Bodywork… What Can It Do For Your Horse?

By Karen Braun, BA, ESMT, RMT

Note from Mary: Karen Braun is my dear friend who taught  Equine Bodywork at my farm in June 2006. I endorse her philosophy and respect her methods of healing that she discusses in this article. Reiki, the energy work that she integrates into with her equine massage, is one of numerous energy healing modalities available to animals and humans.

karenHorses are one of nature’s greatest gifts to us. Think of how many times your horse has been there for you unconditionally. You’ve had a bad day or aren’t feeling well…who has consistently been there for you, waiting with loving eye and welcoming nicker?

Horses are great teachers about presence, gentleness, living in truth, and right use of power. They come into our lives for many reasons. We owe it to our equine companions to take the best possible care of them. Horses’ bodies, like ours, have an incredible ability for self-healing. There are things we can do to assist them in this process of maintaining good health. Regular veterinary care, dental work by a professional, enough grazing time and healthy diet, awareness of proper bit-usage and saddle fit, and bodywork all contribute to the well-being of our equine family members.

Bodywork has been an essential component of health and healing for thousands of years across many cultures. There are numerous forms of bodywork such as massage, craniosacral therapy, myofascial release, reiki, chiropractic, and acupuncture to name a few. Theses noninvasive natural methods help the body heal, balance and release trauma. Keep in mind, though, that bodywork does not replace veterinary care.

When we think of the word “trauma,” we usually think of a huge accident or catastrophe. Actually, trauma can occur on physical and emotional levels from things that we may consider insignificant. Examples of things that can cause trauma to the body and spirit of the horse are falling down in the pasture, pulling back while tied, having to wear an ill-fitting saddle or incorrect bit for the size and shape of the mouth, lack of or incorrect dental work, getting kicked by another horse, being mistreated or ignored by humans (even if it was years ago).

All of these things are stored in the body and spirit of the horse on physical and energetic levels, causing restrictions of movement in the body, tightness, asymmetry, imbalance, and emotional upset. These things may show up visibly to us as a horse who bites, kicks, bucks, refuses to go, has “attitude” problems, head-shaking, is crabby; and the list goes on. These are all issues that we sometimes incorrectly interpret as bad behavior or resistance to training.

Imagine wearing shoes on your feet that are too tight and someone keeps pushing you to walk and run. If you couldn’t talk or gesture to tell them about your feet hurting, you would eventually become crabby, try to stop walking, sit down, and probably develop a headache and a sore back from holding all this tension in your body. This is what it can be like for horses that have pain and tension in their bodies. Sometimes the only way for them to tell us is by what we see as “acting up.”

A trained bodywork practitioner can look at your horse, evaluate him through observation of movement and hands-on palpation, and locate areas of tension and restriction. An appropriate healing method is then used to address the restrictions, working to release them and restore balance to the body, in turn improving attitude and emotional state.

During a bodywork session, the horse shows many signs of releasing tension in the body and spirit… demonstrated by licking, chewing, putting the head down, relaxing the pelvis to one side, yawning, and softening the eyes.

The following four types of bodywork can greatly benefit your horse:

Sports Massage:  Sports massage works deeply into the muscle and facial tissue. It addresses specific muscles used in performance. Massage increases circulation to all the tissues, releases tension and muscle spasms, helps to increase range of motion and flexibility, helps speed up healing of injuries, lengthens connective tissue, promotes relaxation and well-being, and more.

Craniosacral Therapy:  Craniosacral therapy works with the nervous system, providing balance, harmony, and connection from head (cranium) to tail (sacrum). It combines light finger pressure with intuitive use of inner listening to sense restrictions in the body. Restrictions are then released, allowing the parts of the body to feel more connected and function to their highest potential.

Myofascial Release:  Fascia is a web of tissue that is interwoven throughout the body. Trauma to the body causes fascia to become restricted and shortened, causing pain and muscle spasms. Myofascial release is a method of using various holds and stretches to release the tissue and restore proper movement and body symmetry.

Reiki: Reiki is thousands of years old. It is a gentle hands-on approach that works to release blockages from the energy system of the individual. Balance and harmony are restored on all levels…physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Which method is used depends on the horse and his or her situation and “issues.” The practitioner does a thorough evaluation to determine which method or methods are most beneficial for each session. Bodywork sessions are typically one hour in length.    Horses give us so much and ask for so little in return. We owe it to them to help them feel their best in body and spirit. Bodywork is a wonderful way to further your connection with your horses, as well as helping them maintain health. Your horses will thank you.

Karen Braun, BA, ESMT, RMT  Karen is an Equine Bodywork Practitioner. She is the instructor and founder of Anam Cara School™ where she teaches others to safely provide bodywork to horses and connect with them on a deeper level. Topics covered are equine massage, energy work including Reiki, equine myofascial release, and intuitive development.