Q&A with Equine Massage Therapist, Lisa Carter
Lisa Carter is a certified equine massage therapist living in central Texas. After graduating from Northwest School of Animal Massage and then studying with several renowned equine bodyworkers and veterinarians, Lisa has learned to view the horse as a whole. She recognizes the importance of teamwork with other horse professionals in order to help horses feel their best. Lisa is an avid student of Parelli Natural Horsemanship and incorporates some of these techniques into her equine massage sessions as well.
For more information about Lisa and what she does, see her website, Heavenly Gaits Equine.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you became interested in becoming an equine massage therapist?
I have always loved horses. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t completely horse crazy. I didn’t end up getting my own horses though until late in life. It was always my goal to somehow have a career that involved horses but life kept side tracking me. I was super unhappy with my corporate job and my trimmer put the bodywork bug in my ear. He thought that would be a good career for me since I loved to help horses and I could train while still maintaining my “day job”. So I bit the bullet in 2006 and enrolled at an animal massage school. I’ve never looked back since.
What are some common issues that equine massage can help to alleviate?
Equine massage is very helpful for helping alleviate pain and stiffness due to arthritis, improve range of motion in all horses, alleviate muscle soreness, help to release contracted soft tissue, improve circulation and help in overall balancing the body.
Can you give us a case study example of how massage was able to make an immediate difference in a horse?
Every session I’ve had with a horse I see improvement to one degree or another. For a specific case, I have work on a stallion that had a severe shoulder injury as a weanling. Due to the injury, he had severely decreased range of motion and the pain caused him to favor that leg. He had an obvious limp at the walk with associated high heel, or what often is misinterpreted as “club foot”. After every trim he would go really lame because of the strain on the contracted muscles on the back side of that leg. I came out right before the trimmer and worked on him to soften everything up and stretch him out. For the first time ever, he did not go lame after his trim. The owner was elated. We continued to work on him and were able to help the hoof angle and his range of motion improved significantly over time.
Is there ever a time when massage is not appropriate for a horse?
Massage is not appropriate to use if a horse has been snake bitten, or any other condition where you would not want to increase circulation in the horse. For horses that have had joint injections, it is recommended to wait at least 10 days after the injection to massage the injection site so as not to flush the medications out of the joint. And for horses with cancer, there is some risk that you would increase the spread of the cancer through the body/lymph system. However, my thoughts on this are you weigh the quality of life with the quantity of life and it is a very personal choice for a horse caretaker to make.
I know you’re a big proponent of essential oils. Can you explain how you incorporate these into your work with horses?
I do LOVE essential oils for horses. The horses really react well to them and I see immediate physical and emotional responses to using the oils during my massage sessions. If I have a horse that is a worrier or tense, I may do a little aromatherapy before laying hands on the horse. I’ll allow them to smell some lavender or Peace & Calming. I let them tell me what they need, offering them something until they let me know they like that particular one. Then after I’ve done my evaluation, I’ll often apply oils to problem areas before working on them so that they will have time to relax a bit. This allows the contracted muscles to relax a bit so I don’t have to work so hard during the session. The massage is more effective and enjoyable for the horse. I’ll also give consultations to the caretaker on oils that can help with any ongoing problems they have with the horse, such as ulcers, pain management, allergies, etc.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I strongly believe in empowering horse caretakers to take control of their horse’s health. There are so many simple things that people can do themselves to keep their horses supple and moving at their best. Just some simple basic stretches several times a week and lots of turnout time can make a huge difference for a horse, especially older horses. If your horse has had an injury, chances are there has been some kind of scar tissue development and/or soft tissue contraction which limits their range of motion. The longer it goes unaddressed, the harder it is to overcome in the long run. Do the simple little things early on so you don’t have to do the big things later.