Equine Bodywork

My bodywork sessions involve an integration of the various therapies I have studied. I am qualified in the following modalities:

Tucker Biokinetics Technique:

TBT is the primary modality that I use. It is a subtle and effective alignment technique, using acupressure masterpoints to connect with parts of the body that aren’t functioning properly.

I trained with Dr Renee Tucker (author of ‘Where Does My Horse Hurt’) in Los Angeles in 2017. Dr Tucker began her career as an equine vet, and eventually created her own unique approach using her background in chiropractic and acupuncture. The results with TBT can be immediate and long lasting, as we’re working at a much deeper level.

The Masterson Method

I completed the year long Masterson certification course in the U.K. in 2015. The Masterson Method, devised by Jim Masterson, uses a variety of techniques effective in finding and releasing tension and restrictions in key junctions of the body that most affect performance. Staying under the brace is important, working with the horse and always observing the horses’ response to make sure we don’t apply too much pressure, always aiming to go lighter to obtain more release.

Equine Myofascial Release (Equinology)

I attended a Myofascial Release course with Ruth Mitchell-Golladay from Texas, in Natal several years ago. Fascia is the connective tissue that connects every part of the body. Elastic, shock absorbing, and incredibly strong, it is a tension sensor which conducts micro currents throughout the body. It has been referred to as the body’s internet connection.  I incorporate it into my treatments as needed.

What to Expect

I start the 45-60 minute bodywork session by performing a series of checkups to see where the pain, tension and restrictions are, to give me a picture of what’s going on with the horse. I can pick up on a subluxated joint (we’re talking about a chiropractic subluxation here, where something is described as ‘out’, ie. the joint is not functioning properly… not a medical subluxation). However I still treat the whole horse, as often the ‘screaming’ parts or the parts that are in pain or restricted, are the compensations, they are not necessarily the primary cause.

One session can sometimes be all that is required, others may require a couple of sessions to eliminate the problem, especially for chronic conditions. However if the primary cause has not been addressed then the issue will keep returning. The usual suspects to consider can be: tack, feet, teeth, ulcers, work load etc.

I usually ask that the horse has the following day off work, and also that it is done no closer than a week before any major competitive event. The horses’ postural habits will be affected, his stride can change and he may be stiff as the body goes through a detoxification process as he releases old compensations, so he needs the time to process these changes, which can be significant.

Above: Before and after a bodywork session

Why Does My Horse Need Bodywork?

The most obvious benefits of bodywork are, of course, the release of physical tension, restrictions and pain, and to increase flexibility, suppleness and range of motion. If we expect our horses to be athletes, they should receive the care and attention similar to how a human athlete attends to their training and health.

Other benefits are that the horse becomes more connected to his body, his self-awareness is enhanced, (especially with regular sessions, as they are accumulative). Restoring the body’s correct biomechanics, suppleness, and fluidity means the horse will feel more confident, secure and at ease in his own body. The horse needn’t have had an accident or injury to be experiencing physical problems, they can arise over time simply from being one-sided or from ‘laterality’ (most horses are right dominant just like most people are right-handed), from wear and tear or repetitive strain.

Images: These horses lay down in the middle of their bodywork session; the parasympathetic nervous system of ‘rest and digest’ deep at work

A horse that has been living with ongoing mental or physical stress, or suffered a traumatic incident of any sort, can experience ‘sensory-motor amnesia’, a term coined by Thomas Hanna. The brain to muscle communication becomes stuck in a feedback loop of contraction and compensation. SMA in horses (or people) can lead to compromised movement and range of motion, flexibility and suppleness. The horse when observed is no longer a picture of beauty and grace, and this inefficiency and dysfunction in movement gives him a feeling of vulnerability, he can become hypervigilant and spooky, knowing he is physically compromised. Over time this can lead to arthritis, stiff joints and a predisposition to injuries, just to name a few.

One of the aims of bodywork is to shift the horse from the ‘flight or fright’ sympathetic nervous system’s state, to the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system. The horse has a lot to deal with in the human world, introducing varying degrees of stress which the horse must adjust to. Mental tension can translate into physical tension, (everything starts in the mind), which is why it is so important to stay below the bracing point when we are practicing bodywork. 

Conformation vs Posture

Conformation is the way the horse is put together, his bony structure. Posture is the way the horse stands and organises himself, and this is something that is changeable. A very common posture we see in our horses’ stance is the ‘goat on a rock’ posture. The horses stands with his forelegs behind the vertical, and hind legs in front.Take note of the horses in the paintings and artworks you see in a museum next time you visit one, you will see this posture everywhere. Horses are masters at compensating and getting on with life… it’s important not to show weakness in case there’s a hungry lion around the corner.

Through manually manipulating a joint or muscle, we can release tension or a subluxation, but the brain often reasserts that tension and the pattern returns. The best way to get long term results that hold is to circumvent the muscle memory, working with the horses’ energy and nervous systems to achieve deeper and long-lasting results.

Images: The postural changes shown in these before and after photo’s are evident. The horse stands straighter and more square. A horse that previously stood base narrow or toeing in for example can immediately stand straighter. Fascia in a constant state of tension and dehydration can soften and rehydrate, and as a result, the entire musculature can change. The horse shows less angulation and more flow to create a softer and harmonious appearance.

Horse owners often ask me if they can do stretches or something to help their horses at home. Carrot stretches can be useful, but sometimes the horse can get a little too enthusiastic about overstretching to get to the yummy treat. A stretch done wrong can tear muscle fibres and damage tendons or ligaments. If you watch a dog or cat get up after a snooze and perform a slow, full-body stretch (often accompanied by a yawn), this is known as pandiculation and this type of stretching is far more beneficial.

“Pandiculation is a polysynaptic reflex that involves contracting a muscle or group of muscles and then slowly reducing the contractions back to neutral.” The brain is resetting the resting tonus of the muscles, performing it’s own diagnostics on the body’s physical state.

For people who want to use a technique which induces similar effects to pandiculation, I highly recommend the DVD on ‘Equine Hanna Somatics’, based on the Feldenkrais technique. It contains a series of simple exercises to do just this, reset the horses habitual movement patterns and change old postural habits.

Another wonderful technique horse owners can do at home with their horse, is the Masterson ‘Bladder Meridian Technique’. The horses love it and it helps the owner become more observant and tuned in to their horse.

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