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.