Have you ever considered having your horse massaged? A certified equine massage therapist can bring great relief under a variety of circumstances to the equine athlete, the horse recovering from injury, the backyard trail buddy or rescue. However, have we considered all the options for getting the maximum effectiveness out of our equine massage therapy session?
A SAFE ENVIRONMENT
Humans sometimes project their preferences onto their horses. For example, humans may enjoy a massage in a private room with low lighting. For horses though, such an environment is frightening because it is in contradiction to their natural survival instincts. Horses seem to do best when there are no restrictions on their sense of sight, smell and sound.
The current practice of most equine massage therapists is to have the horse in its stall – presumably a safe and comfortable space. From a horse’s perspective, however, is it safe and reassuring to be isolated in an enclosed space? Might we actually maximize the effectiveness of our equine massage therapy session by incorporating the fundamentals of the herd?
Horses have strong social bonds with each other which are essential to their sense of wellbeing.
“Herd behavior is an important motivating factor for a horse and is present in our everyday dealings with horses, more so than is often recognized,” says Julie Goodnight of Julie Goodnight Horsemanship Training and Goodnight Training Stables, Inc. “In fact, by nature, horses associate being alone with being vulnerable to predators, which can increase anxiety and hypervigilence – certainly contraindicated for this form of therapy. Perhaps the most advantageous place to have a horse receive its massage is in the company of a herd mate.”
Horses in a herd use body language as the most important means of communication. Being able to read a horse’s body language is a key element of being an effective equine massage therapist. During the equine massage process the therapist looks to the horse for a physical response. For instance, the therapist will “search” for signs of tension or adhesions while palpating a muscle group. If these conditions are present, the horse will indicate with a “response” as subtle as the blink of an eye or a twitch of the muzzle. With an acknowledging response from the horse, direct pressure is applied and the therapist “stays” with that position awaiting a “release,” which may be demonstrated through licking, chewing, or yawning.
So what do you do with the horse who simply cannot release? Not all horses are able to relax enough to release during a massage. This is when the power of the herd may be especially helpful. It is quite possible that being in the vicinity of a herd mate helps a horse feel more secure, safe and available for the massage.
When I was asked to massage a therapy horse at RoseWal Farm in Gilboa, New York, I noticed other horses forming a circle around the horse being massaged. All of the horses were calm, with heads hung low. I found this to be intriguing, because it seemed intentional. As the surrounding horses began yawning, licking, chewing I finally felt the horse I was massaging begin to release the tension within his muscles.
A SHARED CONNECTION
Research shows the herd is of great importance to horses because they seek a shared emotional connection. Such a connection creates neural resonance, which means that one horse will translate the actions, sensations and even the emotions of another horse into its own neuro body language so that it is, in fact, having the same experience. Simply put, any horse around the horse being massaged receives and participates in that experience.
This herd phenomenon allows for a more effective massage of the horse. In short, it is as though the herd experiences, and helps facilitate, releases while being near the horse receiving the massage.
Connie Grob is an Equine Massage Therapist certified in Equissage, while additionally implementing the Masterson Method and Reiki in her massage sessions. Connie is also the owner of Helping Hands Equine Massage which serves the Capital District in upstate New York. www.helpinghandsequinemassage.com