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So Much More than Equine Massage

The last few months have been super busy for me. Clinically work has been diverse with a good mix of maintenance, optimising performance and rehabilitation cases which, as always, get me thinking and keep me learning. And on that note I have also been supremely busy with cpd courses to further my skills and ensure that I can offer the most effective treatments for a wide range of horses and ponies.

The courses I have completed most recently have seen me adding new joint manipulation and mobilisation techniques, advanced myofascial techniques and even some applications to influence the viscera, or internal systems, of your horse’s body into my toolbox. Pretty cool I’m sure you agree!

And the results of using these techniques on client horses have been phenomenal. I always aim for client horses to be fully interactive in my treatments – by that I mean that I am constantly aware of your horse’s body language (even if it is super subtle like a flicker of the eye) and I adapt the techniques I use according to what I see and feel. This means horses engage in their own treatment and you often see profound responses to treatment such as snorts, yawns, intense neural reprogramming (zoning out and head nods) and dramatic stretches. In addition to these what I have really noticed since applying some of these new techniques is a number (and I mean a lot!) of horses actually physically directing me to areas of their body - nudging or moving me to another body part or to their other side and following me around the stable, positioning themselves for further treatment. I have found this interaction absolutely fascinating and I feel like the additional skills I am applying have taken my bodywork to an entirely new level.

So without further ado, I’d love to tell you a bit about what I have learnt and how I am using the techniques in my bodywork sessions.

Equine therapy is my passion and I will unashamedly admit that I am somewhat of a therapy geek as well as a bit of a magpie for new techniques. Anything that can improve my ability to help horses release tension in their musculoskeletal system, live a happy and pain-free life and work to the best of their ability, well I’m in! As a professional therapist I am required to undertake a certain number of continuous professional development (cpd) hours per year. For me, professional development is way more than a “tick in the box” and I always find myself doing significantly more training hours than I need to and certifying in new modalities because, quite simply, I want to be the best therapist that I can be.

Exercise Rehabilitation

Earlier this year saw me focus on rehabilitative work with an excellent course on exercise rehabilitation. This indepth course had a huge focus on physiology and the scientific reasoning behind each element of a rehab plan. I find it has really enhanced my ability to put together progressive and measurable rehab plans for a variety of conditions. Following on from this I then focused my learning specifically on rehab for kissing spines and sacroiliac disease as these are areas of particular clinical interest for me. I have found that the knowledge these courses have given me have taken my work on more complex rehab cases up a level and the results have been so rewarding.

Manual techniques

The particular focus today though is on the additional manual skills that I have learnt this year. When I treat a horse I always want to be able to walk away at the end of the session with the knowledge that I have done all I can do to resolve the musculoskeletal issues I find. Sometimes persistent, long-standing or complex adhesions and restrictions can challenge even the most competent therapist. So I’ve focused this year on learning advanced techniques to help make my treatments as effective as they can be.

Advanced Myofascial Release

Seeing the results first-hand on a day to day basis from the techniques I use in clinic I am a huge advocate of myofascial work. These are techniques which influence and release fascia - the connective tissue that surrounds and supports every part of the body, from bones and muscles to organs and nerves. Where there are restrictions in the fascia it can cause profound effects, it may surprise you to learn that these can be as dramatic as alterations to biomechanics and can even be the underlying reason for undiagnosed lameness in some cases.

This is a relatively new area of therapy with the very first study into fascia in horses only being published in 2015. But in the short time since then it has become an established and popular modality predominantly because of its profound effectiveness in releasing restrictions and the subsequent positive effect it can have, alleviating a variety of “symptoms” and performance issues. Recently I have trained in some exciting, advanced myofascial techniques and, although I haven’t been using them that long, already the positive results are impressive. When applying the techniques, the effect on the horse is literally palpable – with dramatic responses and releases of tension and a recognisable shift in the feel of the tissue under your hands – wow! And, of course the proof is in the pudding when you get feedback like:

“I’ve just lunged D for the first time since her treatment and Wow! What a difference! She worked so well over her topline, she was soft and relaxed and mouthed her bit more than I have ever seen her before! Her right hind was a million times better in the canter…”

Manipulation Techniques

I have loved learning some new joint manipulation techniques which are proving to work really well in tandem with the myofascial releases. They have been adapted from human manual therapy and are gentle “short lever” techniques which can have a number of profound effects ranging from improved gait due to enhanced neuromuscular control, improved muscle development and an increase in range of motion of joints. Just to get a bit “sciency” for a second, the highly focused moves in this modality stimulate the sensory communication from the central nervous system (CNS) to the targeted area, thereby causing an indirect reduction in joint restrictions – once again pretty darn cool! These manipulations are then supported by controlled low intensity movements which target the specific joints in question. These mobilisations can be performed passively (by me or you!), actively (by the horse) or dynamically (which crosses over into the area of rehab). It’s so exciting how all of the layers of learning fit together.

Visceral work

Now we get onto some amazing work that offers no end of possibilities for our horses who I so often find have a number of interweaving issues, both musculoskeletal and systemic. The latest course I attended focused on teaching techniques to release tension and inflammation etc… in your horses’s abdominal viscera. The abdominal viscera encompasses all the organs in the abdominal cavity so this includes the stomach, intestine, liver and kidneys. Now I come across a lot, and I mean a lot, of horses that are showing signs of some level of digestive dysfunction so this work is especially exciting to me. To be able to offer the possibility of influencing the GI tract, especially because we know that there is a direct intrinsic link between digestive dysfunction and tension in the back and pelvis, well this opens up a world of possibilities.

So all in all its been a busy year so far on the learning front! And I guess that leads me to my final thought or rather my ongoing quandry. I call myself an Equine Massage Therapist because massage is the modality I originally trained in 12 years ago. Danielle Mullen Equine Sports Massage Therapist was and is my “brand”, it’s on all of my marketing materials and there is a part of me that is aware that changing it all would be a lot of work and a lot of expense! But my dilemma is far from just being about the financial impact - Equine Massage is an accepted and, to a point, understood method of bodywork these days, everyone has an idea about what it is. So my dilemma is - am I better to be professionally known as working with a therapy that is recognisable to a lot of people, or do I try and find a title that is more encompassing of all the additional modalities I am trained in and use? After all an additional 12 years of learning and qualifications under my belt does make me somewhat more than a massage therapist. Maybe Equine Manual Therapist would be more appropriate, but then is that too vague? I never manage to fully resolve this conundrum and so, for now, I remain known as an Equine Massage Therapist but with a whole host of other skillsets to offer...

If any of the above has piqued your interest I would love to hear from you. Let me know if you have any questions about the therapies or about your horse. Or of course if you have any ideas on what I can call myself! X

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