This is an edited article written for a horse publication by the course instructor Nancy Camp
Until quite recently, the notion of providing bodywork for animals was promoted by only a few concerned caregivers. Recently, the idea has caught on, but the understanding of the practice needs to be refined. When an owner is faced with an animal that needs bodywork, the first question that should be addressed is "Why?" Yes, it is important to offer pain relief and restore functional movement to your animal friend, but it is paramount you understand that bodywork is not about fixing, it is about healing, which takes time, and requires maintenance.
Probably the biggest issue for horses and dogs is trauma. All horses have been subjected to some kind of trauma in their life. While working with them, my focus is to be open to the experience at hand. Each animal must be approached differently, because they are all different.
When a trauma occurs, whether from an accident or abuse, the body deals it in whatever way necessary to survive. Often, caregivers report that they witnessed or were told of an incident that affected an animal’s way of going for a short time and then they "seemed fine." I find this interesting, because, while they are operating on the assumption that things are fine, their language, using the word "seem," tells me that they intuitively suspected a problem all along, even though most fail to consider it.
What has happened is that the body has managed to work around, or compensate, for the affected part in order to get by. Horses are masters at compensating. As prey animals, they go to great lengths to hide abnormalities or weakness because their primitive genetic memory tells them that weakness means being be singled out by predators; and that means certain death.
Animals, like people, compensate until they can’t take the stress any longer, for whatever reason. So, when I see an animal with a problem, especially an enigmatic, somewhat indefinable problem, in, say the stifle or the hock, I suspect a compensatory pattern that has likely been building for some time and did not originate there. It is possible that an issue manifesting there began in the mandible or the pelvis. Conversely, a blow to the lower limb will cause an animal to limp and use parts of its upper body incorrectly, which, in turn, causes compensatory patterns in, say, the low back, pelvis or shoulders. Either way, the overall structural balance of the animal is being forced to function from a position of imbalance and the ramifications of this situation are countless and potentially hazardous to the animal’s health.
Another aspect to the need for bodywork bears mentioning here. Think back to the idea that as prey animals, horses feel obligated to hide weakness from the outside world. Realizing this is critical to understanding how far-reaching a situation that compromises a horse’s ability to function normally is; and not only on a physical level. It is also imperative that we come to grips with the emotional impact a disability has on a horse. Disabilities from trauma can been dealt with on a physical level, but the emotional level also needs to be addressed. I, personally, consider confinement a disability since it impairs a horse’s ability to act out on the fight or flight instinct. Poor conformation or eyesight contribute to an overall sense of insecurity since animal’s with these disabilities sense that they are weak in the eyes of the outside world.
During a bodywork session, especially when working with an archaic wound, one that is embedded in the body memory of the animal, the horse may want to move around. It is important to allow this. They are freeing up or unwinding a blocked pattern of energy. Another dynamic of allowing the animal to move is that we instill a sense of trust and respect by acknowledging their need to move and thereby demonstrate that we are not doing bodywork to them, but are there for their benefit and to work with them. As difficult as it may be for some caregivers to ease up on the strict discipline of maintaining manners, during a bodywork session we must allow the animal freedom and self-expression.
Different signs of release during a session, which indicate a shift in the rhythms of the body, are licking and chewing, swallowing, yawning, or lowering of the head. Changes in stance and/or breathing patterns may also occur.
All of the work I do respects the body’s innate ability and desire to heal itself. I do not treat animals. I make energetic contact with them and hold the intention to facilitate a return to balance. The results speak for themselves. The long lasting benefits depend upon many things. I believe that the animal’s willingness to participate in the healing process is primary. Factors that affect this willingness include a commitment from the caregiver to respect the animal and provide a safe, comfortable and loving environment. This last bit can require changes to your horse’