The range of equine therapies around New Zealand is vast and continually growing, which can be confusing when deciding which is the right one to choose for you and your horse.
Yvette Morrissey talked to several body workers around New Zealand about the equine therapy they practice and why these therapies should be an important part of your horses’ health regime.
Note: It is important to always seek a qualified vet first if your horse is sick or injured. Alternative treatments should be done only by trained and licensed professionals.
Lillian Bonner completed her doctorate of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia. She is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist and has been combining Western and Eastern medicine therapy for 12 years. She is based in Canterbury.
“All the systems in the horses’ body are connected to one another. Acupuncture primarily works on the nervous system, but balances all of the systems so the horses’ body can heal itself.
Thin needles are inserted into specific points of the horses’ body to clear negative energy and strengthen the overall system. The needles can also be connected to an electrical stimulator which delivers small electrical impulses between the needles.
Acupuncture can be used to treat existing issues such as back pain, hip pain, arthritis or any musculoskeletal issues. It is also an invaluable preventative treatment- many horses will transition up the levels much easier when they receive regular treatments.
Horses respond to it really well. Because of their size, it can be hard to reach certain issues. Most of the time pain is so subtle, and the horse cannot tell you where he is sore, so it is a good idea to get your horse assessed before any lameness occurs.
After an injury, results can be seen after 2-3 treatments. Acupuncture also compliments other techniques such as
chiropractic, physiotherapy, and herbal and food therapies.”
Jeanne Northwood is a qualified Reiki practitioner based in Auckland. She is also a Magnetic/Auric Healer. She has been practicing energy work for over eight years.
“Reiki is a very gentle, non-invasive form of natural energy healing. It works by balancing the energy of the body, mind and spirit and can be used for healing in both people and animals.
The word ‘reiki’ is a Japanese term that translates roughly to meaning ‘Universal Life Force Energy’. It is administered by laying the hands on the horse and is based on the idea that an unseen ‘life force energy’ flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If the life force energy is low, then the horse is more susceptible to sickness and stress.
Reiki is used for emotional healing, healing for sickness or injury, stress, chronic and acute pain, behavioural problems and general health maintenance.
The body is programmed to self heal. If it is unable to heal there may be a deeper issue, such as an emotional concern.
I work on physical injuries, but I also work on the emotional level of an injury or concern too. Depending on what the issue is, the emotional level may run deeper still even after the physical injury looks healed.
In an ideal world horse owners should have their horses treated once a month, and of course at the first sign of injury and/or ill health. My motto is prevention is always better than cure.
Reiki work doesn’t need to be carried out onsite. Reiki can be done at any time very successfully over distance.”
Physiotherapy and Chiropractic
Nicolett Gelderman qualified as an Equine Physiotherapist DIPO at the German Institute for Horse Osteopathie, which is an advanced educational centre for equine/canine therapists. In 2012 she studied equine chiropractic care. She also holds a Masters of Education and a diploma in Equine Breeding, Training and Care, and is based in Canterbury.
“Equine Physiotherapy is the use of physical techniques and manual therapy for the treatment of movement dysfunction and soft tissue injuries. It also provides support in the re-education of correct posture for your horse.
As an Equine Physiotherapist I am trained in using palpation techniques to detect and assess potential problem areas, asymmetry, compensation and lack of joint mobility that may cause poor performance, stiffness, lameness or behavioural problems.
Physiotherapy and chiropractic care are both important in improving the performance and flexibility of your horse, solving training issues, assisting with healing and to help your horse be in the best physical condition possible.
The goal is to achieve relaxation in deeper tissue structures, stretch out adhesions in muscles and optimise joint mobility. As a result this improves the bio-mechanics of the horse and its body can function at its maximum potential.
Physiotherapy often works in collaboration with your vet as a part of supplement treatment in the post injury phase and as part of a preventing future injuries.
For horses with mild problems 2-3 treatments are recommended 2-4 weeks apart, then it can be maintained as needed. Horses with ongoing structural problems or competitive horses may require more frequent care. It is my job to evaluate the horse and then develop a therapy plan.”
Jana Kruyshaar is an Equinology Equine Body Worker (Level One) and the owner of JK Equine Massage. She offers her massage services in Central Otago and Queenstown.
“Equine massage is similar to human sports massage but is generally gentler, as horses are much more sensitive. As a massage therapist I identify where there are issues within the muscle tissue and then apply a series of strokes to soften the tissue, increase circulation and reduce tension.
Soft, moderate or firm pressure is applied to further reduce knots and blockages to assist with the body’s natural healing process. Stretching is carried out during the massage while the muscles are warm, and gentle exercise is often carried out after the massage depending on the individual’s level of fitness and strength.
For a healthy horse, with close to ideal living and exercise conditions, massage will help to reduce tension, ease muscular pain, improve flexibility, increase range of motion, improve circulation and maintain good health and wellbeing.
For a horse with an injury, massage will help to alleviate some of the symptoms. In this situation it is best to involve other equine therapists such as the vet, farrier, dentist or trainer. If you’re using a good massage therapist on a regular basis you’re more likely to identify potential issues before they turn into an injury.
If a horse has a number of issues then I recommend a few sessions in relatively close succession at the start. After that I would aim to get the horse on a maintenance schedule suitable to their, and their owners needs.”
Anne Kershaw is a qualified therapist and teacher of Zero Balancing. She also practices CranioSacral therapy and Visceral Manipulation for horses and humans. Anne has been practicing Zero Balancing for over 10 years.
“Zero Balancing (ZB) is a body-mind therapy that uses touch to balance the relationship of energy and the structure of the horses’ body.
Finger pressure is used on areas of tension in the bones, joints, and soft tissue to create points of balance so the horses’ body can relax and reorganise.
There are very few therapies that actually work at the energetic level of the skeleton. Therapies are usually energetic or structural, there are none that interface them both. This is the reason it’s so special.
I focus a lot on correct saddle fitting as this impacts the foundation joints we work with in ZB. Unbalanced shoeing or dentistry work can also have a huge effect on the horses’ skeleton.
Each session usually lasts one hour. Horses that have had treatments before can usually have a 20-30 minutes if they are at a show.
Any restriction in the horses’ movement is often freed up in 1-2 sessions. After treatment, riders always report their horses move better under saddle and are much happier in themselves.”
What about the rider?
The rider’s health and wellbeing is just as, if not more, important than the horses. After all, how can we ensure the best quality care for our horses if we are experiencing pain riding or when doing general chores around the stable?
No rider is immune to the involuntary dismount or trodden on foot. Problems with our physical health can even develop when there is no horse in sight- for example, if you work in an office, sitting down for a prolonged
period of time can have an adverse affect on your physical wellbeing which can be transferred to your riding, and then eventually to your horse! It is therefore important to take regular care of ourselves by seeking the help of qualified professionals.
Adele Watkins holds an International Certificate Diploma in Body Therapy, a National Certificate in Body Therapy (Level 4) and is a qualified massage therapist (Thai and Kinesiology) and has been practicing for 14 years. She is based in Manawatu.
“Massage provides the body with numerous benefits. It aids in blood circulation, stimulates the lymphatic system, and aids in waste elimination within the body. It helps with removal of lactic acid and can prevent future injuries by enhancing the body’s performance.
Horse riders often suffer from strained muscles or incorrect posture that puts stress on areas such as the back, hips, pelvis, and knees.
A few sessions will provide a better balanced body and a greater range of movement while in and out of the saddle. This is vital for your horses’ health too as they often compensate for an unbalanced rider.“
Sophie Hargreaves is a NZ registered physiotherapist and has been practicing for 26 years after graduating from Otago University in 1990. She is based in Christchurch and has been studying Equipilates in the UK.
“The aim of physiotherapy is to restore movement and function of the rider, improve their riding and reduce any pain.
As a physiotherapist, I assess what issues the rider has and how they are affecting their performance, for example if the rider has shortened or weaker muscles on one side. I look at the influence the rider has on the horse, and vice versa. If a rider is having pain somewhere and they shift their weight in the saddle to compensate the pain, this may lead to back pain or other discomfort in the horse.
There are also many other factors that affect the harmony of horse and rider- nutrition, the fit of the saddle and other equipment, teeth, feet, suitability of horse and rider and the atmosphere.
Physiotherapy isn’t just for riders who have injuries- everyone has weaknesses. Having an assessment with a qualified therapist will give you a good understanding of your asymmetries.
Some of the treatments I offer include massage, joint mobilisations, soft tissue trigger point release, dry needling and an exercise plan to help improve your performance.
How often you see your physiotherapist differs from rider to rider, but I recommend getting an assessment done first and getting a check up every few months. This assessment can be on or off your horse.”
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