Releasing tension:Therapeutic bodywork offers a different approach to help keep horses feeling their best
Devils Tower – Equine massage and bodywork melds the science of anatomy and physiology with the artistry of connection. Bodywork dives deeper than physical manipulation of muscles, as the practice also has effects on mental wellness of the horse.
Bodywork might seem like a new modality in horse care, but over the last 30 years, it has surged to become a valuable and credible therapy.
Kim Kizzier Sherrodd is a certified and licensed human massage therapist, animal massage therapist and bodyworker, as well as the owner of the School of Applied Integrative Therapy Equine. While her bodywork journey might have taken the long road, she is committed to the practice and sharing the therapy with others.
Benefits of bodywork
Equine massage and bodywork are not the same as chiropractic work. Bodywork includes multiple massage-based modalities, which help to release spasms and restrictions in the musculoskeletal and the neuromuscular system. This allows for structural changes to be made in the horse’s body.
Bodywork focuses on soft tissues, deep tissues and fascia, as well as myofascial release and craniosacral therapy. Fascia is the thin webbing found between the skin and muscles which connect everything in the body together.
By focusing on the connections, the benefits of bodywork are numerous, including increased circulation, improved range of motion, quicker recovery, pain relief via endorphin release, improved performance and strengthened immune system.
If a horse owner can think of an issue with their horse, there is chance bodywork can help provide a solution. A normal bodywork session will last anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, which allows for more findings in the horse’s body.
Connections and tension
“There is an effect on every system of the body through massage and bodywork, depending on how the session is approached,” Kim notes. “The nervous system is greatly affected, as bodywork stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.”
She explains the nervous system stimulates rest and digest, which helps the systems in the horse’s body to relax. There are also effects on the sympathetic nervous system, which can be used to help horses pull through emotional trauma, as trauma is related to the fight or flight nervous system.
“By feeling everything in the horse’s body, bodywork can often find things like tension and tightness and areas of stuck fascia that might not show up in a quick assessment,” says Kim.
She explains, in human terms, if a person’s hip hurts and they are experiencing tension around the area, one can be led to a totally different area of the body that is restricted, resulting in hip pain. By following the muscles, tension and anatomy trains, the stem and root problem of pain and tension can be found.
Practitioner education and accountability
Bodyworkers spend a lot of time working on a horse during a session, but before they can practice, they must spend many hours studying. Practitioners must pass a national board exam through the National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage (NBCAAM).
In addition, the minimum curriculum required for the exam is at least 50 hours of training in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and pathologies, as well as a minimum of 50 hours of supervised in-class hands-on work. This portion assesses the execution of bodywork, benefits of massage and acupressure and practice guidelines. Students must also complete a minimum of 100 hours focused on learning business, ethics, behavior and safety.
Within bodywork, practitioners are held to remarkably high standards, helping to put horse owners’ minds at ease.
“Continuing education is a must in this line of work, which it also has to be approved continuing education as well,” Kim states, noting the NBCAAM requires practitioners to continue taking approved classes to extend their learning.
When to consider bodywork
“If a horse is in training, competing or really working hard, I recommend bodywork at least once a month,” says Kim.
If she has never seen the horse, Kim feels seeing them about three times back-to-back, then transitioning into a monthly schedule, helps to keep the horse going while they are being used hard.
Some common problems bodywork can help resolve include the inability of horses to flex their neck in either direction, horses struggling to bend, turn their body or collect, bucking out of the normal or acting cinchy, soreness from arena work or performance or even horses experiencing a change in attitude.
Staying on top of bodywork is beneficial, Kim shares. Sometimes something small can cause a restriction in a horse’s body and if goes unaddressed can add up over time and create more tension in the body than if it would have been addressed the first time.
“Say a person slept wrong and their neck feels kinked, pretty soon their shoulder starts to hurt, but they know it came from soreness in their neck,” explains Kim, putting it back into human terms. “A few days later, their lower back begins to hurt and the next day the tension has progressed into the knee. By now, they’ve forgotten they slept wrong and they’re not sure where the initial pain came from.”
Whether it is a common ranch horse or performance horse, bodywork has its place to keep horses feeling their best.
For more information, visit Kim’s website at schoolofappliedintegrativetherapy.com.
Delcy Graham is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org