Recently my equine travels landed at Mill Run Farm located in scenic Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. My dear friend and fellow equine enthusiast, Linda Shambaugh introduced photographer, Beth Hovenstine and I to a wonderful lady who does equine sports massage therapy! Wow that’s a lot to take in, and the learning experience is a must share too. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Julie March, owner of Trails & Tails Equine and Canine Sports Massage. What I had in mind was very different from what we witnessed when it comes to equine sports massage. Most importantly, I learned how much I did not know about this field.
Juls, as she prefers to go by, is very engaging and knowledgeable about her craft. She received her training and certification in equine massage therapy from world renowned Equissage school that is one of the best industry leaders in equine massage therapy. Equissage was founded by Mary Schrieber in 1989. Mary Schrieber originally a certified massage therapist for humans, applied her knowledge and expertise on horses that were in competition and other horses not in competition. Initial success and national recognition of her efforts and results with racehorses stabled at racetracks in the Mid- Atlantic region were followed by involvement with equines in competition stabled in show barns as well. Her expertise has been shared and taught to students and who have gone on to practice equine massage therapy techniques world-wide and have enjoyed tremendous success.
Juls actually got started in the wonderful world of horses later in life. This is not uncommon as other priorities and life in general often take precedence. Eventually her love for horses evolved and as she got more involved with local barns and spending time with horses, and she discovered that she had a talent and interest in the area of equine sports massage. She was trained to get her certification and her efforts have resulted in her business growing on an upward climb ever since. Word of mouth from her existing clients helped her add new clients to her increasing clientele roster and social media has also been instrumental in helping her to bring awareness to the benefits of equine sports massage therapy.
I found it interesting to learn from her that most trainers and handlers do not have this training or certification. While it would seem to be easy to understand that the benefit of equine sports massage would be predominately good for the horse, the mindset of some are still somewhat on the fence. Perhaps more scientific study still needs to be done to support what therapists may know or witness in their clients, so time will tell. However, the amount of certified massage therapists appears to be increasing and many rehabilitation farms are starting employing massage therapists.
Racetracks in particular are trending toward using massage therapy more and more as it is gaining in favor with owners and trainers. She also elaborated that some of the equine colleges are including massage therapy courses in their curriculum’s. Juls stated, “It is still not out there as much as I would like to see, but Mary Schreiber talked to us about the fact that when she started her school, there were only a handful of massage therapy schools over the country. Now there are more and in her school alone, she has trained over 20,000 students.”
Most of us and myself included may think of getting a massage as a basic rub down to relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation. We also tend to feel pretty great after our muscles have been loosened up and no knots. Well the same thing can apply to your horse as well. When your horse feels better by connecting the mind, body and spirit before an event, they’ll do better in the event and after the event too. Proper maintenance will go a long way to help prevent sports related injuries too. Her favorite motto – “Increased Circulation = Decreased Inflammation” certainly rings true! While equine massage therapy is not a substitute for veterinary treatment or diagnosis, it can be a great tool in your horse care routine. Equine sports therapy can help general health and well being for your horse along with veterinary care.
The use of oils is also very key in her massage therapy sessions. She uses a variety of 100% essential oils and this helps stimulate the circulation process and makes the coat shine too! Oils are also very soothing. She stressed the importance of using fractionated coconut oil as a carrier oil. This is very important because certain oils are too strong to use directly on the horse. This is an entire subject all to itself, so we are hoping to get back with Juls for a detailed look into the oils, how she makes her selections for the sessions and added benefits so stay tuned!
Juls shared that it is important to massage the entire horse for each session. She usually takes at least an hour but will go longer to achieve the ideal result. She shared that the horse has over 700 skeletal muscles! She will massage about 26 muscles on each side for a total of 52 muscles from poll to tail. She does the poll, neck, both sides of the neck and body and the rear, including each entire leg. Her technique uses different levels of pressure. The muscles are all working together so it is important to do them all. After each massage her clients are instructed to walk their horse for at least five minutes. This helps to prevent what she terms “after massage stiffness”. She advocates for pre and post event massages. A pre-event massage will prepare your horse well because this loosens the muscles and gets them warmed up. A post-event massage will relieve any muscle pain and stiffness and help return muscles to a more normal state at a faster rate. This practice works well for both performance horses and equines used for pleasure or trail riding too.
Juls shared her documentation for “The Benefits of Equine Sports Massage”:
- Enhances muscle tone and increases range of motion.
- Assists in balancing the body by treating the body as a whole.
- Reduces inflammation and swelling in the joints, thereby alleviating pain. (Great for horses suffering from Arthritis)
- Promotes healing by increasing the flow of nutrients to the muscles, and carrying away excessive fluid and toxins.
- Creates a positive effect on the contractual and release process of the muscles. When tension is released , muscles relax.
- Stimulates circulation by “defrosting frozen muscles”, thereby releasing ENDORPHINS – natural pain killers. Improved circulation also increases the excretion of toxins through the skin.
- Works on the lymphatic system to eliminate waste and toxins from the horse’s body.
- Helps maintain the WHOLE body in better physical condition.
I was most impressed by several observations made during our interview at Mill Run. First she is very focused on connecting with the horse. I think that in order for the session to have any measure of success that there has to be a connection with the client and the horse. She clearly loves horses and I witnessed that Ellie the horse immediately relaxed with Juls and that they bonded very well during the session.
Ellie is a young Quarter horse owned by Bob and Linda Shambaugh and she competes regularly in western, dressage and trail riding events. Bob and Linda are very keen on keeping their contingent of horses in top shape and equine sports massage therapy is must do part of their care routine.
Second I liked that she took all the time necessary to do the massage. Nothing was rushed or overlooked and attention to every detail large and small was strictly adhered to. Third and but not least was that she knows her stuff. Her techniques were consistent which is very important.
I’d also like to mention that during the session, Juls referenced her admiration for the practices of Jack Meagher who developed Equine Sports Massage during the mid century 1950s. She also makes a quote reference in documentation that she gives to her clients. Jack is known for saying “The absolute best protection you can have is prevention! Because the majority of strain type injuries are cumulative in nature, the majority of strain type injuries are preventable.” In my estimation words to live by and great advice.
Juls related, “The most frequent thing I find that cannot really be found and targeted except through massage therapy is the number of knots (muscle spasms) that all horses have, no matter whether they are a racing, jumping, barrel racing, dressage, trail riding, and even horses who are pasture pets and are retired…they all are athletic and the bucking and carrying on in their pastures can form shortening of the muscle fibers which results in knots.” Discovery of problems early on before they can grow into something larger and more complicated is very important. Again, having this proactive view supports the idea that Jack Meagher promoted years before. Taking a proactive stance with equine health care can save your horse from a lot of issues that can lead to injuries. Costs, time to heal and the physical and emotional toll adds up in the long run.
Here are a few pictures from the session that demonstrate some of the techniques:
I look forward to a future collaboration with Juls and if anyone would like to contact her, simply go to Facebook and like her page: Trails & Tails Equine & Canine Sports Massage
Her contact information:
Julie A. March
5 Primrose Lane
Carlisle, PA 17015
Phone: (717) 448-9839
Photo credits are all exclusively for Beth Hovenstine whose talent and expertise help bring the blogs to life!
Left to right: Beth Hovenstine, Ellie the Quarter horse client and Susan Harmon