With two clinics done this fall/winter and two more booked before show season begins, I have been really enjoying teaching owners some basics of relaxation massage. These clinics are aimed at owners who would like to get to know their horses better. For some people it is something they plan to do on their own, for others it is a way to extend the benefits of regular massages. There has also been interest from a couple of people who would like to try some basics and practice on their own horses to see if it is a career they would like to pursue with (much) more extensive education.
The clinics begin with a theory portion. We go over some horse anatomy, benefits of massage, contraindications to massage as well as what to consider when choosing a setting and how to keep yourself and your horse safe. This includes discussing what reactions you can expect to see from a horse when they are enjoying the massage as well as when they are not. Then we move on to some basics to keep in mind at all times when massaging before delving into a few different manipulations that we will be practicing later in the day. The theory portion continues with talking about the benefits of hydrotherapy (very important info for all horse owners) including when to use cold vs heat as well as best ways to apply it. Finally, we discuss some proper stretching techniques and finish up with discussing specific stretches.
After this, we generally take a short break before starting up the hands on portion.
In the clinics I have taught so far, the hands on portion has worked best in the indoor arena. For this reason, it is helpful to have two people working together. One person can hold on to the horse while the other participant is practicing and everyone gets a chance to switch when their hands start to get tired. We do talk about proper form and how to avoid fatigue, but everyone does notice their hands getting tired by the end of the day.
We begin the hands on portion by practicing the manipulations we learned earlier in the classroom. They are all basic massage strokes and we start on the neck and proceed from there so everyone gets a feel for every manipulation over different parts of the body. It is also important for the participants to switch sides, as everyone typically has one hand which is more dominant. As a result of this, moving along one side of the body will be harder for everyone to start and will feel slightly awkward. It is good to get comfortable using both hands right from the start.
After we have gone over all the manipulations and covered most of the body, we talk about leg massage. Proper technique of a basic leg massage is very helpful and can be incorporated into how you apply liniment to your horse’s legs… and most of us have not been taught to do it in the most effective way.
Finally, we go over some stretches again and practice them with different horses depending on the needs of each particular horse. We finish up with some always popular carrot stretches. Those have to be done at the end, because it is definitely not easy getting the horses’ attention back after the carrots come out!
At this point, we switch up the horses and everyone gets to practice everything one more time. It is always interesting to apply the techniques to a different horse. Every horse is an individual and they all prefer slightly different amounts of pressure as well as have preferences for different manipulations. It is also interesting to feel areas of tension in different parts of the body and try stretches on a different horse.
By the time we finish practicing on a second horse and all the questions are answered and all carrots are used upfor practicing carrot stretches, it has been a pretty full day!