Getting Started

So…with the impending start of my course this week, why did I choose Equine Massage out of the numerous complementary equine therapies rapidly increasing in popularity over recent years? Well, having observed what seemed to me to be quite magical effects from the gentle and non-invasive work of the Equine Physios and Chiropractors I have engaged, and then researching and having a go by myself, the decision was a no-brainer for me.

A few years back I developed an unusually close bond with Sophie, an elderly ex-showjumping mare on retirement livery at the yard I attended, with little or no remaining contact with her owners. She was one of the grumpiest horses I’ve ever come across, crotchety, impatient and moody, and with a nasty bite if actions provoked, but for some reason I loved her absolutely unconditionally. Though well-cared for on the yard, I had a feeling that her lack of ‘person’ meant that she was lacking in the TLC and mental and physical stimulation that might enhance her latter years. Plus, I love a project, and it was very obvious to see what a stunning horse she had been in her day – I was intrigued to see if we could wind the clock back a little bit for her.

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She had started to severely struggle through winters, suffering from stiffness, colic and cold, leading to obvious signs of anxiety and depression. Once confined in her warm stable, she would pace until she was out…as soon as she was in the open field, she neighed to be brought back in…

Having done some research at home, I put into practice gentle stretching techniques and slowly built up her gentle exercise both on the lunge and under saddle. Eventually, this fitness allowed her to regularly get out into the countryside, the first time in a few years she had been able to leave the farm. Deciding against metal shoes which might exacerbate any arthritic onset, I researched and trialled the latest ‘hoof boots’ on the market, which she bounced along the stony paths in quite happily! All the work I did with her was on her terms – she would decide the pace and I was just a passenger. When she started dragging me over small show-jumps and logs that we came across, I knew she didn’t quite feel ready to hang up her showjumping shoes! So we entered a few local children’s jumping competitions just to keep her hoof in – she clearly still had that competitive streak, and we denied many a child one of the top rosettes when we were out and about…!

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Soph out and about!

In winter though, her struggle would return, and we dabbled in supplements, researched the most comfortable bedding options and gave her as much pampering as possible. One year, she took a turn for the worse. At one stage she was continuously tucked up with a dull expression and seemed to be giving up. I was far from ready to let her go though, and stumbled across massage in my search for a solution to improve her comfort levels. I bought books and scoured the Internet, and devised a massage routine that I felt might suit her needs. I started to administer regular massage in the dark evenings while she munched on hay in her stable. She
seemed to finally relax those tense and tired muscles. Her eyes would close, her neck would arch and her flanks would loosen from their tucked-up state. Her breathing slowed and she started to engage in those around her again. Whether down to the massage or not, Sophie improved, got through that winter, and I supported and enjoyed her for a couple more years, against the odds and to the surprise of many. I do believe though that she not only felt the physical benefits of massage, but that the quiet one-to-one time we spent together may have provided the feeling of support and empathy that she craved at that low point.

It is clear that there are many therapies providing a range of benefits for a whole range of conditions and injuries alongside veterinary treatments, but for me, this one was displaying almost immediate and very clearly positively visual results, without any mysterious, complicated or controversial cause. However, since receiving an enormous amount of in-depth scientific pre-study material, my preconception of this field having a relatively straightforward basis could not have been more wrong…here’s hoping I haven’t forgotten my science degree skillset from all those years ago, I’m going to need it!

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