Mechanoreceptors: The Touch Sensors

Touch is sensed by specialized nerve endings called mechanoreceptors. They detect stimulation such as temperature, pressure, stretch and vibration.

Every kind of touch – grooming, massage, tack, a loving stroke or a kick from another horse – activates mechanoreceptors, which then send the information to the brain for processing and potential reaction.

There are 2 sides to touch. One is the actual physical stimulation received by the mechanoreceptors. The second is how the horse interprets the sensation based on context, previous learning and emotion. Touch memory involves previous experiences and results in learned behavior and expectations.

Touch perception can be different for every horse. Some enjoy deep tissue massage, others respond best to lighter work.

Positive touch has physical and emotional benefits. Through touch massage releases endorphins which act as a natural analgesic helping to relieve headaches, myofascial pain, muscle soreness, TMJ, and other discomforts.

Touch boosts the immune system by increasing levels of white blood cells which attack viruses and bacteria.

Pressure receptors stimulated by gentle touch signal the vagus nerve to calm the nervous system.

A full-body massage can improve digestion by stimulating the motion of the intestine, and its contents, to move along and helping the body increase the release of enzymes essential for healthy digestion.

Massage releases the hormone oxytocin, bringing feelings of well-being and comfort, increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, which help relieve anxiety and depression and depresses levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

The positive touch of massage can be very beneficial for your horse.

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