I met Liz on a beautifully sunny Good Friday morning on her way to her work. Liz is a Advance Equine Body Worker and I joined her as she massaged Kismet, a 14 year old competition horse.
Unless you own a horse I am prepared to guess that you have as little an idea about what equine body working is so a brief explanation is a good place to start the article.
Equine Body Working uses Equine Sports Massage and passive stretching, in conjunction with conventional and complementary health care, to identify or help prevent below par performance and promote well-being in working horses. Equine Sports Massage is the therapeutic application of hands-on techniques to increase circulation and range of motion, relieve muscle spasm and tension and enhance muscle tone.
Specifically equine body working and massage enhances performance by increasing the range of motion and enhancing gait quality as well as improving stamina, suppleness and flexibility. It improves overall health and well-being and acts as preventative maintenance for the horse as the therapist can detect changes in physical condition and provide advice accordingly. It can also relieve pain and discomfort following injury.
I asked Liz how this works in practice.
“I aim to see each horse at approximately 6 week intervals. The key thing though, is that the massage is part of a programme. I’m not prescriptive with my clients. It is far better to build up a personal relationship with owners so that the horse gets seen as required rather than as a matter of routine. Some therapists insist of visiting every 4 weeks without fail but I don’t work like that. The massage therapy is part of a process. When I visit I can make recommendations to the owner about work that they can do between visists to help the condition of their horse. They are more likely to follow this programme between visists if they feel the whole programme is suited to them personally rather than just something that I do every 4 weeks. ”
“I’m not a vet but I am able to spot problems that can then be referred to a vet, if necessary. An ill-fitting saddle or shoes can cause soreness or even lameness and it is important that these problems are corrected so I try to work with all of the people who work with the horse. For example Tricia, Kismet’s owner, has been having trouble getting a saddle that is just right for him. When I am massaging I can feel stiffness and tension in his back and I can help Tricia and the saddle-maker to find one that works best for Kismet.”
And have you always worked with horses?
“When I left school, as a horse-obsessed teenager, I was keen to get a job working with horses. Against my parents wishes I left school at 16 and worked with a showjumper and later at a Shetland Pony Stud. After a while I decided that my parents might have been right and that I would need other skills if I wasn’t going to spend my whole career mucking out stables”
“So I took a secretarial course, got a job in London and then decided to take a year out and do some travelling. When I reached Hong Kong I liked it and decided to stay. I was with Morgan Stanley in their training and Development division in Hong Kong and then with Korn/Ferry International is Asia’s leading talent management company. The skills I learnt there, both in training junior staff and in management and talent banking have stood me in good stead in running my own business.”
“I worked in Hong Kong for 6 years and in Australia for a further 4 years. I realised that I was doing work I could do rather than work I wanted to do. So I came back to England and took a course in Equine Body Working. Even then I wasn’t 100% sure that this was what I wanted to do but I thought it would allow me to make a little money until I decided for sure what I wanted to do. That was 9 years ago and now I have a business that takes me all over the UK working with great people and horses and doing something I love!”
As I watched Liz it struck me that massaging a horse was really hard work
“It’s the travelling really rather than the massaging. Each massage takes around an hour and a half and I can do up to 6 massages per day. Ideally all of the massages will be on horses in the same stable, indeed some therapists wont visit unless there are at least 6 horses to massage in a session. I don’t work like that and will visit stables with just one horse, like here with Kismet. I try and group visits together, for example I’m heading from here to massage three horses at Gleneagles, but there is still a fair amount of travelling involved.”
And what about the future?
“I love doing the work I do and have recently started to work with an exciting new group, The Red Horse Speaks. It is a unique programme developed by Beth Duff. The programme draws on the ability of horses to mirror human behaviour. The horses are teamed with skilled facilitators for courses in leadership, team-building and personal development. I was at a session recently where kids with very difficult backgrounds were put into an arena with a number of horses. The kids had to move the horses around the arena without touching them. It was amazing to see how the horses responded so positively to the kids and how much the kids benefited from working with the horses. It’s a really great project and I’m looking forward to doing more with them.”
With that I left Liz to continue her work. Kismet was clearly enjoying the massage and his owner was keen to get Liz’s verdict on how he had improved since her last visit.
If you want to find out more about Equine Body Working or to contact Liz to arrange an appointment for your horse, you can contact Liz via: