The 1st system I listed in the Blog 'What Are the 11 Systems of the Horse' was the integumentary system - or the skin, hair and hooves. In this issue I would like to discuss this system further. I will explain what it is, what it does and how it relates to massage.
Firstly; what is the integumentary system comprised of?
The skin is made of 3 basic layers. The hypodermis, which is the innermost layer, the dermis and the epidermis. The hair and hooves are also part of this system.
The hypodermis is made up of connective tissue that allows the skin to glide over the muscles. It is a cushioning layer between the muscles and the skin. There are large blood vessels that supply the skin in this layer. The dermis and the hypodermis also contain nerve endings.
The dermis is the thick layer containing nerve ends, hair follicles, sebaceous (oil) and sweat glands, blood and lymphatic vessels. It is attached to the hypodermis by collagen fibres that give the skin elasticity.
The epidermis is a layer of skin toughened by keratin. The sweat and sebaceous glands reach the epidermis through pores. Vitamin D (from sunlight) is processed by the epidermis and is important as it assists in absorption of Calcium. Melanin is also found in this layer and is responsible for colour and protection from sunlight.
What does the skin do?
The integumentary systems main functions are to protect the body from temperature, fluid loss, diseases and physical injuries. The skin maintains homeostasis or balance in the horses body and blood pressure. It is the large elastic hold everything in organ! It also serves to assist in elimination of waste materials through the sweat and oil glands.
How does the skin relate to massage?
The most obvious relationship that the skin has to massage is that it is the part that we touch when massaging. The integumentary system can show us quite a lot about a horses general health and well-being. For example; is the hair shiny, not dry etc. Are the hooves strong. Are there any old scars or wounds that might give an indication of an old or current injury or dysfunction. Does the skin feel elastic.
When we massage the horse we are also stimulating the sebaceous and sweat glands therefore assisting to eliminate waste and toxins from the system. When stimulating the oil glands we can also give a horse an extra high shine through this stimulation. Massage stimulates the blood and lymphatic vessels to improve circulation throughout the body and also assist the lymphatic drainage. Because the nerve endings are in the skin it stimulates the nervous system of the horse and can either have a sedative or stimulating effect on the horse. Nutrient uptake is increased. Elasticity is improved. Fatty deposits can be removed. Spasms can be alleviated. And it altogether feels great!