Movement Based Bodywork and Hands on Help for our Horses
This unit is for anyone wishing to delve deeper into how to do bodywork on your own horses. I encourage everyone to touch into this unit because bodywork can become part of any training session you do with your horses, indeed, it should. I'll share the knowledge on this subject I've gained through years of studying a variety of modalities, but more, from working on hundreds of horses.
Bodywork is a fantastic place to learn about and practice resonance. We learn how to negotiate contact, how to touch in meaningful, therapeutic ways, and palpate areas of the body that are common trigger points. We will not do a deep dive into anatomy, rather we'll look at how to let your horse guide you to what they need, and how you can intuitively respond to uncover what they most need.
In all my years of working on horses one thing became clear, lasting change did not occur unless or until the horse put his new awareness into movement. Changing movement patterns changes how we stand and how our muscles develop. Movement is therefore a key component of effective bodywork.
At this point, bodywork is not something I do as a stand alone thing all that often. Rather, it is incorporated into every session we do. We move together and as I watch my horses move I see things that hamper or impede their fluid movement and we address those things in the moment and then go back to work. In this way I don't have to wait for the bodyworker to come and do something about my horse's discomfort, instead, I can do something about it in the moment.
I think we often get intimidated by the learning curve on some of these things, but truly, you don't have to have any special training or knowledge of anatomy to be an effective bodyworker for your own horse. My guess is that as you begin to explore the landscape of your horse's body it will fuel your curiosity and you may decide you want to learn more. I'm happy to provide resources and engage in discussion in any direction this exploration takes us!
I’m pretty excited about something new we’re playing with around here. This idea is based on some concepts taken from The Melt Method. The idea we’ve been exploring around here is that if I treat grooming as bodywork it sets up some fluid exchange in the body. Anywhere the horse is carrying stuck stress or tension in their body impinges their movement. The tissue around injured areas effectively dehydrates, becoming stiff to stabilize the area. So by grooming in this way I can facilitate hydration of these tissues in areas now healed. By starting with this the horse is a bit more warmed up for the initial figure eight assessment.
So, once I get my grooming as massage for fluid exchange and release of excess tension anywhere I find it, then I can do my first figure 8 assessment. I always address the poll and upper cervicals if my horse has difficulty executing the figure eight. Because the reflexes to stand, walk and turn originate here. After doing some work on poll and neck I will re-assess the figure 8. Sometimes that’s enough to free up whatever restrictions they had and they move fluidly. Other times something else shows up in a more obvious way, like issues in other parts of the body. Here I go over how to assess if you suspect issues in the hindquarters.
Not every horse is willing to be touched. That doesn’t mean we can’t help them. Here, Joyce and I work with Gandalf’s nervous system via empathic resonance and working with his basic survival needs to pull him out of perpetual fight or flight and into his body - rest and digest mode.
The video was recorded as a live feed to Facebook. Link to page
Here is an audio file where I answer the following questions:
Interpreting fidgeting during bodywork sessions. How do you know if it’s what you’re doing or flies? How do you know if you should hang in there or move away? Touch or leave and air gap?
Also, when I observe a spot seems to be bringing on some blinking and I therefore wait there for more of a release, once the release occurs, should I step away and offer a break or just proceed to find more areas?
What’s the deal when horses nearby start to lick and chew and yawn and stretch when I’m doing bodywork on another horse?
Is it necessary with some horses to step away and give them space before they will process or release their stress? Are some horses shy?
What do we do once we look for and how to we use the figure 8 pattern to guide our bodywork?
I talk a bit about interpreting behaviors and body language and how we go about responding appropriately to what our horses show us.
Bodywork for aging horses
Working with and on aging horses is a whole different ball game. They carry compensation patterns for a reason and it’s not always wise to release them. They do great with just enough to keep things limber - old horse calisthenics if you will. I’ll add some things to this section soon.
Meet Aero. He is coming 31 years old, thoroughbred. He’s been with me about 20 years, retired when we figured out he really hates being ridden. A valuable member of my core herd, Aero is the one who keeps everyone in line and helps new horses find their way into the herd. He’s recovering from a pretty serious injury to his left hind leg a few months ago, his healing hampered by the weather that keeps making muck he has to slog around in!
He’s steadily improving though and we are both hopeful he’ll make a full recovery, and as always with these older guys, monitoring carefully for signals from him that he’s ready to leave this body and move on.
Aero was quite camera shy. I really had to negotiate with him about what I wanted to film and why. In the end he decided he would allow it but he seemed quite self conscious about being seen. Funnily, he insisted that I introduce him to the group before posting this video. I did a live chat you’ll find on the FB page doing just that. He seems much happier now about the video being shared. You’ll see that he is a very clear communicator!
Remember, anytime I share a video of the horses here to watch from a grounded place. Please don’t feel sorry for any of the horses that look less than perfect. They have a good life here, despite their imperfections, and we work hard to make sure they are happy as they can be and well looked after. No pity. They hate that.
Here I’m demonstrating my gentle form of body work that is safe to do on any horse of any age, it’s even safe to do on horses stuck on stall rest with lameness issues. I talk a bit about some things you need to be aware of when doing body work on elderly horses and you’ll see that Aero is not one to just stand quietly and have a snooze. It’s a good opportunity, I thought, to see how I navigate working with a horse that has quite a lot going on and is not comfortable. He has a lot of agitation about moving all those parts he’s been protecting and lots of tight sore places from slogging in the mud. I understand that one!
For those curious about my background in this regard:
I studied Equine Science at Colorado State University where I got a healthy dose of anatomy and physiology as well as studying farrier science with Doug Butler.
I worked as a large animal assistant at a mixed practice veterinary practice for 5 years. And I managed a lot of barns.
All of this exposed me to horses with issues that I had no way to help with. When I worked at the vet clinic I was given a horse named Romeo. He had quite severe navicular syndrome. Working with my talented farrier we got him sound by barefooting him at a time when barefoot was not a thing that was popular at all! In fact, circulation was restored to his foot and the bone remodeled (the large lesion actually filled in). In the process of working with Romeo I met Dave Siemens who used to travel with Mark Rashid. He blew my mind and found some serious issues in Romeo's neck, that once resolved, completely changed his personality. That was my introduction to alternative therapy and I was hooked!
I was certified as an equine massage therapist almost 20 years ago.
Then I discovered The Equine Touch and fully immersed myself in that training for about 3 years to become certified as a practitioner and then as an instructor. I was president of the US branch of the Equine Touch Association the first year it came into existence.
When I went as far as I could with ET and was starving for more, I ended up studying Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. I did a 2.5 year training for working on people, followed by another year and half studying polarity therapy.
Throughout this time I studied extensively with Carol Welch (Biosomatic Movement Education) - also working with people.
All of the study I did on the human side was so that I could go in depth enough to satisfy my busy mind.
I traveled and taught Equine Touch, worked as a professional equine body worker for about 10 years. Then we got our place here in Fruita and I started taking horses in for rehab. It was the rehab work that helped me understand how to really get a horse sound. How to create my own thing inspired by all of these modalities. That's what I'll share here.