I am often asked how it is possible to make a difference with therapeutic bodywork when working on a 1000# animal like a horse. When looking at it as a matter of mass, the question makes perfect sense. It would take quite a bit of physical strength to manipulate the powerful and massive muscling of a horse. The thing about bodywork is that we are not just working with the mass or molecular structure of a body but we are also working with the (empty) space between molecules and atoms and the electrical impulses that flows through the body.
From a strictly scientific standpoint, this work can seem a bit unconventional. Fortunately, we have many researchers, physicians and scientists who are doing some incredible work in bridging science and spiritual and alternative therapeutic practices. The work of Deepak Chopra MD, Gregg Braden, Lynne McTaggart, the late Dr. Wayne Dyer and even Albert Einstein plus many more amazing leaders and pioneers in the field has been invaluable in guiding us toward a broader and more comprehensive understanding of life, wellness and healing. With all these contributions and research reports, I have continued faith in the absolute power of intention and mindfulness.
When talking about “massage” people often visualize deep and aggressive Swedish style bodywork that we might see in movies or might have experienced themselves. Most certainly, there are times when I utilize my physical strength when doing bodywork on horses but it seems to be less all the time. Sometimes, the deeper work purpose is as much for me to feel for where the tension is deeper in the body and to touch the muscle I want to affect as it is to massage it. I find in order to obtain access to the deeper muscles; I usually have to spend a considerable amount of time melting the superficial layers of tension and making a connection with the horse to gain the trust and permission to reach deeper.
My initial experience with learning equine bodywork was a short study 30 years ago with a man who was rehabilitating racehorses on the racetrack in Albuquerque, NM. Mind you that animal bodywork (let alone human bodywork) was still fairly obscure at this time. What I witnessed was incredibly rough, even to my untrained understanding. Fortunately, I was taking human massage training at the same time so although I couldn’t say what to do different, I did recognize I didn’t want to use quite such harsh modalities. This man constructed wooden paddle-like tools to push into the muscles of the back and pelvis with considerable strength. He was getting some positive results in the end but when I watched the horse’s backs drop away from the pain, even I winced. I am always reminding myself of the hypocratic oath when I work, “first, do no harm”.
This is not to say that many horses, just like many people, don’t want a deep and firm touch. It can feel really good to have those muscles really kneaded and attended to. Even with strong and robust massage strokes, a deep connection with the horse to know when it is enough or when more is needed combined with good intent to help release tension and restore balance is always the priority. There are some trends now in equine bodywork that emphasize very light physical touch but strong focus. This can be very powerful work just as much as strictly energy work can. For me and with Applied Integrative Therapy, we don’t rely on one particular method or technique but rather keep a set of guidelines and a plentiful toolbox full of integrative bodywork modalities and tools to draw from as needed. Each practitioner and each horse is going to have particular preferences. As I said, my work has constantly shifted and transformed over time both because my body and strength have changed and because I have connected to a flow of various approaches that best help me to accomplish the work I do. My goal is to stay very mindful of the energy and the connection in the quality of my touch and then let the session unfold on its own.