ points. The jaw was very tight and Trigger immediately shook his head to get me off. I assessed for trigger points along the bladder meridian, as is taught by the Masterton Method and determined that we could spend all day just treating those trigger points.
Trigger’s body is very tense and his gait pattern shows that his movement is not free and easy (see the first video below).
The session was a total of 2 hours, focusing primarily on glutes, biceps femoris, semi-membranous, the SI joint, and points along the sacrum. Cupping pressure was released whenever Trigger gave a sigh or began licking and chewing. The length of time at each point was determined by his reactions.
The last video shows his spontaneous reaction to the session. Everyone was quite happy when he suddenly began parking out and stretching his whole body!
Trigger's Tight Gait
As Trigger is moved to the treatment area, you can see how stiff his gait is before his first cupping treatment.
An Amazing After-Treatment Stretch
After Trigger's first cupping treatment, watch him stretch himself out in obvious comfort and relief. Cupping works - just ask Trigger!
Videos Showing Cupping Technique
The videos below show various parts of the cupping therapy that was performed on Trigger. These videos are shown here to give you a good idea of how cupping is done. Please note that each equine patient will have different ailments, therefore different treatment areas and number of treatments.
How the System & the Plastic Cup Works
Debra explains how cupping with the plastic cup gets results and demonstrates the technique. Watch as Trigger's muscles instantly relax!
Trigger's Blind Side
As Debra is treating Trigger's tight hip on his blind side, you can visibly see the hip relax.
Trigger Puts Full Weight on Both Hind Legs
While using the concept of Tensegrity in cupping, Trigger starts to put his full weight on BOTH hind legs.
Case Study #2: Excalibur (X)
X, short for Excalibur, is a 20+ year old rescue who has been comfortably living at an equine sanctuary for the last six years. This first picture is from his first treatment with equine cupping. The protocol began with hindquarters. Before we could finish, X asked for his shoulders to be done. Afterwards, I asked Hannah, his handler, to walk him. She was impressed with the improvement in forward movement. Over the next week, she observed that X was a bit stiff the day after, but seemed to loosed up a good bit the second day after the treatment and more willing to move around when he’s out in pasture. The second treatment occurred three weeks later.
The second treatment began using the Masterson method of assessing with the pass over the bladder channel. Several points along the neck were indicated with eye blinks. This continued along the back and hindquarters. This became information for what to treat with the vacuum cups.
The protocol begins with the hindquarters. There was enough of a release from the first treatment, that the glutes, biceps femoris, and femoral quadriceps. Light vacuum pressure was used during the warming strokes with the large glass cup and manual control of pressure pulse. The second pass of medium strokes with the same glass cup treated areas of tension in the area. X indicated a nice release with licking and chewing.
This happened in about 10 minutes. Considering that it took more than 30 minutes to get those same releases in the first session, this was good news. The work from the previous session three weeks ago held.
Time to move on to the torso. Warming strokes began with the loin and moved forward towards the shoulder. This is important because this is the direction of lymph fluid movement. The trigger points along the shelf of ribs were treated for 1 -3 minutes of 3 second pulses. Using moving cup technique, the glass cup ran down the ribs, along the descending pectorals and abdominal obliques. When indicated, certain areas were treated with 2-3 minutes of 3 second pulses.
Cupping of the neck on both sides yielding some hidden restrictions. The video describing those restrictions shows me stating that we are looking at the left side of the horse when clearly I am on the right side and I mention that the “dorsal line” looks a bit straighter when clearly we are looking at the ventral line. Welcome to my dyslexia! LOL
Our goals for X are to work towards releasing as many restrictions are we can. X is not asked to work. He has had excellent care for six years which includes a chiropractor/acupuncturist veterinarian. This treatment uncovered the possibility that his atlanto-occipital and atlanto-axial joints were “out” and it might be time for a chiropractic treatment. We are currently waiting to hear feedback from the veterinarian.
Finally, the video shows looser movement and willingness to move forward. X was happy to drink water at the end. This treatment moved a lot of lymph fluid around, so drinking water is very important.
Videos Showing Cupping Technique
The videos below show various parts of the cupping therapy that was performed on Excalibur. These videos are shown here to give you a good idea of how cupping is done. Please note that each equine patient will have different ailments, therefore different treatment areas and number of treatments.
Excalibur Shows Even Weight on Legs
Debra walks you through and shows the changes in Excalibur, with more to come.
Smooth, long strides show the decrease in Excalibur's stiffness.
Importance of Water After Therapy
Cupping moves a lot of lymph fluid in the body so drinking water and detoxifying are important.
Equine Cupping & Massage Therapist,
Published Author, Coach
As a licensed medical massage therapist, Debra Redman developed her palpation skills working with humans using the techniques of manual lymph drainage, myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, reflexology, trigger point/acupressure, and energy healing modalities. As an intuitive healer, Debra's "listening" skills help her "hear" what the body is saying about how it wants to heal. Knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology round out her skill set. The philosophy is to treat holistically and systemically. Pain is a symptom. Tracing it to the cause is the goal. As a certified equine massage therapist, listening and palpation skill become even more important as massage techniques apply to the horse. Understanding kinesiology and anatomy are critical to diagnosing the cause of pain in horses.
Understanding that horses respond best to modalities that aren’t harsh, Debra applies myofascial release, trigger point/acupressure, craniosacral, energy modalities, along with the vacuum cupping to help identify and release restrictions in the equine body. Her continuing education includes training on Tami Elkayam’s Tensegrity Equine Bodywork and HEAL’s Equine Manual Lymph Drainage. Both of these modalities and philosophies of equine healing dovetail beautifully with vacuum cupping.
Debra has been around horses from a young age, working on horse farms, trail riding, volunteering for therapeutic riding programs, and taking lessons throughout her life. She entered full-time horse ownership and barn management in 2012 for a herd of 12 horses who required rescuing and rehabilitation. In 2013, Debra was certified as a PATH Therapeutic Riding Instructor and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning. Debra founded a PATH-certified equine assisted therapy program working with special needs children in 2015. Debra trains at novice level and level one dressage for pleasure and exercising her own horses.