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Equine Massage Benefits for the Therapist

“So thanks yet again for training us the way you did……I love this work. And the coolest part is that the more I refine my bodywork, the better my riding gets. And the more I refine my riding, the better my bodywork gets. Love that circle of energy!”

Kelly

I got this wonderful quote from a student who has been steadily building her clientele. I love this quote because she so gets the job at hand and the benefits of working with horses this way. I have to admit that I am a bit spoiled practicing equine and human massage and cannot imagine my life without it. You see, I say that I get paid to meditate, to stay healthy and feel connected to my world through the work that I do. I touch to help the horse relax and change, the horse teaches me to soften, let go, breath and relax as well. The more I relax, the more my horse relaxes and follows me. It is a circle of sharing and a practice in awareness and feel. It is a wonderful career.

Dancing Partners with Equine Massage

Think about the times you just stepped out of the saddle all invigorated and thought, I just had the most perfect ride on my horse today. It was amazing, like the two of us were one! All I had to do was think it and my horse was right there with me. Those rides I call The Perfect Ride.

If you have ridden long enough I would believe you have felt that perfect ride. I live for those moments of great joy with my horse. To me, thats worth all the money spent on my horses for hay, hoof care, vet visits, then we have to have the truck, trailer, a beautiful saddle, several blankets, bridles and did I mention the acreage to keep it all on? Well, you get the idea. We dont spend our lifetime with these wonderful creatures without good reason. We love the communion, the partnership, freedom and spirit of the horse when all the elements come together and the magic just seems to set the stage for the perfect ride and we are dancing together like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Grace in motion.

We know this takes spending hours together practicing making the connection of communication with each other and wanting the partnership to be perfect. That is why we seek out good trainers to help us understand horses and the way they think and trainers to help us see where our riding needs improvement. We make sure the saddle fits, the bridle fits, the feet are correct and the nutrition is balanced (along with our checkbook). Then we can rest assured the perfect ride inevitable. Right? Discouragingly not always, sometimes something feels amiss, your horse wont pick up a lead, she is short striding, has stiff lateral flexion or just aint doin right.

Theres help. I am going to add into your budget one more essential ingredient that is of the utmost importance for your horses well being whether you are riding endurance, reining, a dressage, hunter/jumper, or on the trails (the list is a lot longer but again you get the idea). A few sessions with a talented equine massage therapist can often help your partner move with suppleness, ease and greater range of motion in all of the joints then you are back to enjoying your ride. Regardless of your riding discipline, equine massage is essential to keep your horse dancing like a pro.

Spur

Spur

Sometimes an equine massage is going to look very different than doing a massage. The later is what people perceive as doing a massage which is rubbing, kneading, pushing and pulling. Our perception of massage has been influenced greatly by what we see as massage on television and maybe some of the pinching massages we have experienced. If you have ever received a massage like that you might want to get up off the table and leave. Besides being unproductive it is often times painful. Massage does not have to be that way and in fact should not be that way. Many times my hands will not be moving much at all and that does not mean I am not making changes to the efficiency of the body/mind of the horse.

Spur is the horse you see in the picture and Spur is a rescue from a situation that could no longer keep or feed him. He is now in very good hands and is being cared for by Alison who is student of ours. Spur is a very interesting character and I want to share something about the way that I worked with him that I believe is important to you as an equine therapist and I believe is important that your clients also know that not all sessions are about kneading and pushing soft tissues and thinking that is the massage. Change has to be lasting and of genuine help to the horse which in turn gives back to the owner a happy horse.

You see, Spur, in his short eight years was never really touched by humans beyond how he was touched by his momma. I know this by the way he responded to my first touch. It was disconnected and he was very nervous and flinched with every little move. He was trained and he was ridden but was not comforted along the way and by not knowing comfort lost his confidence. He is very worried about just being touched. He reactswhich is not the same thing as responding to my touch, listening to my touch and then interpreting the meaning of my touch. He did not know what to do with it. When a horse is reactive, I believe their natural intuition to read the intention of the human has been disconnected and they no longer trust what it is they are sensing and they are desperately trying to make sense of it before they are chastised for making a mistake.

What Alison and I did was place our hands on his spine, the core of his nervous system, then we relaxed and waited for him to sense that he could trust his natural instinct to understand we were touching him to be of help and not trying to force him to do something. We waited for him to draw us in. So the first stage of the massage is to listen, genuinely listen to what he was saying about how he feels about himself and how he feels about his relationship with humans. When he began to trust our touch and interpret it as non threatening, then he began to listen back. When we made that connection, we would move our hands to another spot and start the process over again. When we had touched all over his body and he trusted us to be there with full acceptance of the idea and feel that just being gently and kindly touched was ok business we called it a success. In fact touch was down right comforting and pleasurable. He connected with us wholeheartedly and with a genuine curiosity of who are these people?

We removed his halter and three of us just stayed in his paddock and chatted about him and other things while he comfortably stayed in the middle of the three of us with a soft accepting and curious look in his eye. After another fifteen minutes or so we left his paddock but continued to stand by his gate and talked. He quietly stood by the gate with his head over the gate comfortably sniffing us and listening as a part of the group. His curiosity was freed to explore us.

To me, this was a very big improvement for this horse and nothing else needed doing. He really didnt have any soft tissue stresses so from that stand point, there was nothing to physically fix. Spur was emotionally and mentally unbalanced and that is where he needed and needs the most comfort and confidence in himself. If we had gone in with very busy hands and started doing a massage on this horse I believe we would have overloaded his mental and emotional senses because he could not listen and very busy hands would have made no sense to him.

Ah, the power of a listening touch! I learned a wonderful lesson from Spur that not all massage gets right to moving soft tissues around and that does not mean that changes are not taking place. The doorway to the physical being comes from the mental and emotional. In Spurs case, he is balanced from a soft tissue perspective, in fact he is downright athletic, but the tension from apprehension that he holds within those soft tissues creates the mental and emotional upset and mistrust that does not serve him well in the human realm. The mental and emotional imbalances creates the resistance and bracing in the physical body.

I know it is difficult to get clients to understand that sometimes just touching needs to take place and that the very act of touching relaxes the mental and emotional thereby allowing the soft tissues to turn loose before there is a detrimental change in physical structure. Spur will be fine and Alison will continue along those lines until Spur is indeed seeking her to touch and connection with him where he experiences comfort and trust in her. When his mental and emotional state has balance, his physical balance will be there as well.

It has taken me some time to trust that just being there with the touch can sometimes do more than all the moving and shaking and just because my hands are not doing a television massage doesnt mean I am not doing a massage. My joke is that the client pays to see their horse move in a more efficient and relaxed mannerthey dont pay to see my hands move. Spur brought that back to me full circle and I am grateful for the reassurance from him that I am on the right track as well.