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Check out the article on Masterson Method® in last month's Dressage Today

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Just for fun, some photos of horses being worked on!

Here a beautiful Dutch Warmblood mare is barely containing her yawns... 

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An Overview of the bodywork I do

 

Masterson Method and Emmett Technique are very gentle but effective bodywork methodologies which work under the horse’s ‘brace response’ at a fascial and neuromuscular level to allow the horse to let go of current and old injuries and blockages which impede their ability to move biomechanically correctly. Physically this will improve the horse’s performance and ability to recover from future injuries or blockages. Behavior-wise, it will enable the horse to spend more time in their parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) rather than the sympathetic (fight-flight-freeze). This move of the set point from FFF to R&D will make a horse safer to handle and ride. During the sessions the horses go through various phases of releasing past issues, usually via licking and chewing, shaking head and neck or whole horse, lowering the head and becoming immobile (looks like he’s far off in lala land!), double in and ex-hales, yawning and finally spontaneous, sometimes intense stretching upward or downward, sometimes they even do a ‘downward dog’. Like other beings, horses release in an onion-like fashion. One of the goals of this work is for the horse to begin to release on his own all the time, so that less anxiety/trauma/frustration accumulates in their bodies. I recommend sessions every 4-6 weeks for horses in work. The heavier the work, the closer to 4 weeks. 

 

Almost all horses (about 95%) are asymmetrical, as are we humans (right vs left handed). There are many layered reasons why this is so, but overall, about 80% of horses are right-front dominant horses, 15% are left-front dominant horses, and 5% are even (there are other terminologies for this, mostly differences of semantics; I use Dr. Kerry Ridgway’s descriptions). For saddle fitting and also most disciplines of riding, this natural asymmetry affects the outcome negatively. It takes a very correct young horse training philosophy and a skilled trainer to get a horse straight and working evenly, and that also precludes any injuries and traumas the horse may have had since birth which may also conflict with his natural asymmetrical tendencies. Most horses are not started correctly and most riders are not schooled enough, and when harsh training aids are used to force a horse into the frame needed for a discipline, quick sale, or inexperienced riders, many things including asymmetry are not addressed, forcing the horse into patterns of compensations which lead to physical issues. These will not be visible at first, and may take some time to develop, but when they do happen they may be career ending for the horse, or at least will require large vet bills and a lot of rehab, and time off for the rider. 

 

Prevention: with bodywork, correct saddle fit and horse-conscious training and horse-keeping, there is the possibility of avoiding chronically caused problems and of making the horse better and better as he ages (until a certain point of course). There is the possibility that riding correctly strengthens them so we can ride them (that is the actual supposed point of dressage) and that they might even enjoy it.They still will act goofy in the field and hurt themselves but if they are fit, flexible and happy, there is a lot more chance of them doing well in that rehab process. 

 

The beauty of bodywork that allows rather than forces the horse is that the benefit of the work tends to last much longer, and tends to make other methodologies last longer as well. Bones are pulled by muscles which need to be in balance and working according to their anatomical mandate. Postural support muscles are different than locomotion or movement muscles and although they do all need to work together, each have their own abilities and timing. Oftentimes, the locomotor muscles are attempting to compensate for non-firing postural muscles and that can be when imbalances begin. If you think of it as a symphony and the central nervous system is the conductor, then it makes sense that the nervous system is so involved and has so much influence on the whole. 

"Ask for much, be content with little and reward often"

 

Nuno Oliveira