What are my favorite aspects of Equine Bodywork?
Well, that is a question that could take a very long time to answer. Of course, I love the animals and the people who love their animals. I have been honored to meet so many incredible people and so many remarkable animals. Quite often, I leave my work feeling like I came away with as much as I gave as far as connection, friendship, continued learning and a chance for me to practice grounding and mindfulness.
Some of the circumstances we might be called upon as animal bodyworkers are:
(Note: One of the first things to stress over and over is that bodywork and massage is NOT a replacement for quality veterinary or medical care. We do not diagnose or prescribe. Ideally, all involved health care professionals work as a complimentary team to support the animal’s well-being.)
This is the preferred objective for all of us! If we continue with a good health maintenance plan throughout life, problems are much less likely to arise. The nice thing about a consistent bodywork schedule is that we can often start feeling something different long before it is a big issue. The owner and trainer being aware, can keep an eye on the situation and start looking for reasons and perhaps consult with other care providers such as veterinarians, farriers, dentists, saddle-fitters and nutritionists. Maintenance is a WIN-WIN!
2. PERFORMANCE (enhancement and recovery):
Similar to maintenance, but more specific, bodywork prior to performance can help warm and soften muscles and loosen any recent fascial adhesions. Areas of the body that are most stressed in the particular sport the animal will perform in can be given extra attention. Post-performance bodywork can help to move lactic acid buildup and focus on any fatigued or over used muscles.
* Another note for performance animals is that they often spend a lot of time in transport. Trailering can be very stressful on a horse and their body. Kennels and crating for dogs on long drives can do the same. Getting some kind of bodywork upon arrival will help maintain their overall wellbeing. This is a situation where it is great for the owners / trainers to have some bodywork skill of their own.
3. COMPLIMENTARY CARE FOR REHABILITATION AND RECOVERY:
This type of care is almost always in conjunction with veterinary care. An animal who is recovering from injury, surgery or other issue is typically confined or on restricted movement. We all know that lack of movement does no one any good but unfortunately it is sometimes a necessary evil. Bodywork can address muscles with over-compensation stress, atrophy and fatigue. It can also calm the horse, stimulate lymph movement, and provide the horse some connection time with touch and care. This type of bodywork is usually slow and relaxing.
Once the animal is back to either limited or even full movement, bodywork can help keep those muscles in best shape and can often detect any possible unwanted changes that should be addressed.
4. BABIES AND YOUNGSTERS:
Bodywork with babies of any species has been shown to have very positive results. Babies and youngsters in developing stages who might have very tight muscles working antagonistically with the body structure can often be addressed very subtly to relax; allowing the correlating muscles to develop correctly. The sensation of quality touch will also help to imprint close human contact with the very young. I have seen great results using bodywork for foals that have some limb crookedness. The process of preforming bodywork on a baby takes very, very little time compared to an adult horse.
5. AGING, PALLIATIVE, SUPPORTIVE AND END OF LIFE CARE:
Once an animal has really begun the aging process, bodywork can do wonders to alleviate aches and pains associated with the process, especially when the animal has become limited in movement. The work becomes slower and more intent on supporting rather than changing.
Once in the later stages, this can be an incredibly hard time for the animal and especially the owner who loves the animal and is possibly struggling with decisions they may have to make. Offering supportive care through this process is beautiful when done with love, empathy, grounded-ness and complete lack of judgement. It is truly an honor for me to sit in the moment and allow peace and comfort to flow though my hands with no intent other than to be present.
6. AND PROBABLY MY FAVORITE – ADR (AIN’T DOING RIGHT):
I am borrowing this term from working in the veterinary field. ADR or Ain’t Doing Right is what we write in the books when an appointment is made and there isn’t enough information to know what is going on until the doctor can see the animal – so for now, it is just ADR.
In my field of bodywork, an ADR in horses would look something like: She just can’t seem to bend to the left/right anymore, her back is sore to the touch, she wants to bite me when saddling, she swishes her tail when I get on, she is all of the sudden fighting to go into the arena, box or gate, she is refusing jumps, she is just plain crabby and I don’t know why, she started bucking with me, she won’t pick up her left/right lead all the sudden, she fights putting on the bridle…………these type of calls.
I really like playing detective and quite often it can take most of my appointment to come up with any answer at all. Sometimes, the answer might be to call their veterinarian or other health care professional but quite often we can start to pin-point something going on. I start out by asking all the questions about history recent and old regarding the horse while getting a connected feeling with the horse. As I am able to melt away layers of constriction, sometimes particular areas begin to show up with reaction from the horse or the muscles themselves. Once we start getting more specific as to where the pain is, possible causes start to bubble up such saddle-fit, recent slips and falls, long hard work days on unfit horses, new equipment or a different use of equipment. Oftentimes the owner knows what happened and they have already visited their veterinarian so we are looking for additional areas to address. This is where I really have to rely on my hands and my intuition to take me on a journey of exploration. I file each thing I notice in my mind until something starts to come together as a more complete story. I always go away reminded of the magic we have in our hands.