I went to massage school for humans about a hundred years ago (OK - not quite, more like back in the 1990's last century) so giving humans massage is second nature for me. But I didn't begin following my dream to work with horses until Spring 2013 when I took the leap and signed up for equine massage school. At first I had no idea what I was doing and felt like there was no way that working on these half ton (or in some cases a full ton) creatures was ever going to work out for me. But now, just a year later and finally having all my licensing squared away, it is starting to feel second nature to me.
One of the things that has held me back from working with horses is that when I was twelve years old (that really was about a hundred years ago) I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. In all seriousness, it has not been a hundred years, it has been thirty-five years and needless to say there is some pretty serious joint damage now and I have the occasional "symptoms" (ie: fatigue, all-over-achiness, depression) flare up now and then. But I bring this up because I was surprised to find out it has not stopped me. There are certain range of motion movements I can't do with my arms and hands because of the joint damage in my elbows and wrists, but I can compensate for that and still get the job done. And I enjoy working with horses so much that it is worth it to find ways to compensate.
School took about nine months before I had enough education to try to get an endorsement on my license, then it took several months for the Department of Health to figure out how to actually apply an endorsement on my license (even after I read the R.C.W. to them). Finally after dozens of phone calls and months of go-arounds I finally found someone who knew how to do it and I recently became an official, professional equine massage therapist. Luckily, all that time has given me an opportunity to work on quite a few horses before I actually got paid so I felt more comfortable working for my first paid client today.
One of the things I love about massaging horses is how expressive they are. You always know where you stand with a horse and they are not shy about letting you know if you're doing something right (or wrong). Kicking and biting is a very obvious way to know you're doing something wrong - or in many cases you're not even doing something wrong, it's just painful, or a scary new sensation, or it set off a reflex that made the horse want to move their leg quickly. It's also an occupational hazard and after just a year now of doing this I'm happy to say I'm starting to be able to recognize the tell-tale signs that a kick, a stomping foot, or bite is coming and I've gotten quite adept at scooting out of the way or swinging my elbow back so the horse bonks into my elbow instead of nailing me with his/her teeth. Still, I am well aware that in some ways this is much more dangerous than massaging humans. But then I also never have to worry about a horse making an inappropriate proposition to me either which makes it all the more worth it.
After my first paying client I went to work on a rescue horse being fostered by a friend and an example of ways one learns to stay out of the horse's way is that at one point while I was working on the origin or the horse's ascending pectorals, and she was reacting to this by stretching her front leg and then stamping it down (partially to deal with the discomfort and partially as a stretch during the muscle release) - but I found myself standing on one foot with the other tucked behind my leg so it was out of the way of her foot. She had never had a massage before and when I had initially palpated her back, the discomfort was so high she lifted her head from her hay, turned quickly around and stomped out to her paddock and dodged me for a few minutes when I tried to approach her. She did finally acquiesce and we found a pressure that did not disturb her, but helped loosen up her back after that, but when working on her pects, stretching her leg out seemed very important to the release and what would in normal circumstances be considered poor behavior was important in this case to her ability to relax and let me work on that area. So, I had to stand on one foot. I've never had to do that with a human before.
But the best part is when horses have a release of tension they do all sorts of cute silly things. One of the big ones is they fart or poop, but they also yawn, and stretch and contort their bodies in all sorts of funny ways, and they snort and sigh and make weird wiggly faces with their lips. When I find a spot that is really tight and am succeeding in working it out, often they'll lean up against me to the point where once I had to push the horse back over because he felt like he was going to fall on top of me he was leaning so far into me. The sweetest "thank you" I've ever had from a horse was a big, black Quarterhorse named Beetle who I worked on when his back was all seized up and when I was finished he gently put his head over my shoulder and tried to groom me.
I'm very lucky to have a profession like this. And although it makes it practically impossible to afford disability insurance and life insurance companies hate me, I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.
This is a photo from B. Kate Stables on Vashon when I was learning to do a stretch on one of their horses. One of my excellent teachers, Lola Michelin is in the background. I was so scared to learn this stretch but now I'm so used to doing it, it's really no big deal.