A week of rehab has gone by. It is filled with small challenges like how do you convince a racehorse he can’t run yet.
I am allowed to walk Chaco 15 minutes a day, but Chaco isn’t too thrilled with the limitations set by his surgeon. Usually, about 5 to 8 minutes into it he starts bumping my arm with his nose over and over again. 10 to 12 minutes into the walk, he tries to bust loose, because all he wants to do is run and play. After his little fit, he lets it all go, and we go back to walking enjoyably with one another.
As part of his rehab, I’m incorporating bodywork. The left side of his body is ridiculously stiff from compensating for his right stifle, and his neck and poll locked up from the bad reaction to the antibiotic shot.
The stiffness in the poll really bummed me out. All racehorses are locked in the poll. They don’t get all the softening work that other horses do in other disciplines. If you ever watch a horse race, when the horses run through the turn, their bodies are usually straight. They barely have any bend. When I brought Chaco home, he was so stiff through the poll, he could barely handle any work I did on it. After working with the Masterson method slowly on him, after a few months, I finally suppled his poll to where he could bend beautifully.
Now we’re back to square one.
Years ago I wanted to shift from being a human massage therapist to horse massage therapist. I apprenticed with a nice guy all over Western Colorado. I learned quite a bit from him, but there were things I didn’t like. I liked how he used acupressure points, but I hated the use of a wooden dowel to activate them. He would push in with all of his might into certain spots making the horse break out into a huge sweat before a release would happen. He said the release happened when endorphins were released. It did seem to work, and the horses did improve. All of the owners told me so, but I didn’t like the apparent distress the horses went into before they released. It made me wonder if the horses were simply blocking the pain, disconnecting from that portion of their body like humans tend to do.
I looked for another method, and I found Tellington Touch, which I absolutely love. I feel that TTouch is a great way to work with a nervous horse, one that has been abused, or one in distress. However, it didn’t give me the results I wanted for horses that had deep muscle issues.
This is when my friend Betsy told me about and taught me the Masterson Method. I loved it, because it uses the gentlest of touch to release those deep muscles. You would think it could never work, but I’ve witnessed amazing changes time and time again with my horses and on other horses that aren’t mine. Instead of pushing in with all of your might on certain points, you touch the horse with the lightest of pressure to bypass his fight or flight response. You are telling the nerves it is okay to relax and release, so the muscles can relax and release.
It starts out with me searching areas that cause the horse’s eyes to blink a lot. From there usually the lips begin twitching. With Chaco it usually goes from that to fidgeting a lot before he finally lets out a deep sigh, licks his lips, and shakes his head.
Most horses, like Harley for instance, prefer it if you step back and give them their space to relax. Shandoka liked it if I stepped back two steps, let him release, and then he would step forward and bury his head in my chest. Chaco likes me to stand next to him while he releases, and often he includes me in it by rubbing his head on me.
Releases can come in all shapes and forms. Here is a video of a minor release Chaco went through after I stretched his rear, right leg. I normally never tie him when I work on him, but I did for this video.
You can see in this picture how relaxed he gets as he processes one of the maneuvers.
Chaco had an amazing set of releases yesterday. Sometimes they consist of head shakes, yawns, sighs, and licking of the lips. However, they can be a lot more dramatic than that.
Yesterday after our fifteen minute walk, I began working on Chaco. I started off working on his poll where you lightly put your hand along the spine in the neck bringing the nose towards you laterally while gently wiggling the nose to move the vertebra through their range of motion. It is a simple maneuver with powerful results. He immediately began going through a release trying to move his temperomandibular joint around, which is a release for the poll. The muscles of the TMJ are connected with the Hyoid bone, which is the same bone that the muscles of the poll connect with. Thus, when he manipulates the TMJ, he is stretching out the poll. He began moving his head in all directions, which I let him do before bringing him back into the lateral position. Finally, he calmed down and went into a deep state of relaxation. He let out a deep sigh, shook his head, licked his lips, so I moved onto his right side. When I worked on his right side, he was calmer and didn’t seem to need much work on this side. I went to stretch out his front legs. I lifted his right leg towards me, and as I did, he leaned his butt backwards while keeping his hindlegs under him. He stretched both legs forward as if he were doing Downward Dog in Yoga except I was still holding his right hoof in my hands about four inches off the ground. I was worried if I put it down it could hurt him, so I continued holding it until he indicated he was ready to come forward. That has never happened to me!
After finishing working on his shoulders, I moved onto his poll again. I have to say I was happy about his left shoulder. This was the first time he really let it drop and relax easily, and I could shake his leg with ease. I went back to his poll, and in this exercise you put the horse’s chin on your upper arm or shoulder and you lift the head up and down while moving laterally to one side and straight ahead. I started moving him to the left while I lightly placed my fingers behind C2 on his neck. He immediately started releasing again. Lots of TMJ movement, getting fidgety, and then moving his head in different positions as he moved closer and closer to a deep state of relaxation. When he finally did, his entire body began undulating. This I did experience a lot with Shandoka, and this is a profound release. This is when a horse releases not only their poll but down their entire spine to their tail. When you soften the poll, you release the sacrum. When you release the sacrum, you release more of the poll. This maneuver, for whatever reason yesterday, released his entire back. After the undulation, he then raised his head up as high as he could tucking his chin into his chest while stretching out his left hindleg straight behind him. He then dropped into a deep state of relaxation where his head dropped to about a foot off the ground.
From there I worked down his withers, worked some other points and came to his lumbar/sacrum region. Working the hind end takes a lot of patience. The muscles down there are so thick, developed and usually hold an immense amount of tension. This is why patience is key here; it takes awhile for these muscles to let go. You have to move your hands around areas of certain points looking for blinks. When you find them, you hold. With Chaco, I use what Masterson calls “air gap” touch. I am barely touching the hairs of those areas. Again, you might think it doesn’t work, but boy does it work deeply. Chaco, if you’ve been followng, had a bad wreck on the track where he fractured his pelvis. This area, not only because of his stifle issue, holds a lot of tension also from that day. I believe it holds body memories of the wreck here as well. When I start working on his hind end, he starts swinging his hips towards me, because it makes him so nervous to let go. I make my touch lighter. We do this dance where I try to not get stepped on while keeping my hands lightly in contact with these areas until he finally releases. You never punish or correct a horse when you do this kind of work, because it is their way of communicating with you that you are onto something. When I put my hands on the Lumbar/Sacrum region with my hands, he definitely responds, and I tie this to the pelvic fracture. He backs up all over the place. I stay with him. His tail twitches, and I stay with him. His legs swing around, I stay with it until I begin to see the first signs of release, and this is when I felt his spine adjust. Each time we work on this area, he improves.
His stifles? Oh yeah, there is a lot of tension there, but it is all mainly in the left from compensating for the right for so long. When we first started working on this spot, his leg would swing out into me over and over. He isn’t trying to kick me at all, but he swings it out as if he is giving himself a good groin stretch. Yesterday, he kept alternating with picking up his hind legs bending them and then stretching them straight out behind him.
When we were done, he rolled a couple of times, which is a great sign that changes occurred. It helps him adjust and release even more. He was so happy afterwards that when I walked him down to the hay field, he was on the muscle so beautifully that all Dressage riders would have drooled. He also tried to convince me to go run around with him, which we did not do. Not for another month and a half buddy.
What about Harleyman? Harley was never really open to it, but after watching me work on Chaco all the time, he is letting me work on him. Yesterday, his neck adjusted, and he had some nice releases through his shoulders and poll. He also loves his hamstring stretches! Hopefully, he will let me work on him more and more, and he will be free of as much tension as I can release him from. Harley rolled too.
Chaco has had a lot of tension in his body for a long time, and I am determined to release it all one move at a time in search of symmetry. Since the antibiotic reaction and the surgery, he is getting softer each day. We have a lot more work to do, but we are getting there. I’m not only doing this with bodywork, but I am also doing this with targeted exercises, which I’ll talk about next week.
If you are interested in learning the Masterson Method, you are in luck. He has published two books and three DVD’s that you can purchase on,-line through his website at Masterson Method. I highly recommend it. He also has posted several short videos on YouTube.