How to Learn Equine Massage Therapy
Technique combined with compassionate intention of touching fills the therapist's
toolbox with all the needed skills to be an effective equine massage therapist.
Article from Prairie Winds Art of Equine Massage
You love being with horses and you have a desire to help keep them healthy and happy.
Maybe you are thinking you would like to make your living being with horses? Is this a time in your life when you have
reached a crossroad of being and wish to rekindle your passion for horses? Perhaps a career in equine massage and
bodywork therapy is for you. The demand for skillful equine massage therapist is at an all time high as more equestrians look
to massage to correct physical stresses and strains on equine athletes. It is easy to understand the need when you can answer these questions with a simple "yes!" ...
Do working horses from every discipline need massage?
Yes, they do. Can older retired horses use a good massage now and then? Yes, they, too, benefit from massage.
How many horses need massage?
They all could use hands on therapy not only to keep them working at their peak performance, but also to comfort and thank
them for their years of service when they are retired. That is almost every horse out there and that means there is a need for well-educated individuals to fill that demand.
How can I learn to do massage with horses?
You ask. First, find a school whose curriculum resonates with you and by that I mean that what they offer touches your heart
with the same ideas that match your image of how you see yourself doing this work. Second, look at their teachers to see if
they will inspire you to learn. Learning needs to be in a very relaxed and supportive environment which is also respectful to the horses on the receiving end of your work. Don't settle for anything less.
What is massage and what kinds of things do you need to know to be skillful?
Massage is first and foremost, about touch, not a tool du jour, but good old fashion touch. Touch is about communication,
connection, understanding, which leads to honest healing. Healing with your hands is as natural as breathing and anyone can
learn if they have the passion and desire to do so. We all touch to connect, offer comfort, and to induce the healing process in
another. If it is so natural do you still need to learn techniques? Absolutely! Knowing how to massage correctly is essential but
healing with massage does not come from technique alone. Technique alone is devoid of feeling, sensing, and following which
leaves the receiver wondering what it was all about. Technique combined with compassionate intention of touching fills the
therapist's toolbox with all the needed skills to be an effective massage therapist.
Here are some essential ingredients in a therapist's toolbox.
The most important skill is a willingness to listen to the horse through touch. Touching another with the intention to help
alleviate their suffering is an internal dialogue between the giver’s hands and knowledge base to the receiver’s mental,
emotional, and physical being. It is not about just rubbing bumps and knots out of the soft tissues with as much kneading and
pushing as possible. There is a huge difference between pressure and force. Force does not create lasting changes. Lasting
changes are gently coaxed into the body when the environment is created for it to do so.
Knowing anatomy is essential so that you know the name of each muscle, where it lives, and how it moves the horse.
You learn about tendons and how they attach muscles to bones. Ligaments that strap one bone to the next bone and the
bones that make up the skeletal framework of the horse. We cannot overlook the fascia, which is a tough and stretchy piece
of fabric that binds all of this into a horse. Not only do you need to know the pieces but you need a thorough understanding
how each piece synergistically relates to another then you can comprehend what alignment of those structures mean in terms
of graceful movement. Anatomy is an essential roadmap to the horse's physical terrain so you know which part of the horse you are talking about.
You study physiology to understand how the body uses oxygen, nutrients, salts, and minerals in order to move, grow, and
thrive. We study the physiology of soft tissues and how the ratios of water, salts, and minerals create the environment
necessary for tissues to do their job with efficiency, strength, and vitality. Knowing what a healthy body feels like under your
hands is key to understanding how soft tissues act and feel when they are distressed and disorganized. Knowing the structural
and physiological terrain in the reasoning mind gives rise to transferred mental images that your hands can read, sense, and
interpret as to the quality of the life within the soft tissues of the receiver. This is the knowledge base from which all of your work flourishes and ultimately feeds into the realm of intuition and art.
The skill that ties it all together is the ability to listen and feel where there are restrictions within the structure and knowing
when to apply the right technique in order to help the horse release bracing and excess tension. A skillful body worker will
possess a keen sense for listening to what a body is emanating, with a quiet and soft touch that engages all of their senses
working together to assist them in finding where bodies are not functioning according to intrinsic design.
Muscle tissues that function according to intrinsic design have a lively, soft and buoyant feel to them. Fascia that is functioning
properly has a smooth, elastic, yet strong and even texture that adheres gently to the muscles they envelope. There is an
energetic pulse that runs through all the soft tissue systems and has a long, slow, and circular frequency that permeates and
moves the whole body. When all of these systems are as they should be, a therapist can place her hands anywhere on a
healthy and vibrant body and that whole body will have a clarity that resonates without gaps between any of the systems. It vibrates with a calm wholeness filling every cell with life.
If we as therapists can feel and sense the wholeness of the sounds, sensations, electrical frequencies, and movements of a
working body it only makes sense that we can feel where there are gaps in the energetic pulse, excess tension straining the
muscle fibers, and trauma in the fabric of the fascia. Excess tension is felt as an energetic force, which pulls and distorts muscle
and fascia. Through our hands we can feel when a muscle has too much tension on it, it will feel taught and knotted. Skillful
hands can feel the direction in which the tension pulls the soft tissues, where it begins and ends. Listening hands feel where
other soft tissues compensate and are pulled from their natural position distorting their shape and function.
Therapists feel these things through a very soft and listening touch. The very first touch says, "I am listening to you and you can
tell me how you are feeling." Through that initial listening, a space is created where the horse can sense that listening, feel the
space listening creates, and through trust is willing to reflect back. This is the connection and is often times called melding with another. Therapist and horse are listening to one another.
The therapist can then chose which piece is most urgent to listen to be it the muscles, the tendons, the fascia, the bones, or the
energetic force of the body. The therapist makes a choice and through the connection that is established, the part of the body
chosen to explore is what pops into the hands. First, listen to the muscle to see if it is where it needs to be. Then listen to the
fascia that is the binding that holds it together. Then ask the joint of the two bones if it is mobile and as open as it likes to be. If
any one of those three pieces is distorted it will feel hard, immobile, static, hot, cold or a myriad of other grievances. These
structures tell you what the nature of the upset might be. As if by magic, the mere act of listening creates movement. Through
the warmth of touch cells are motivated to realign and the movement will invariably reset to it's natural design where comfort and ease are the norm.
Touch is the telephone and techniques are the tools through which a dialogue is transmitted and understood by both parties.
Touch is listening to what a horse has to say of his senses through the senses of my body. Touch is a quiet noticing of the
internal landscape of another, which reveals the bumps and potholes left by trauma and excess tension that distorts the normal
lay of the land. In this internal dialogue all the senses are dynamically charged with suggestions and images working to
coordinate the body/mind/spirit back into balance. Through the dialogue of noticing and suggesting, movement is invoked which is felt by the therapist as a melting and shifting of the internal sands.
The Art of Equine Massage and Bodywork
Our philosophy at AEMB is to allow the horse to make changes from the inside out so those changes can be lasting and
correct. Our method is about restoring balance, coordination, and relaxation through listening and applied knowledge not
about rubbing muscles and calling it sport's massage. Our methodology is a respectful dialogue between two beings. It is a
dance where therapist and client dialogue to influence each other. Our role as the therapist is to create the environment where
equilibrium can be restored through the comfort and trust of the horse. Knowledge leads to skills, experience fine tunes touch and intuition.
There is no end to softness, relaxation, and learning. This is why we call equine bodywork a healing art.
Sara Stenson has been a massage therapist since the mid 1970s and included horses and dogs into her private practice in the
mid 90s. Seeing the need for more equine massage therapist, she formed The Art of Equine Massage and Bodywork school
in 2001. Having taught Barefoot Shiatsu for six years at a massage academy in Colorado she wanted to form the school with
the same set of requirements for equine massage as it is for human massage. So AEMB was built from a panel of expert
equestrians including two equine massage therapists, two veterinarians, a farrier, and a trainer. Michael and I are both equestrians, T'ai Chi Ch'uan players, and skillful teachers.
The school has graduated students from all over the globe.
I did not wake up one day and say, "I want to be a massage therapist!" It just happened that I received a shiatsu massage
while living in a house with four other women one of whom was a Barefoot Shiatsu massage practitioner. She gave me my first
shiatsu massage and I was hooked. I wanted to learn as much as I could possibly learn about the work, I enjoyed working
with people, and I wanted to earn my living doing shiatsu ... so first massage set me on my path I still travel in awe to this day.
As a massage therapist, I learned from remarkable teachers starting with T'ai Chi Ch'uan from Professor Chang's senior
students in Boulder, Colorado. I became a student of Barefoot Shiatsu studying in clinics with Shizuko Yamamota of the East
West Foundation. Wanting to understand Craniosacral Therapy I attended clinics with the Upledger Institute, as well as clinics
from other Osteopaths willing to share their experience and skills in small classes. When horses came into my life I began to
seek out those trainers that had the same values for gentle listening with horses that I practiced with massage. All of these
things are branches on the same tree with deep roots in the ancient classics. Across the board the one skill that all of my
teachers have in common is the ability to listen quietly without judgment or forcing of wills upon another. Remarkable teachers have taught me their remarkable skills.
Although I was raised on a ranch in Wyoming, after graduating from high school, I had not been with horses for almost 20
years. Michael and I moved from inner city Boulder to property in Northern Colorado. I met horse people that asked if I
would work with their horses. I whole heartedly accepted the challenge and once again I stepped upon a path that has been
the most amazing journey of my life. Horses! Hooked again and horses have become a lifestyle and the school a wonderful
mission in life. As an equestrian, I like to be ever mindful of my duty to my horses, the whole of life's experiences, and to help
others who want to do the same. Michael and I live on a small horse property along the Rio Chama Bosque in Northern New
Mexico. We share our lives with our little band of misfits and rescues consisting of three horses, three wayward dogs, and
three stately cats as well as a peacock we inherited with their property. Ravens, crows, sandhill cranes, bunnies, coyotes and
a myriad of other wonderful creatures fill our lives with beauty on the bosque. It is with great joy and a marvelous sense of
wonder that we teach to our wonderful students ... The Art of Equine Massage and Bodywork.
Contact: Our Friendly Staff
P.O. Box 718
Medanales, New Mexico 87548
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