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Lady Katherine's Tale

By: Galadriel Billington

10:04PM Apr 10, 2004

Doesn't she look relaxed now?
Doesn't she look relaxed now?

When I bought her, she was called "Lady Katherine." Her tattoo has faded so I don't know her registered name or her racing history, but they told me she'd been on the track until shortly before I bought her (she was 8).

She was my first horse; though I'd worked with many "project" horses--this one was really mine. I've learned a lot since I bought her, much of which she taught me. I've tried to listen when she expresses happiness, discomfort, enjoyment, anxiety. She's such a wonderful horse. She's very sweet, if not touchy-feely, and she tries tremendously hard when under saddle. She's so good about cooperating no matter what I want from her. She makes me so happy; I feel it's my job to give back as much as I can to her.

It hasn't always been easy, though. She has never liked being groomed, even with soft soft brushes or a grooming mitt. She doesn't like it when I stroke her. When I go to brush her, she tenses up and tolerates it. The closest I can get is to rub her with terrycloth, or brush her mane (she does like that). It's enough of an emotional strain on her that, when weather permits, I bathe her rather than grooming her.

About a year ago, I thought I had a breakthrough: I borrowed a "jelly scrubber" to try. The first few times I used it, she really stretched into the brush; she'd lower her head and relax her neck. But after those few times, though I tried to regain it, I could never get her to relax like that again.

So I took this equine sports massage course. Overall my plan was to learn a new, hopefully marketable skill. But too, I was really hoping that something I learned would let me help my Kat. Every day I'd come home from the course (after dark, because it's a long drive) and go outside and work on one or the other of our two mares, trying to find something that felt good to them, trying to find old issues that I could, now, help.

Let me tell you...Kat is *confused*. But she's relaxing. She's not entirely sure about the whole purpose of this poking and prodding and rubbing stuff, so she's a little uptight on and off about what I'm doing. But now I have some clue what's going on under her skin: I can find the individual muscles, I can check them for old tension, I can find a way to work on most of these muscles that feels good to her. And, to tell the truth, not everything I'm doing is pleasant. See Part 5 of "What is Equine Sports Massage Therapy?" for discussion of why this isn't all soft, relaxing stuff.

The more I am doing with her, the better she is getting to like it. As I work through some very old issues--things that have been there since before I bought her--the massages each become more pleasant and enjoyable for her. Not only that, when I do go to groom her now, she isn't tensing nearly so much. It's made such a difference already, I'm about in tears when I play with her.

There's still so much more to do, because these issues went deep--mostly along her long back muscles, where the points and (half) tree of a racing saddle dig into a horse's muscles. She's also tense (very tight) around the jaw and by the ears; it seems that, like me, she clenches her teeth when tense or concentrating. She's had these issues a long time, and I'm sure they took a long time to build; working them out will also take time and multiple sessions.

I am already seeing some change in the muscles that have been locked tight for years. I hope that soon I will be able to post some "before" and "after" pics, to show how much better she looks. Right now I am mostly only seeing change when she is moving; the muscles are relaxed enough that they have more room to contract and relax. It's particularly noticeable when she canters by :) With each stride I can really see her muscles popping up as they contract, and going back down as they relax. (Think about flexing and relaxing your bicep.) It's noticeable from quite a distance away, now. This is terrific.
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2004 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.