You can massage a horse? Of course!

A fellow student of the horse I met in an equine anatomy course in the fall of 2016 is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist. Upon learning this, my curiosity was piqued! I want to learn all that I can about these magnificent creatures and couldn’t think of a more hands-on and therapeutic way to interact with them. I had so many questions for my classmate.

  1. What is your history with equine massage therapy?
  2. Did you have any other experience with massage therapy (human or animal) or equine anatomy/physiology/et cetera prior to taking the course?
  3. What was the learning experience like?
  4. Did you feel confident practicing right away and how did you go about finding clients?
  5. Are other practitioners receptive to sharing skills/advice within the community?
  6. Do you feel this is viable as a full-time career or something to pursue part-time?

Her reply was encouraging. She spoke very highly of the course, the instructor, and the amount of knowledge gained I simply had to wait until the course was being taught at a time and location that worked for me.

Fast-forward to June 2018 and I have successfully completed the 80-hour Certified Equine Massage Therapy course myself. It was a fascinating and rewarding experience. The learning curve felt steep at times and there were many moments when to borrow an analogy from the instructor I felt like a pig on roller skates!

Luckily, the group was small and all but one of us had zero experience in massage therapy. We were all beginning and learning at the same pace with guidance from an incredibly knowledgeable, patient, and kind instructor. Homework prior to the course included an overview of the skeletal system and layers of muscle along with a few fancy words, like Effleurage (ef·fleur·age) and Pettrisage (pet·riss·age), both pronounced with a soft “G” like in the word fromage, one of my favourite foods!

Each day was structured in such a way that we covered theory and were able to apply it right away, hands-on with the horses an invaluable part of the learning experience. Homework was assigned at the end of each day to review what we had learned and prepare for the next day. I did little more than eat, sleep and study that week.

On the very last day, we tied it all together, each of us on our own to fully assess and treat a horse. My client was Oliver, a gentle, blue-eyed paint I fell in love with on the first day of the course. He, along with all of the other therapy horses at T.E.A.D. were very patient with the many inexperienced hands constantly poking them throughout the week.

I will admit when I walked into Oliver’s stall to begin my first full treatment, I 100% felt like a pig on roller skates! Luckily, that feeling was short-lived. As I ran my fingers along the sides of Oliver’s spine, he winced when I hit a sore spot along his lumbar vertebrae. I felt an immediate sense of relief! Not because he was in discomfort, of course, but because I had identified an area to focus on in an attempt to relieve his discomfort. I applied all of the techniques I had learned that week to the muscles surrounding the area of concern on one side and slowly worked my way around his rump to the other side. Once there, he leaned into me as if to say “that’s the spot!” and stayed there as I massaged the muscles on that side.

During the treatment, Oliver stretched his body in a way I have never seen a horse move. It was a long and low full-body stretch. After observing this twice, I decided to assist him with some hind leg stretches. He leaned right into it on the left side, put the weight of his leg in my hands and extended fully, with his hoof pointing straight out to the wall behind him.

After focusing in on a couple of other areas, at the end of a 2-hour treatment, I decided to finish with some myofascial release. I gently placed my hands on the top of Oliver’s forehead, closed my eyes, and slowly rocked with him, pushed and pulled by the force of the cerebral spinal fluid flowing back and forth along the length of his body. He fell asleep and I shed a few tears.

Oliver post-massage

I owe an immense amount of gratitude to my instructor, Sidonia McIntyre, all of my classmates who contributed to the learning experience with their curiosity, encouragement and support, to T.E.A.D. for hosting us, and to Joanne Rutley at Happy Neighs Tack Design for answering my questions and encouraging me to take the course. I will be practicing my newfound skills with the therapy horses I learned on over the coming weeks and months, with the intention of building a client base of my own in time.

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