I wrote before about the bodywork that Gary Severson (the Saddle Doctor) did on my horses when he came to fit my saddles in the spring (part of an article about the impact of poll pressure from bridles). It wasn’t traditional massage; rather he released tension in their backs through a form of trigger point massage.
Gary showed me two releases and promised to show me more when he returns in the fall, but I didn’t want to wait. I’ve been searching for more information since he left.
Reading on the Internet I found a therapist named Jim Masterson whose practice addresses many of the same ideas. It’s not “massage” in the traditional sense; it’s more along the line of acupressure or cranio sacral therapy. It centers around the idea of releasing stress and tension in your horse’s body. I read some of the articles that were on his Web site and ordered his DVD. When it came last week I was inspired! After watching the first couple of chapters I dragged my daughter to the barn so I could try the introductory techniques on my horses.
First of all, the DVD is an excellent training tool. The instructions are clear and well illustrated. I find it much easier to use than a book because you can see how Masterson works with a horse – the amount of pressure used, how he moves his fingers, the lines that he follows on the horse – and how the horse responds. The mantra of Jim Masterson’s approach is search, response, stay, release. You search for the areas where the horse is holding tension, feel the response, then stay with the horse until it releases. Signs of release can be subtle, like the softening of the eye, or more direct like chewing, licking or yawning (this fits with what I wrote earlier about why horses yawn).
The first exercise outlined in the DVD is to trace the line of the Bladder Meridian along the horse’s side from the poll to the coronet band on the horse’s rear hoof.
I was amazed by how well my two horses responded. I tried it on Kronefurst, my Trakehner, first. He’s a very steady horse that responds well to massage and I feel confident that he will accept almost anything that I try calmly. Using just a light touch (he describes it as the pressure you would use to crush a grape), I found some tension near his poll, and over his withers. Over his sacrum, he was quite tender, visibly flinching, and required a very light touch. Very quickly he started licking his lips and chewing; eventually he yawned. Once he released, he started to lean into the pressure of my hand and seemed to really enjoy the experience.
My Thoroughbred gelding, Freedom, is a much twitchier horse. He’s always been sensitive about being touched at the poll, which I’ve attributed to the fact that he wears a cribbing collar. The challenge with him was to get started. Using a very light touch (described in the DVD as an air gap), I was able to start the sequence. It became clear very quickly that Freedom is holding in a lot of tension. He was very fidgety and difficult to stay with, but he did start to relax after a few minutes. His eye softened and he started to chew. He didn’t give me a real yawn until after I’d stopped, but at that point he yawned repeatedly.
I can’t wait to try the techniques described in the next chapter!