Sophie Pickard Equine Bodywork

North Yorkshire

Massage is the oldest healing modality known to humankind

The foundations of massage remain largely unchanged, and modern therapies continue to emerge and refine the practice of massage but the proliferation of equine massage therapy throughout competition venues worldwide is a testiment to the efficacy of manual bodywork.

 

Animals in massage therapy research

The benefits of massage for animals parallel those for humans. In fact, historically, most research into the benefits of touch and massage therapy has initially been proven with lab animals. Animal experiments evaluating the physiological effects of massage began as early as the 1800s. In the 1980s, Touch Research Institute began their investigation of the importance of tactile stimulation using young rats as their subjects. And at present, studies are being conducted with animal models to track ions involved in the biological process of touch. The Chinese have produced numerous studies documenting the effects of Eastern modalities on animals such as acupressure points, energy meridians and trigger points which are all considered during a bodywork session. Only by extrapolating to humans and continuing with studies on bipeds, researchers have provided tangible evidence of the many benefits of touch and massage.

Massage for horses?

The very first equine massage therapist became so completely incidentally. Jeak Meagher (1925-2005) began his career as a medic in WWII. After the war, he decided to work purely with athletes and whilst working as a physical therapist for players in the NFL he developed 'Sports massage' with the aim of addressing musculoskeletal issues before they became injuries.

It was only when, in 1985, one of his clients told him they had a very old quarterhorse, which could no longer stand as his hindlegs were too weak. He asked Meagher to take a look and Meagher found that the horse was suffering from muscular spasms, much like his owner. He treated the horse and when the owner reported 'it was as frisky as a colt' Meagher became intrigued with the impact he could have on horses too and by studying and practising with any horse he could lay his hands on he developed equine massage therapist and became the first equine massage therapist for the US equestrian olympic team.

Since then, many modalities, machines, rugs, boots etc. have been developed to treat and prevent injuries, but still it remains that the value of human touch is often unrivalled.

 

Working the supra and infraspinatus muscles over the scapula of a horse, during my training with Equinology ANZ in New Zealand