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Straight Forward

Unlike Kidd and Kai, Sierra has been fabulous to own in the sense that she’s very easy on her body.  Knock on Wood, but Sierra has yet to injure herself.  Additionally, we have seen an Osteopath once and she was shocked at how structurally and muscually (I don’t think that’s a word) balanced she was, “especially for an OTTB and a Jumper” as she put it.  Since then, I have done PEMF on her once just as a ‘just cause’, but that’s about it.  Given our slowly developing Canter issues, and my absolute love for this darn mare, I decided to invest a little bit of money to rule things some things out before I lay the boots to her and tell her to get over it.  On this list of priorities, there is the usual.. Structural Concerns, Teeth and Saddle Fit... you know, pain!  While I don’t necessarily believe in babying horses, I do recognize they’re athletes and at any point can hit the ‘eject’ button, so I feel it’s my job as both their rider and primary caretaker to ensure they’re feeling the best they can in order to do the job I am asking them to do.

Let me outta this cage, human
I had Sierra booked in to have her teeth done in December, but after reviewing my budget I decided to re-order my priorities and spread them out as best I can.  In the mean time, I’ve opted to stick to w/t, where she seems genuinely happy, and keep plugging away at it methodically in case it’s just general weakness.  Upon reaching out to the Saddle Fitter, we determined it worked best for her to come the first weekend of February.  I felt seeing the Saddle Fitter is the first priority, but due to how our scheduling worked out, I decided to put number two, Massage/Chiro, into January.  Naturally, the Body Worker I hired prefers to come at least twice in a row so that blows the budget out of the water, but I decided I would go with the first appointment and see how I felt – test the waters so to speak.  At this point, I have used nearly every Equine Body Worker in a 250km radius and while all are great in their own way, my favorite is not available when I am (damn adulting and having a full time, mon-fri job).  I use one lady who does the PEMF Therapy and I adore her, but her massage/chiro has left me feeling a little.. dissatisfied, I suppose.  I can’t put my finger on it, perhaps the short length of time spent that some body workers deem necessary or the inevitable snack-crackle-pop, "$150 please" that I have found to be the norm in this area, but few have left me feeling great about it.

I heard about this new-to-me lady (“S”) through a few horsey-acquaintances and I decided to give her a try.   I had never met her, and really only know of about 3 people who use her – but of those 3, 1 is an upper level H/J, one is in Ontario going to school for something equine body-worker related, and one is a coach/trainer with some excellent students, but is an Eventer so I haven’t really seen her ride much.  I figured what the neck, and when I saw her advertising on Facebook recently, I decided to message her and see if she was willing to come to this area, or if I could piggy back on any local appointments.  Much to my surprise, she doesn’t do this full time and as such she has a very flexible schedule and was willing to come as early as the next weekend, which happened to be today.

Sierra has had a week off due to various reasons (mother-fucking-cold-mageddon has graced us with her presence, for starters) so I decided to get up early and head to the barn to spend some time with her before our 11:00 AM Appointment in case she was feeling particularly squirrely.  While it was my intent when I left the house, I decided not to turn her loose in the arena as I had a suspicion she would go wild and get all sweaty, so I groomed and stretched her instead.  I sent her (“S”) the directions to where Sierra is located, and checked my phone frequently to ensure she wasn’t lost.  She arrived right on schedule and we scoped out the barn and decided where she would be most comfortable working on her.  She opted for the barn, but wanted to see her move so we took her to the arena while I explained to her my history with Sierra, and what I knew of her past.  We chatted about the issues in the Canter and the upcoming saddle fitting appointment, and although Sierra gave a few “wa-hoo” head flings when I trotted her in hand, she said she travelled impressively straight, especially for an OTTB turned Jumper (this seems to be a trending analogy among Body Workers).   She chalked it up to her latest career change (Dressage) and commented on what a sweet and kind looking mare she was, and we walked back to the barn.

Are we sure she's not a QH? 
 Upon consulting with “S”, I told her I wanted to start with Massage and adjust if necessary.  While I didn’t tell her at the time, I am a strong believer that muscle (or other fascia) moves bone, and if we don’t address the tension or stiffness in the fibrous material, an adjustment won’t hold.  Plus, I still struggle to see how a >200lb person can adjust a majorly jointed area on a horse. Additionally, I struggle with the concept of bones being actually ‘out’, as opposed to just restricted.. so for me, the snap-crackle-poppers really don’t do it.  Much to my surprise, as we got chatting while she worked on Sierra, she talked about all this and more.  I was elated to find a body worker who shared the same views and then some, and her passion and education really showed.  As the appointment went on we discussed some of the short term or online schooling options a lot of people take to be ‘certified’, and she mentioned in passing that she is only one of two *registered* equine massage therapists (REMT) in Alberta.  For some reason, this blew me away, and I later learned the friend who is in Ontario going to school for something body worker related, is taking the same course “S” did years ago.  I love that being registered they have a governing body to hold them accountable to standards, and it’s all very hands on learning – much more than you can read in a book off Amazon or in a 4 day course.  Because Equine Chiropractics is illegal in Ontario (where “S” is from), she did not obtain certification in that until she moved to Alberta a handful of years ago, but she feels it’s very secondary to Massage therapy, and said often when Muscles or other tissues are working as they should, the skeletal system will often correct itself if needed.  She reiterated once again, that rarely are skeletal systems actually ‘out of alignment’, as that would often translate to literally being dis-located, but rather gasses, fluids and other organic material can build up within a joint causing pressure, and the pop or crack is the release of that.  This is something I knew to be true with humans from my Kinesiology training, but I suppose I didn’t really pin it in relation to horses.

As the appointment went, on we chatted about everything under the sun from personal work, personal riding struggles, saddle fit and how things have evolved and changed over the years.  She was incredibly easy to talk to, and all the while she provided insight and direction to some things I had never considered.  Additionally, she did things I have never had a body worker do such as work with trigger release points throughout the body.  We talked extensively about stretching, and while it’s something I have been incorporating into my routine with Si, she showed me more stretches and how to do them properly.  Most notably, she touched on the science behind muscle memory and how when we do anything we need to try and hold it [correctly] for 30 seconds as that’s how long it takes the body to ‘register’ things.  She talked about this in relation to stretches and holding them, but also went in depth regarding how we ride our horses and how this can come into play when developing a horse under saddle, correcting poor toplines from ineffective riding and so on.  We also chatted about the theory of horses reverting back to ‘old muscle memory’, and had a very in-depth conversation about how newly formed muscle memory trumps all ‘previously registered’ memories.  That being said, we also chatted about how this differs from say, a 2 year old race horse who’s ridden predominantly on the left rein as their bone structure and everything related will mature to accommodate that, so often horses like this will always revert back to being dominant on one side.  Overall, it was an incredibly rewarding and enlightening appointment, and before I knew it she had been massaging my horse nearly two hours.

Gimme That Coffee

When “S” took a step back from Si after the massaging and stretching as well as demonstrations for new stretches, we chatted about how I have been working to build a correct Dressage foundation.  It’s evident time was put in, but I get the impression it was only due to being a necessary evil of the 3-Day Eventing world.  I explained to her that when I first got her, she would curl her neck and no matter what I did she would not move her head from that spot.  As well, she really struggled to track up or step through and much preferred to be on the forehand than take any sort of weight behind.  I asked “S” if she feels she needed any adjustments and she said at this time nothing was glaringly obvious and she would like to see how she responds to the massage.  She released a lot through the trigger releases (which was really neat to see!) and she left me with some great homework.  She said ideally she would like to see her in 10 – 14 days but that she understands it’s expensive and that this was our first time working together, but I told her I would love to have her back.  I am hoping to go audit a Dressage clinic in the city next weekend, but asked if she could see if she has time the following weekend to come work on her again.

Overall, she felt Sierra held a lot of tension in her lumbar and hamstrings which would correlate to a poorly fitted saddle, as well as her lack of desire to track up.  We talked about how the saddle, being a bit too wide, is likely sliding forward into the shoulders but as a result, her scapula is pushing the saddle backward into her lumbar as the shoulder rotates, so she’s really ‘getting it’ on both ends of the spectrum.  We discussed how in a lot of ways she is a ‘typical thoroughbred’ in that she prefers to travel out behind and flat, but agreed that the training path we are on appears to be improving her range of motion and ability to use her hind end effectively.  We also agreed that once she learns to release and accept an improved balance her body will feel much better.  Additionally, she was very tight in the right shoulder, resulting in overall tension predominantly on the right side but for an OTTB “S” felt this to be very common and not at all unexpected.  As for her general condition and muscle tone, she felt she was impressively even and complimented me on my ability to navigate her correctly to encourage her to become straighter.  She said she was very evenly muscled and was in excellent condition despite being a little pudgy from the lack of work and 24/7 access to hay.

I know if it was me reading this blog, I would be curious the cost. I find costs for different areas, etc intriguing, so I have no concerns saying I paid $110, including her mileage (she came from roughly 1 hour away).  I feel as though what both Si and I got out of the appointment was incredibly beneficial, and I will be glad to pay it again in 2 weeks!  I typically give 1-2 days off after body work, so I am excited to put Sierra back to work on Monday and continue on with this crazy journey!


  1. I bet she enjoyed the massage! Suzie LOVED her massage time.

    1. We kept laughing at her as we really couldn't tell. There was a lot of head flinging, but most often it was when she stopped touching her. Like any good massage, it's not always comfortable or relaxing but I think for the most part she enjoyed it!

  2. I too find Chiro's so woowoo after working with Physical Therapists for myself. The only time I think the bones get "out" so to speak is if there is real trauma - re: falling/ running into something.

    Glad that you found a good bodyworker to work with!

    1. Absolutely! I totally respect things build up and the release (the pop/crack) we most often hear is great but I feel like a lot of body workers use it to pull the wool over unsuspecting peoples eyes.


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