Tight and painful back muscles, stiff movement and no enthusiasm to do your everyday tasks is not typical only for humans, but their four-hoofed counterparts as well. Horses too can benefit from a massage, and we talked to Allyson Hartenburg, Noble Outfitters Sponsored Athlete and recently certified Equine Therapeutic Massage Therapist.
NO: You recently passed your Equine Massage Class. Congratulations! How did you start with the idea of equine massage?
AH: I like to take a big picture approach to my training and care of horses. This includes veterinary care, nutrition, stable management, as well as training methods. Keeping horses physically and mentally healthy and happy keeps their humans happy as well, and the needs of the horses always come first for me. I am constantly seeking to expand my knowledge of how to care for the horses under my care and my client’s horses. I discovered that there is a fabulous massage school, the Rocky Mountain School of Animal Acupressure and Massage, close by, so I jumped at the chance to attend classes.
NO: Can you describe the path to a fully certified “equinesseuse” for people that are interested in the field?
AH: At the school I attended, each class focuses on a specific style or technique of massage. The curriculum of each class builds upon the others, with three levels of equine massage offered. Each class has a “classroom” section, which includes lecture and practical instruction, culminating with an intensive written and practical exam. You are then required to do “case studies” of 3-4 horses massaged weekly over a six week period. You submit reports on each horse, and the owner of the horse completes a feedback form on your work as well. These are submitted and graded, after which you (hopefully!) become certified. I have completed and become certified in Level I – Equine Therapeutic Massage, and have my ETMT (Equine Therapeutic Massage Therapist) certification. I have completed classes and am currently working on my case studies for Sports Massage Therapy (ESMT) and Advanced Equine Massage Techniques (AEMT). You can learn more about the programs I have completed HERE. This school offers a huge variety of programs, including EquiTape, Craniosacral, Acupressure, Oils, Herbs, and much more – including canine programs! I plan to continue to seek as many educational opportunities there as possible, as well as joining their team as an instructor for the Equine Sports Massage class!
NO: Why is equine massage important for horses? What horses can benefit the most from it?
AH: We ask our equine partners to live in domestication in a very different way than they live naturally, which changes the way their body functions. This is why we trim their hooves, float their teeth, etc. It makes sense to me that we would also take care of their muscles, which make up a tremendous percentage of the horse’s body. Massage also affects fascia, ligaments, tendons, the nervous system, and the lymphatic system, among others.
Fun fact: the horse’s front legs and shoulder are only attached to the body by muscle and soft tissue – no bone! An increasing number of humans are seeking massage as a therapeutic modality, and our horses can receive the same benefits. While massage is never a replacement for veterinary care, it is a fabulous complementary therapy for improving their quality of life, reducing healing time from injury, performance recovery, pain relief, increasing their range of motion, proprioception, injury prevention, mental health, and much more. Any horse can benefit from massage, from the 30-year-old retiree to the 10-year-old top athlete.
NO: Do you use only your hands or some other tools as well? How long does a complete massage take?
AH: I mainly use my hands, though I do sometimes use essential oils or a stone/crystal massage wand. I also like to use (for myself and my horses) an acupressure mat by Acuswede to warm up and cool down muscles before and after work, or just to increase circulation and reduce tension. The length and style of the massage depends on the horse’s needs, but generally sessions last about one hour.
NO: Do you do acupuncture as well?
AH: I do not practice acupuncture. In the state of Colorado, the only practitioners allowed to break the skin for acupuncture are licensed veterinarians or human chiropractors (aka someone with a medical degree). My horses and I regularly receive acupuncture and chiropractic adjustment – I work closely with vets and chiropractors to meet the needs of my horses and my client’s horses. It takes a village!