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Massage benefits horses, too

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Therapy helps them relax

By John Barnhart

Shayne Tracy is a different kind of massage therapist. His clients are big, big as a horse. In fact, they are horses.

    Tracy started out with people and did massage therapy on humans for 20 years. After doing some research, he began working with horses.

    “It relaxes them,” he said.

    One of the benefits is that it helps prepare a horse for a competitive event. He said that performing massage therapy on a horse just before a competitive event causes its muscles to lengthen and improves circulation. It’s like a human athlete doing stretching exercises.

    It also complements chiropractic  work.  Yes,   there  are horse chiropractors.

    Stormie Shelton-Hazen, director of Astride With Pride, said that the therapeutic riding program’s horses get equine chiropractic. One of these horses is Shaq, who came to the program as a retired fox hunt and jump horse. He gets chiropractic care to take care of the wear and tear from his previous career. She said that Tracy’s massage adds to Shaq’s flexibility.

    The massage has also helped Astride’s horses in competitions. Therapeutic riding competitions are going to be less intense as the riders are all handicapped. Nevertheless, three Astride horses received massage prior to an event last fall and Shelton-Hazen said that they won blue ribbons.

    Massage therapy is also generally helpful for maintaining Astride’s horses’ health. Shelton-Hazen said that  many of the riders have poor balance. The horses compensate for this, but it makes it harder for the horse. It causes muscle soreness and massage helps that, just as it does for a human.

    Tracy said that he normally massages no more than eight horses per day. It’s in his own best interest not to do more. He’s working with a big animal and he has to be able to sense each horse’s temperament and adapt his approach to the individual horse. Some horses, he noted, have been hurt by people in the past.

    He’s a horse person, himself, so he’s good at sizing up a horse. Tracy said he has been around horses all his life and has had horses of his own.

    He said that an equine massage therapist must understand what horses do. For example, scratch certain places on a horse’s back and it will scratch you with its nose. Tracy said that horses do this with other horses. It’s the equine version of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” he said.

    He said some of the massage techniques imitate what horses do with each other.

    People who are around horses can size up a horse by looking at it. Horses, in turn, are good at doing the same with humans.

    “A horse will know what a person is up to from the moment they lay eyes on you, “ he said.

    Astride with Prides horses are pretty calm. They’ve been selected for a temperament that goes well with having handicapped riders.

    Shaq seemed to really enjoy massage therapy. Tracy started out with massage along Shaq’s top line. He also massaged pressure points on the big fellow’s neck. Shaq looked quite relaxed during the massage.

    Being a equine massage therapist does have occupational risks. One is getting a kick out of his work. The kick isn’t always deliberate, either. It can be a reflexive reaction during a massage session.

    Another occupational risk for an equine massage therapist is the reaction he gets from other people.

    “I’ve had people laugh when I tell them what I do,” he said.