It’s Not Magic, It Just Looks Like It: Soft Tissue Therapy Opening New Doors In Equine Wellness - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

It’s Not Magic, It Just Looks Like It: Soft Tissue Therapy Opening New Doors In Equine Wellness

It almost looks like magic when Christian Langeder works on a sore horse, helping its pain disappear almost instantly.

The Australian equine therapist has become especially well-known for his viral Tik-Tok videos; he regularly shares before-and-after clips of horses that have received his treatments, making it easy to see the often-astounding improvement in mobility and flexibility. Langeder also explains how massage and other soft tissue treatments can help horses feel better, both physically and emotionally.

@christianlangeder Sore hamstrings in a racehorse. #christianlangeder #horse #sorehorse #exracehorse #sorehorsey #horses #horsesoftiktok #dressage #polo #edutainment #horseriding #exracehorsesoftiktok #racehorses ♬ original sound – Christian Langeder

“I want to help more people and horses than I'm capable of with my own two hands,” Langeder explains. “That's why I started doing the social media. My original intent was not to be clever. I'm trying to show you what soreness looks like in the horse, and what it looks like when it's fixed.”

The popularity of Langeder's videos is endemic of the masses of horse owners and trainers who are in desperate need of help with their horses' issues. For many, seeing his results is the first real proof that the types of soft tissue therapies Langeder practices are a viable form of treatment.

There are still some doubters, of course, but just as equine chiropractic care has become a more commonly accepted practice across the horse industry, soft tissue therapy is gaining traction as a treatment alternative. With the backing of Langeder's results, and those of other soft tissue therapists like him, more horse owners and professionals are beginning to embrace these alternative treatments. Often, they can be just as effective as, and in most cases, more affordable than other traditional methods.

That's not to say that soft tissue therapy replaces veterinary care. Rather, it can be a great starting point to address minor issues, catch small problems before they become big problems, and point to potential causes for more serious issues.

It's not just pleasure or sport horses being converted to Langeder's way of thinking, either. Langeder has seen strong buy-in from racehorse trainers in Australia, and across the world. Despite the traditionally static world of Thoroughbred racing, soft tissue therapy has been slowly converting the most regimented of trainers.

“I've worked with several very gruff trainers,” Langeder said. “I'll get them to check the muscle or sore spot, then I'll work on it, and then I ask them to check it again. It genuinely shocks them.”

“Say, for example, in American football, if we went to our footballers this year and told them, 'Hey, you're not going to have a masseuse, chiro, or physio,' they wouldn't be able to function. Yet we are surprised that horses performing as high-level athletes need the same things.

“In a horse that has a muscular dysfunction, it's like perfectly tuning your race car but having flat tires. There's an inability to perform properly. It can be as simple as having connective tissue that's dehydrated; even with a one percent restriction, that's 20 meters over a 2,000-meter race. Obviously, that's not exactly the way it goes down, but you get the idea.

“It's heartening the amount of times I deal with racehorses transferred from other trainers, and we treat them and they go out and win next start. The difference you can make in horses simply by making sure all their muscles are functioning is huge.”

@christianlangeder #racehorses #horsesofinstagram #horseriding #horserider #christianlangeder #racehorsesoftiktok #dressageequestrian #racehorselife #sorehorsey #horses #sorehorse #exracehorsesoftiktok #horsesoftiktok ♬ original sound – Christian Langeder

Langeder's Background and Training

Langeder was involved with BMX racing until age 30, when a wreck broke his back in three places. He was unable to walk unaided for six months following the accident.

“I was looking for anything to get rid of the pain,” Langeder said. “I met this woman doing Bowen Therapy. She did what seemed to be absolutely nothing to me, and it stopped hurting. I figured I needed to learn this.”

Bowen therapy, also called Bowenwork or Bowtech, is a form of bodywork. It involves gently stretching the fascia — the soft tissue that covers all your muscles and organs — to promote pain relief.

Specifically, this form of therapy uses precise and gentle, rolling hand movements. These motions focus on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, along with the fascia and skin around them. The idea is to reduce pain by stimulating the nervous system.

The technique was created by Thomas Ambrose Bowen (1916–82) in Australia. Though Bowen wasn't a medical practitioner, he claimed the therapy could reset the body's pain response.

Langeder began treating animals in 1999, his practice running from dogs to koalas, kangaroos, elephants, and even a camel at the Werribee Zoo.

“I actually treated a pet dog for a racehorse trainer, and when he saw what I did for the dog, he asked me to look at his horses,” Langeder explained.

The practice grew from there, and Langeder built his knowledge over the next 25 years of cases across thousands of different barns as well as hours and hours of in-depth physiological study. His approach to soft tissue therapy is gentle yet effective, helping horses to reach their full potential and stay healthy and happy.

How It Works – The Science

Langeder's primary focus within the muscle, tendon, and fascia tissue is a structure called the golgi tendon apparatus. This structure is found inside the cells of all animals, including humans, and helps to regulate muscle tension and assist in the removal of toxins that build up in the muscles.

When these individual structures aren't working correctly, it can manifest as pain, soreness, and soft-tissue restriction. Langeder uses gentle hand pressure, combined with specific stretching, to help the golgi tendon apparatus return to its optimal function.

“If you catch something that's too heavy, it's the structure that makes you release so you don't rip muscle off the bone,” Langeder explained. “Those little organs balance out your whole body. When you have a dysfunctional muscle, it kind of braces the muscles, so I use that mechanism to get the muscle to check itself and initiate a response to release.”

The golgi tendon apparatus is especially important in the fascia tissue.

“When I'm checking a horse, I'm looking to make sure that the fascia, all the slippery stuff on the muscles, is not hindered or impinged,” he said. “If you have any time of inflammation or heat or injury, that slippery stuff will dehydrate and stick to itself. By agitating it, you create an electrical charge, and it sucks energy into itself and rehydrates.”

@christianlangeder When fascia gets sticky #christianlangeder #horses #racehorselife #horsesofinstagram #horserider #horseriding #sorehorsey #racehorses #sorehorse #exracehorsesoftiktok #thoroughbred #edutainment #horseracing #racehorsesoftiktok #dressageequestrian #horseoftiktok #godolphin ♬ original sound – Christian Langeder

This type of release can solve up to eighty percent of the soreness issues seen in most horses, Langeder said. However, if the dysfunction returns quickly, there may be other structural issues that need to be examined by a licensed veterinarian.

@christianlangeder See your vet for lameness #horses #horsesoftiktok #horsesontiktok #horsetok #christianlangeder #christianlangeder #horsemassage #langederequine #dressage #exracehorsesoftiktok #horse #lamehorse ♬ original sound – Christian Langeder

That said, Langeder believes his work with the soft tissue is very different from chiropractic care.

“I believe that since it's muscle that holds the bone in place, there isn't a need for chiropractic care as a modality,” he said. “Unless you're actually treating the soft tissue, you're going to have to keep 'cracking.'

“Imagine a pulley system: the cables on either side are the soft tissues, while the pulley itself is the bone. I don't touch the structure; instead of pushing the pulley to be straight, I just adjust the tension on the cables. Otherwise, they'll pull the pulley back out of balance.”


It may be hard to imagine that a simple “massage” can produce such drastic results in a horse. Dr. Heath Soignier, an equine veterinarian with Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital who is certified in both veterinary spinal manipulative therapy and veterinary medical acupuncture, explained what he saw in Langeder's videos.

“What he's doing is he's allowing a myofascial release of the tissue,” said Soignier. “The fascia is a tissue that surrounds and holds the body's organs, blood vessels, bones, nerve fibers, and muscles in place. It can get tight just like a muscle; this can be painful and feel much better after massaging it out.

“It looks like magic, right? The idea behind it is same with chiropractic: you're sending sensory input to the brain, which helps with muscle lengthening and tightening.”

Soignier isn't inclined to believe that soft tissue therapy can replace chiropractic care, however.

“It's got its place, but to me, it all has to work together,” Soignier continued. “Yes, he's fixing on the surface what's happening, but if that horse is traveling the wrong way, that muscle will get back tight. That's the point of massage and acupuncture, to me – Why is this structure doing what it is? Is it compensation? Is it trauma? You've gotta figure out what is your actual cause. You can't just treat symptoms.”

Like Langeder, however, Soignier is inclined to believe that horses require multiple types of therapy in order to perform at their athletic peak.

Soignier related it to the training and recovery methods of professional athletes: “They are always getting some sort of treatment pre- and post-games and practice, every day, whether that's laser therapy, massage, chiro, acupuncture, or something else. We already see a high rate of injury in those guys, but it would be even higher if not for those treatments, so why can't we do that for our horses?”

In addition, Soignier suggests massage can be a preventative tool.

“It may allow us to find things earlier; if a horse has a sore spot, why? It could have an underlying issue, and by finding it early, we can prevent the horse from having a bigger injury.”

That may be a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg type of scenario, however.

“A horse may not be lame at all, but if it has a really sore sacroiliac joint, it is going to put extra pressure on one limb, which may cause that limb to fail. Alternatively, a sore limb may be causing the soreness in the sacroiliac joint, which then compounds the issue as the horse continues to put excess pressure on one side over the other.”

For that reason, Soignier often works with massage and soft tissue therapists, especially before a chiropractic session.

“I've got a couple that I work with here in town,” he said. “My own chiropractor tells me to have a massage done before I get adjusted, because when you loosen muscles up, you're not fighting them when you make an adjustment. It helps the whole area you're trying to treat, and they work really well together. When the therapist can share their findings with me, it also helps me identify what might be causing the soreness. If they say the horse is sore here, I know what ties into that area, so if it's a lameness issue we can work toward figuring that out as well.”

Soignier added that since there isn't a licensure/registration program, the best way to find a good soft tissue therapist in your region is by word of mouth.

Personal Anecdote

Word-of-mouth is how I came across therapist Julia Helbling, practitioner of Ortho-Bionomy®.

Ortho-Bionomy® was developed during the 1970s by Dr. Arthur Lincoln Pauls, who was seeking a natural, consistent, and lasting way to ease his human patients' pain. Ortho-Bionomy® is a holistic approach to healing that works with the proprioceptive aspects of the nervous system to cue the self-corrective reflexes inherent in everyone.

In other words, Ortho-Bionomy® uses gentle positioning and movements which allows the body's tense structures and pathways to relax, reset, and reorganize.

Helbling is one of several soft tissue therapists who has expanded Ortho-Bionomy to equines. It's not a dissimilar method from that used by Langeder, Helbling said; it's a gentle method of convincing the body to release tension on its own.

“The body doesn't know it's in tension, its only done what we've told it to do,” Helbling explained. “We have to show it how to release, to bring the horse's attention to an area that is tight so that they can allow that area to release.”

Watching Helbling work on my horses is fascinating, because it does look as though she's actually doing very little, just as in Langeder's videos.

A comparison image of the young half-Arabian, Tuff: Top is from December of 2022, while bottom is shortly after he arrived at my farm in April of 2022. Can you spot the differences?

However, her work has made an incredible difference, especially for one challenging horse in my barn. A 4-year-old half-Arabian, “Tuff” came to me with a penchant for savaging his handlers, rearing and bucking under saddle, and just plain being difficult to work around. He also doesn't have the world's best conformation, and his tense posture only exacerbated the issues that caused in his training.

I'm not a professional horse trainer, simply an adult amateur whose goal is to have happy horses who enjoy performing their jobs. I agreed to take Tuff because I had worked with Helbling on some of my other horses, and I hoped there was a way to turn Tuff's life around.

Helbling was patient with the youngster, and watching his body change and his personality emerge has been an experience I am beyond grateful for. A month after his arrival, with two therapy sessions and a slow approach to reschooling, Tuff became a whole different animal. He began to seek out human interaction, give “kisses” instead of biting me, and began walking toward the arena with his ears pricked rather than rearing and trying to avoid it.

His progress has not been linear, nor has it been especially sudden or dramatic. However, relieving the pain and tension in his body has given me the opportunity to teach him to maintain a level of relaxation and suppleness that, in my opinion, would have been impossible without Helbling's therapy.

Looking back over the past year Tuff has been with me, including approximately monthly therapy sessions, I'm amazed at the horse he is now. He doesn't bite or attempt to hurt people, he doesn't rear, he only bucks when he's nervous or frustrated (he's still a baby, they aren't large bucks, and he is learning to release his own tension, so I think this is acceptable!), and he is regularly winning or placing well in both dressage and small eventing competitions.

It's not magic, but it sure seems like it.

Helping Horses

At the end of the day, Langeder doesn't believe soft tissue therapy is a cure-all, just a cure-most.

“I want people to be able to see, to know that if a horse is sore in this spot, what the next step is and who to call,” he explained. “I want to start a conversation of understanding what muscular dysfunction looks like; I don't want people to get hung up on me fixing it.

“Everyone believes their horse's soreness is special, that it can't be fixed. Well, I believe that 80 to 90 percent of dysfunction is a fixable issue. If it's not, go see the vet, but at least you'll be educated about what you're talking about and have narrowed down the possible issues.”

Langeder's work, and that of other soft tissue therapists like him, has become an important part of the conversation about how to care for horses and help them reach their full potential.

Soft tissue therapy is proving to be a powerful tool in the fight for animal wellness. There is still much to learn about the potential for soft tissue therapy as a stand-alone treatment and in combination with current veterinary care, but one thing is certain: horse owners now have another option for helping to keep their equine partners healthy, strong, and performing at their best.

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