Equine Massage Therapy, Anyone have experience with it??

Discussion in 'Other Pets & Livestock' started by Kathryn4629, Aug 16, 2010.

  1. Kathryn4629

    Kathryn4629 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 4, 2010
    Colbert, WA
    Ok, long story short I am currently going to equine massage therapy school (also known as equine body worker) and am having a wonderful time! I can't wait to get started working and helping horses and there owners. I have spent my life with horses and wanted to find a rewarding career working with them. I originally wanted to be a Vet but due to time and money right now I have decided to do this instead. I still may go to vet school in the future but for now this is what I want to do.

    I am wondering if anyone here is a equine massage therapist or has used one before? What were your experiences? Any advice for me?

    Thanks so much! Kathryn
  2. Kathryn4629

    Kathryn4629 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 4, 2010
    Colbert, WA
    anyone? [​IMG]
  3. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    I've used them at various times over the years, and seen a lot of friends and fellow boarders use them. I guess my opinion is that a smallish percentage are good, a tiny percentage (I am thinking of one person in particular) are BRILLIANT, but the majority do not seem to achieve very much at all, certainly not what they claim or charge for. I mean no offense, I am just because you asked "saying", but the majority that do not seem to achieve much (other than a relaxed well-petted horse) are generally those that are recent graduates from equine massage courses/schools. Obviously one must start somewhere of course [​IMG] but it seems like a lot of practitioners are, um, very strongly bent on interpreting their results as strongly-positive no matter what actually happens [​IMG]

    I do not mean the foregoing to be discouraging, since as I say I have known some really GOOD massage people and one guy who was just a natural-born genius. (He did not get that way from a school or course, he just had a brilliant intuitive sense of horses, but clearly had honed it considerably over years of doing massage and chiropractic work, and I absolutely believe that practice DOES matter and instruction from a talented-and-practiced person probably does too). Certainly the world needs more people who can identify and ease horses' ouchies [​IMG]

    JME, good luck and have fun,

    Last edited: Aug 17, 2010
  4. theoldchick

    theoldchick The Chicken Whisperer Premium Member

    May 11, 2010
    I certified many years ago and enjoyed the work. I loved the way these equine athletes would hear my car and whinny a loud welcome. Massage therapy is not a cure to a problem but can help a horse maintain a sound career and/or assist in the healing process. Massaging horses is a very rewarding occupation but your success depends on the state of the economy. People are selling sore horses instead of treating them. Even so, your own horses will enjoy your expertise!
  5. welsummerchicks

    welsummerchicks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 26, 2010
    Yes, I used to have my horses done by an equine massage therapist.

    What were my experiences....hm. Mixed.

    Um. Most people, if they get training in something else, they aren't going to be a vet later. It just is less likely to happen if the person is already established in something. So I think maybe decide now, if you really want to ever go to vet school or not. Vet school is definitely not for everyone. It's very hard to get admitted into a vet program - one needs very good grades. And vet school is a grind. It's hard. And if you want to go, it's best to funnel EVERYTHING toward getting in and staying in and getting out...now.

    And...I think the younger you are when you go through vet school, and the more recently you got out of school, the less difficult it is to get in and get thru vet school. I think if you want to go to vet school 'some day', it would be a lot easier if you did it the younger you are, and the closer you are to school years. I'm going to guess you have some objections to vet school in mind or wouldn't go to massage school....is that true? Then probably, this is a more permanent decision? Then you are looking at making your living at massage full time? That is very different from wanting to just earn a few dollars here and there as a supplemental income.

    There are a lot of untrained or poorly trained equine masseuses. They go from boarding barn to boarding barn, and they have a following. But usually not enough to provide a decent income like a full time job. There are a lot of people like that, and few that are very good. I'm assuming that you are talking about making a good, solid income and want to be one of the very good ones.

    I don't give it the 'magical' properties some horse folk do. I think it helps the muscles to relax and is comforting and pleasant for the horse, much as it is for me. My horses would object when the masseuse stopped. I mean seriously.

    But I also found if horsey was stiff to the left in motion, massage did not change that. What I DID feel was that massage would help the horse to cope with the under-saddle activities meant to address that stiffness. I don't go so far as to think that a few massages and my horse will miraculously do his job without training or conditioning. I see it as a PART of the whole picture, and not a substitute for a good conditioning program or skillful riding - you WILL meet people who think a stroke here, a stroke there, I'm going to the Olympics!

    I don't feel it magically heals all sorts of things or is a substitute for veterinary care...you WILL find people who do think that! I think it's important not to take advantage of people like that, they get so starry-eyed they may not even get proper veterinary diagnosis or medical care for their horse when he needs it. 'Hm...my horse is lame...I'll get the masseuse! Then I can take him to the show next weekend and jump him in 12 classes!' Well, what's going on...perhaps the horse has an abcess in his foot or arthritis....maybe this is not the greatest idea....

    You have to have enough sense of ethics to step back sometimes, and say, 'this horse needs a diagnosis, and medical care from a vet' instead of just willingly going along with what the owner wants - that magic massage. If you don't know what's wrong underneath for absolute sure, it's very hard to massage beneficially....you always have to be thinking of what's in the best interest of the horse's long term health...it MIGHT not be what the owner wants...sometimes, you have to step away from a situation....or harm your reputation permanently in the equine community.

    I worked for a gal who was absolutely dying to go to the regionals. Her horse was lame in both ankles and both hocks, I mean hard-to-get-it-out-of-the-stall in the morning lame, and shouldn't have been working at that level at all. He was actually gradually breaking down in the ankles. She was DETERMINED she would go to regionals...so she stopped the painkillers the horse was on so they would clear his system in time for regionals, and had the masseuse come out every day before regionals and massage the horse's sore back (the back often gets sore if there is anything wrong in the hind legs).

    The masseuse willingly did it. If she really knew what was going on and did that, and I seriously doubt she could have not known, people don't just have a masseuse out 12 days in a row...I am not sure I could ever look her in the eye again...let alone have her do up my horses. The horse went to regionals, but of course it did very poorly...I didn't really see the point of putting the animal through that...

    I also found that after a few sessions, the massage therapy sessions got shorter and shorter...and the person seemed to be putting less and less effort into it. When I asked she said the horse was 'now on a maintenance program'. I was still paying the same price, but less was done. I didn't care for that. It's really important to 'run it like a business' and make sure everyone gets your undivided attention and focus, every session, every time. Being enthusiastic and interested in every animal, whether it's a family pet or a million dollar show jumper, really makes a difference to the customer.

    I think it's very important to consider yourself as being a 'health care professional', and making really sure your business is very organized and very 'businesslike' - making up a smart route that saves miles if you drive to customers, honoring commitments, processing payments quickly, having consistent rates for all, a business card with your qualifications...advertising very professionally, all necessary.

    I do have some suggestions for you.

    One is to develop something the owner can do between visits, such as stretches. You probably feel many techniques should be left to the trained masseuse, and that's very good. But you might consider getting some hand outs made up that you can give to owners, things they can do between visits. That isn't just good for horses. It gets the owner participating and interacting with you, and that means they remember you. You're building a customer relationship. Hopefully a long term one. And you're giving people something other masseuses aren't.

    One is that you find a program that will certify you in acupuncture, and perhaps research other 'adjunctive care' techniques that are well accepted in the veterinary community and are possible 'main stream' sources of income.

    One is that massage, at 60 dollars or more a pop, is actually a very expensive service. For some people they will pay that without knowing anything about you.

    But...that's something only a very few people will sign up for without very, very carefully going over the person's qualifications and knowledge. If you attend a quickie program or one that's not certified and recognized in the equine community as top notch, you will not win over as many potential customers.

    The more you can learn equine anatomy and get riding lessons and compete, the more you know about your customer's needs, even more - the more they TRUST you. MANY of your customers will be competitive riders who spend a lot of money on their horses.

    But the secret is, they don't really spend even one penny very casually!! They may be wary of someone who rides in a different style than them, even, or doesn't know about their type of riding.

    The more you ride and understand horses, the more you are better than other masseuses in the customer's eyes, and people will hire you instead of someone else.

    There really is a lot more to learn about anatomy than what is presented in the massage program, it needs to be an ongoing process. There are a lot of sources of information, courses, etc.

    One masseuse found out my horse had a peroneus strain, and kept going on about how she was going to massage the back of the hind quarters. I said, 'um....the peroneus is on the FRONT of the hind leg....' and she said, 'No it isn't'. I was like...this horse has a serious injury, I don't think if she understands the anatomy, I want her doing this horse. That's where the knowledge really becomes important!

    One is to consider giving people discounts if they are part of a group or have multiple horses at one barn. It costs you more to drive to more barns, and the more you can sign up groups at one location, the better.

    You ALSO might consider giving people a 'package rate'. If for example, they sign up for a series of massages over the year, consider giving them a bit of a discount. The more predictable you make your income with repeat customers on a schedule, the better for you.

    The other thing you might really consider, is getting to know the vets at one of the big equine clinics near you. If you win the VET'S trust, and get involved in rehabilitating injured horses, partnering with them in what they feel is needed, you could have an INCREDIBLE income and a huge amount of clout in the equine community. It would absolutely, help you get into vet school some time later.

    When you're beginning, you might offer your services free to that vet clinic for a few months, learning what they think is needed and partnering with them, offering a massage at the clinic and followups to show how you can help.

    Another thing to think about is - SAFETY! YOUR safety. You're often going to find restless, poorly trained and even fairly naughty horses that 'Mommy' feels very protective of. I've seen two masseuses get hurt very badly because Mommy's spoiled little angel was not properly disciplined. I URGE you to be very, very cautious around horses you do not know. If a horse is restless or disobedient, you are vulnerable and you need to be very, very good at 'reading' horses and owners, and knowing when to say, 'I am sorry, but I can't massage this horse'. Get health insurance for yourself, too, and keep it.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2010
  6. EweSheep

    EweSheep Flock Mistress

    Jan 12, 2007
    Land of Lincoln
    I agree with Welsummer, about the vet schooling....it was GRUELING for me and with long hours, irregular sleeps, cranky patients along with good times, it took a toll on me and I didn't finish going on to a four year college. Glad to reap the knowledge and hands on experience as a "baby vet" but to this day, I use those skills so therefore, it is NOT lost on you if you use them!

    As for a massages, I go to one whenever budget allows and it feels good but only for a day or two. Then I need more![​IMG]

    Had one massage therapist doing a boarder's horse.....it was ok for a while and it was back to square one. Would I use them? No, I can do it on my own because I do give good massages and once in a while I follow the motions, pressures of my masseur and use it on the horse, my horse would relax as he does, one back leg cocked, head down, lip loose, eyes closed and his umm umm so relaxed. For the rest of the day, he was in a good mood. Whats good for the soul would be good for the horse and owner too!

    As for the market for this type of work, it is sparce and you would have to find a place that has alot of competitors in a given area to carve out your reputation and skills for your patients and their owners. Many of them are stoic about any newbies taking over their territory. And people are cutting back on "luxury" things for their horses nowadays. I do not think I would sum any more, Welsummer has said it all.
  7. Rusty Hills Farm

    Rusty Hills Farm Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 3, 2008
    Up at the barn
    I had the great good fortune about 15 years ago to find a truly great massage therapist in Sarasota, Florida.

    Long story shortened: I had a gelding who loved to work cattle and he was pastured next to a neighbor's herd of commercial cattle. The fellow was in his 80s so he hired his spring work done. The cowboys came late one morning after I had already gone to work. My gelding saw them working the cows, jumped the fence, and joined in. Eventually the cowboys stopped seeing him, figured he got bored and went home. Never gave it another thought. Come evening feed, he did not come up so I went looking for him. Found him in tall grass completely hidden from view. He was laying on his side and it looked like he slipped in the wet grass and had been unable to rise. Got the vet out. Vet says his back is broken, put him down. Can't bring myself to do it.

    After the vet left I told him what the vet said and told him he had to get up. Incredibly he got up. Stayed up. But the way he stood and walked he could have placed all 4 feet on the same dinner plate at the same time. He reminded me of one of those ancient Chinese ladies with the bound feet. After a week of this, a friend who is a farrier came out and looked. Asked me if I'd tried to lift any of his feet. I hadn't, so I tried. Got a hind foot up partway. The gelding lifted the foot out of my hand, stretched it way out behind him. There was this loud popping noise. He put the foot down back where it belonged. I repeated with the other hind foot. Same result. Suddenly he could walk again.

    But he was sore. Terribly sore. Just touch his back and he'd all but fall down. Farrier friend told me about this massage therapist he knew. Got the fellow out. He worked on the gelding for over 2 hours and when he was done the gelding was moving freely again. Gave him 4 more 2-hour sessions spread out over a month and my gelding was sound again and back working cattle.

    And that is my story. HTH

  8. welsummerchicks

    welsummerchicks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 26, 2010
    I'm glad someone did chime in about 'the market'. That was very true and I didn't cover that. When the economy goes sour people do cut back. Getting the trust of the competitor community really is important during those times. Some of those competitors are more or less 'recession proof'. If they're well financed and consider massage important, they will keep getting massages even when the stock market goes south.

    In tight times, competition becomes much more important. Clients have a lot of practitioners to choose from, including vets who offer 'one stop service' and do massage, vet, chiro and acupuncture.

    I didn't really go into expectations. You know those customers that think you perform miracles for them? Well, they are the ones that turn on you when they get disappointed, 'they are the first and the worst', as a trainer told me once.

    Another person mentioned being dissatisfied when their claims did not come true. I think it's REAL important to NOT set up any big claims. You read the one about the horse that went over the fence and could not rise, and the masseuse made it right? If you read that, you'd think masseuses are out there performing miracles. I'd suggest the horse threw both stifles out or so sored himself jumping the fence and running the cattle that he was in a very, very bad way for a good long time, and that his back wasn't broke, and that good old Mother Nature and 'Doctor Green'(time off of work) and 'Doctor Time' get an awful lot of credit.

    If you partner with vets, and Mother Nature, and Doctors Green and Time, you can help a lot.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2010
  9. Kathryn4629

    Kathryn4629 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 4, 2010
    Colbert, WA
    First of all WOW you guys are great!!! Please give yourselves a BIG pat on the back for giving me such wonderful responses.

    All of your points are more than valid and I read each one carefully. I have been researching this for a long time, and it took me even longer to make a decision to due this. I am lucky enough to have have a vet in the family and am close friends to the main equine vet in area. After much talking and research, the school I decided on is one of the top equine massage therapy school in the country and overseas as well. This is the one that all the vets I talked to, said that they happily worked with its graduates. I currently am working part time with a vet as an assistant on farm calls and horse calls. So I do have experience with unruly horses/ VERY badly behaved animals. And their owners [​IMG]

    I do realize that this may not turn out to be a full time thing. I guess my main goal is to learn as much as possible and help horse and their owners. My goal is to be part of a team (vet, trainer, etc..) and work closely with them.

    I am working with a trainer right now to learn much more about dressage and other disciplines that I dont have much experience with. I do have to say, I am loving riding english! I grew up in a cattle ranching family and would have been shot if I was seen riding anything but a western saddle, lol. I did the local barrel racing circuit for a couple of years and loved it, but sadly had to get a real job and pay the bills.

    Once again thank you so much! I love hearing other peoples opinions on this subject!

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