Aug 292004
Authors: Karissa Ciarlelli

When Tracy Leleck purchases a massage it is not for herself – it is for her horses.

The senior English major uses equestrian massage therapy for the horses she jumps.

“I trust it,” she said. “A lot of tension comes from (the horse’s) back. So if you release it, they will run a lot freer.”

While the $20 to $50 hourly sessions may sound foreign to non-horse owners, training for equestrian massage therapy happens right on campus.

Polly Webb, a certified equine sports massage therapist, completed a hands-on internship at CSU in June after graduating from Front Range Community College.

Webb practices horse therapy across Colorado, for horse shows, ranches and private farms through her business Hands for Horses.

She is also a Certified Veterinary Technician.

According to Webb, the practice of equestrian therapy is not a new as people may think. It dates back to ancient Chinese and Native American cultures.

” People have always recognized the power of massage for their own bodies,” Webb said. “And since horses were such a huge investment then, people would do anything to enhance their performance.”

She offers pre-event massage to prepare the horses for intense muscle work and post-event massage as a cool down and reward for show horses.

Webb says a rider’s body type may cause certain soreness for a horse that a massage can help.

“Horses are like big sponges. They will absorb all of our idiosyncrasies,” she said. “So if a horse owner is riding crooked, this will be transferred to the horse and cause discomfort.”

Karen Anderson, a certified ESMT in Penrose, Colo., said horses receive the same benefits from a massage as a human would – relaxation, alleviated tension and increased flexibility and strength.

” Massage for the equine is beneficial on many levels. It improves performance by increasing circulation and removing metabolic waste (a cause of soreness), thereby relieving tension,” Anderson said on her Web site,

Both Anderson and Webb said they can tell when her horse is enjoying the massage because when horses are relaxed their eyes glaze, and they will yawn or stretch.

“Sometimes he will even lean into me or fall asleep,” Webb said.

However, if the horses are displeased, they may try to bite or kick you, Anderson said. She has not been injured during an equine massage.

“I have to be real careful,” she said.

Horses, like people, have cellular memory. This means that if they are touched a certain way it could bring back a repressed memory, perhaps a trauma or an abusive owner.

“They might step away when I’m working on a certain area,” Anderson said. “In this case I would go back with a lighter touch.”

Webb says she has to be very intuitive to determine what massage techniques work for the horse and which do not.

“Sometimes they will swish their tails and pin their ears back when they are uncomfortable,” she said.

When massaging the equine, Webb feels for heat, tight muscle groups and painful areas.

“I start the massage with what’s called an effleurage move which is a flowing, continuous stroke with both hands,” Webb said.

A horse can tolerate about 10-15 lbs. of pressure because their muscle mass is layered, Webb said. Horses also respond to a gradual increase in pressure and a relaxing rhythmic speed. She uses only her hands to perform the massage and said she uses loose fists, cupped hands and her fingers for muscle squeezing and to gently pet and lift the horse’s hair.

The massage is performed with the horse standing up, in their normal stance, and no tranquilizer drug is necessary.

Webb said that massages benefit horses by increasing oxygen flow and riding muscles of toxins that build up. It can also increase performance for the rider.

“Ideally what we’re trying to achieve is balance in the horse,” Webb said.

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