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Equine Massage: Q and A Methods to Begin and Valuable Insights from A Professional

Equine Massage: Q and A Methods to Begin and Valuable Insights from A Professional

Breaking it Down: A Beginners Guide to Equine Massage, Chiropractic, and Bodywork, PEMF) Blog Series Todays blog post is featuring Sam Kambeck of Horse and Rider Wellness, in Warsaw Virginia .

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As a fresh-faced horse owner, when the barn manager started asking who would like to sign up for equine massage, my initial reaction was “Horse Massage?” My poor little 4-H brain from the 1980s was struggling to keep up. Who is doing Horse Massage and exactly what does that mean?

Let me give you some context here. I did actually graduate from college with a degree in Health Sciences and became a Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant. For thirteen years I practiced in outpatient and homecare. So, believe me, I understand the benefits of massage and its incredible impact on the body. But horses? This was a whole new level of enlightenment for me.

Now, I can already hear some of you skeptics out there saying, “Come on, is horse massage really necessary?” Well, let me tell you, my friends, it’s not just a luxury. It’s a legitimate form of therapy that can benefit our four-legged friends in so many ways.

Just like us, horses can experience muscle tension, soreness, and even injuries. By providing them with targeted massage techniques, and getting professional help from people like Sam Kambeck of Horse and Rider Wellness, a professional integrated bodyworker we can help alleviate their discomfort, improve their circulation, and promote relaxation.

Equine Massage Therapy

Equine massage therapists primarily use massage techniques, while equine body workers utilize a more diverse range of therapies beyond massage such as chiropractic adjustments, acupressure, energy work, and stretching exercises. Equine body workers aim to restore balance, improve mobility, and address any restrictions or pain the horse might be experiencing.

equine massage therapy

So grab a cup o java and lets dive into this!

Q and A with Sam Kambeck of Horse and Rider Wellness.

Q: How did you get started and what qualifications do you have?

A: I was a horse trainer and riding instructor for over a decade, until I had a riding accident that left me with spinal nerve damage. I had to quit training horses and was unable to walk more than a few steps, drive, or do much else for almost 8 months. I was able to keep my personal horses, but I had to liquidate my business. When I recovered enough to go back to work, I worked in equestrian and pet retail for about 6 years. I was still riding as much as I was physically able, and I trained one of my horses to drive as well, but when I met Dr. Stephanie Nielsen, a holistic and functional medicine doctor, she was able to finally cure my chronic pain. It was she who inspired me to train as a bodyworker and start helping horses as she had helped me. I didn’t go the formal education route, but rather got to apprentice to several of the fabulous equine massage therapists and bodyworkers I had known and used while training horses.

They were all very supportive and took me under their wings and helped me study, gave me their notes and case studies to read, and let me tag along on farm calls for about 18 months or so to learn different techniques and get hands-on training in the field. I was also able to learn directly under Linda Tellington-Jones, who not only coached me in her TTouch techniques, but also in how she applies BEMER PEMF devices to supplement her work. If I were starting over, I may have done things differently, but at that time I was living in southern California and had access to many exceptional people. I felt that the apprenticeship route was best, because I had access to such excellent and well established practitioners willing to teach me.

Q: How does regular equine massage benefit horses?

A: In general, many horses need 2-5 sessions to reach their new homeostasis point, and then either monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly maintenance visits. The benefits of being on a maintenance bodywork schedule include: improved relaxation and mood, better trainability, faster recovery from large efforts such as showing or racing, reduced risk of injury, smoother/more comfortable gaits, improved overall performance, as well as reduced discomfort from conditions such as arthritis, muscle atrophy, or PSSM.

So even with regular clients, depending on owner or trainer reported symptoms, the type and intensity of work the horses is in, or other factors, I may choose a different option from my toolbox in order to best serve that need.

equine bodywork

Equine Massage Therapist

Q: .Why should I book an equine MT?

A:  This is a very good question. Ideally, all horses would be on a bodywork schedule like they are with a farrier. In fact, imbalance of the body is the leading cause of hoof imbalances, but I digress. Often, most people don’t start looking for a massage therapist, bodyworker, or equine chiropractor until they have a problem that their vet can’t fix. This means pathological changes have already occurred and that standard things like rest, cold hosing, anti-inflammatory medications, supplements, etc. have not resolved the problem. Many times people in this situation ask for advice from friends or the Internet community, and chiropractic is suggested.

I’m a huge fan of chiropractic and osteopathic work and recommend it often. However, if you don’t START by getting the horses soft tissues worked on and prepared, your chiropractic outcomes are frequently less than ideal because the muscles that have been shortened will go into a spasm state and pull the horse back towards where it was pre-adjustment, sometimes causing significant discomfort. This leads people to mistakenly assume that the adjustments didn’t work, that the practitioner was bad at their job, or that it was altogether the wrong therapy, when in fact it was a problem with the timing/order of things. I like to avoid such problems by working on the horse a couple of times prior to an adjustment, and if at all possible, having a session with the horse a day or two prior to an adjustment to relax and prepare the body for the adjustment to come, and then if possible, to follow-up within a few days to a week post-adjustment to promote the best outcome possible.

I’d love it, though, if it became a horse culture “norm” for horses of all kinds and life stages to be on a preemptive maintenance schedule. So many injuries to both horses and humans could be avoided if people understood the benefit of putting their horse on a bodywork schedule, even just quarterly. Because veterinarians are spread so thin, and most do not have time to palpate the horse’s whole body and seek out and resolve potential problems or manage areas of concern until an injury has already occurred. Having someone who is aware of your horse’s body, how it feels and how it SHOULD feel is invaluable to preventing issues, and also very helpful as far as managing known or chronic problems.

Q: I am a beginner horse owner, do you have some simple tips to share?

A: Beginner horse owners are often bombarded with information, much of it contradictory or confusingly full of absolute “do”s and “don’t”s. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon in the bodywork profession for therapists to do a fair amount of gatekeeping and discourage their clients from working on their own animals. I take a different tack and actually like to give clients “homework” to do between professional sessions to help them be more successful.

Typically, the first recommendation I have is for owners to get a horse anatomy coloring book and use it – learning where the different structures are and how they relate to each other and work together is very helpful (and honestly the coloring makes it fun, rather than a chore to learn). I also like to demonstrate beginner/owner safe techniques that benefit that individual equine. In general these are things like leg squeezes, wither rocking, and belly lifts.

Author: I ordered this color book ASAP!

Q: Do you have any special tips for fall or winter that the readers can try?

A: Leg squeeze technique is definitely a favorite go-to technique for arthritic horses year round, but it’s particularly helpful for senior horses in winter.

Q: Can equine massage help with specific conditions such as arthritis or sore muscles?

A: Absolutely! For an active or acute condition, owners should always talk to their veterinarian first. A lameness exam should be performed first any time there is a new concern or a worsening of symptoms. Good massage therapists and bodyworkers should be willing to work with your veterinarian when needed and be willing to take direction and guidance from your vet. If they think they know better than your vet, or they talk about “treating” your horse, I would recommend proceeding with caution. But for known and ongoing issues, using a massage therapist or bodyworker to help manage your horse’s physical concerns is an excellent choice for many conditions.

Q: Are there any contraindications for equine massage?

A: Massage specifically isn’t always indicated, especially if the horse has certain contraindications such as an open wound, an infection, acute muscle strain, or is having severe or significant symptoms of genetic conditions such as HYPP or PSSM. However, some adjacent techniques or therapies such as Masterson Method, TTouch, infrared therapy, Kinesiology tape applications, PEMF or Acupressure/Acupuncture can be both safe and helpful. Be sure to talk with your vet about what may or may not be safe or appropriate for your horse, and ask your massage therapist what other therapies they may offer that you’re unaware of, or else who they may recommend that offers a safe alternative for your horse’s needs.

Q: What do you love most about being an equine massage therapist?

A: I love being able to help horses feel their best. I do a lot of seniors, including end of life comfort care, as well as rescues still in rehab, not just performance horses. Being able to help a horse find relaxation, relief of discomfort, and help them improve abnormal or compensatory postures and movement patterns has a huge impact on an animal’s well-being. That means so much to me.

An equine massage therapist and an equine body worker both provide hands-on therapy to horses, but there are some differences between the two.

See also  Equine Performance and Wellness Q and A with a Professional Bodyworker
Equine Therapies Guide

Horse Bodywork

An equine massage therapist typically focuses specifically on providing massage therapy to horses. They use various massage techniques to address muscle tension, improve circulation, reduce pain, and enhance overall relaxation and well-being in the horse. Equine massage therapists may also incorporate other modalities such as stretching and range of motion exercises.

On the other hand, an equine body worker is a broader term that encompasses a range of therapies beyond just massage. Equine body workers often have a more extensive understanding of equine anatomy and biomechanics. They may incorporate various techniques such as massage, chiropractic adjustments, acupressure, myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, and energy work to address not only musculoskeletal issues but also other imbalances or blockages in the horse’s body.

Massage therapy for horses

While both equine massage therapists and equine body workers aim to support the horse’s physical well-being, equine body workers may have a more holistic approach, considering how different systems in the horse’s body interact and influence each other. They may also work with veterinarians, trainers, and other equine professionals to create a comprehensive treatment plan for the horse.

In summary, while equine massage therapists primarily focus on massage techniques, equine body workers have a broader skill set and may incorporate a variety of therapies to address the horse’s overall physical condition and well-being.

Thank you Sam for giving us your invaluable insight! To reach Sam- please visit Horse and Rider Wellness Equine Bodywork on Home of Horses!

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