I get asked quite frequently about the best way to become an Equine Massage Therapist. It is an unregulated field and as such there are no set standards of education. When choosing a school it is definitely a case of doing your research. The variety in courses is overwhelming. There are options that start with online only courses and weekend courses all the way to 2 year, full time programs based on registered massage therapy courses for people as well as everything in between. An important question to ask is not only how long is the program, but how many hours of instruction are included. I certainly cannot comment on all the schools as my insight is limited to the school I attended, but I can share my experience.
I attended the two year, full time 2200 hour program at the D’Arcy Lane Institute in London, Ontario. At the time I was there (2002-2004), it was the only program of its kind as it is the equine equivalent of the human massage therapy school and is actually taught out of the same building. It is a fantastic program and very intense (even in comparison to UBC which I attended previously). It is definitely costly at just under $20000 for the two years, but compared to many of the programs out there, the cost per hour of instruction was actually very reasonable. It is a very thorough program which was originally designed with help from veterinarians, RMTs, and certified coaches. I really enjoyed that the instructors are professionals who work in the industry. I’m sad to say, that to this day, it is still the only program that I am aware of which is the equivalent of a human massage therapy program.
Following graduation I took the exams and became part of the International Federation of Registered Equine Massage Therapists. I was really hoping that by now there would be more schools with graduates eligible to become part of the IFREMT, but none of the schools interested have been able (or willing) to meet the standards required. Any equine massage therapist who calls themselves an REMT has attended D’AL and passed the Federation exams.
I really can’t comment on the quality of the other programs available because I have not attended them. All I can say, is that considering how much we were learning the entire time I was at D’AL, I cannot imagine absorbing the same amount of information in a shorter period of time with fewer hours in the classroom. In addition to the classroom time, we spent many hours massaging with supervision. By the end of second year, we were massaging two horses a day. Massaging is hard on your body at the best of times. It really is imperative to make sure to learn to do it as properly as possible so it isn’t harder on your body than needs to be. It doesn’t matter how many hours you practice on your own if you don’t know whether you’re practicing correctly. Once bad habits are developed, it is much harder to correct them than to start out with good form initially. We were also extremely lucky to be able to take part in a dissection at the Guelph Veterinary College. No matter how many anatomy books you study, there is no comparison to seeing all the structures layer by layer in real life. While it is not a very pleasant experience, it was definitely one of the most educational in my time at D’AL.
I would say that the best way to decide whether a school you are considering is a good option would be to speak to some graduates and see what they think. Would they do it again? Do they think they got a good base of education (continuing education is important no matter which school you choose, but you should feel as though you can start a business right away)? How busy are they massaging now? Do they feel like they got their monies worth?
I do think the weekend courses are great for those who want to get just a small taste of massage to see if it really is something they are interested in. I never did attend one before moving across the country, but I do think it is something that would be beneficial to many people. I think it is also important to mention that it really is a physical job, if you are considering it and already have problems, especially with your hands or arms, I would hate to see you spend your time and money getting an education you cannot use so that is something to consider.