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Expect the Unexpected, 2
Bad Attitude
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Alternative Therapies and Horse Training
Part One
Doris Eraldi

Alternative therapies for horses such as massage, acupressure and chiropractic have become so common in the past twenty years that sometimes it’s hard to remember when we didn’t recognize their power and usefulness. I distinctly remember our first introduction to the benefits of equine massage. John was starting a well-bred cutting filly, but even though she was well-conformed and willing, she was only couple of months into the training when we ran into a major problem – the filly would not turn to the left correctly. She would swivel her head instead of bending her neck, and then throw herself around the turn shoulder first. After trying about everything we could think of, John decided that this filly, in spite of her great breeding and looks, just wasn’t going to make it as a show cutting horse, and he called the owner to tell him to come get her.

The filly’s owner was disappointed, but he also had a suggestion. “Is it alright if I send someone up to look at her? He does equine massage,” the owner asked. We didn’t see any reason not to try it, but we did not have much hope that a “miracle” would take place.

The body-worker listened while we described the “training” problem and then started palpating the filly’s neck. As he worked on the little mare, massaging the muscles along her top-line, the filly relaxed, heaved a few big sighs and lowered her neck. Suddenly there was a loud POP. The mare opened her eyes wide and looked around. “I think that might have been the problem,” he said. He worked on her a while longer, suggested we let her rest the remainder of the day, and that we ride her lightly for the next day or two, but even with a careful start back to work, it was obvious that the “miracle” had indeed happened. The mare not only could turn easily both directions, but she continued on to be the high-selling horse at that fall’s Pacific Coast Futurity Sale, and then to go on to a long and successful career in the cutting pen. You can be sure that we were open to alternative therapies, the next times we had a training horse that “just wasn’t doing right.”

Several years later, I had the opportunity to participate in clinics put on by Diana Thompson. Thompson specializes in equine acupressure and massage, and I found many aspects of her programs that could be directly used as a part of the training program. Acupressure points can be used to calm a horse and to relieve pain and tension that is a by-product of even the most careful horsemanship. Training, especially starting young horses, is not only mentally stressing, but requires the horse to physically move in new ways. This often causes aches or worse. Alternative therapies such as massage and acupressure are not a replacement for veterinary care, instead I use them along with traditional medical treatments. If something is wrong with a horse, it is vital to know exactly what it is (or isn’t) before starting on any course of treatment. While many times I find it best to call in a professional body-worker to help the horse, I’ve found a few common problems which I can address myself with massage or acupressure as part of the training process.

One of the most common problems for Pleasure and Performance horses is tension and pain in the upper neck (the first third of the neck behind the ears) that comes from learning to carry their necks low and flex at the poll. Many horses in training also have pain in the lower back (lumbar and sacrum), and some also develop tension in the ribcage and chest area that can lead to cinchiness. All of these problems can be address early on with acupressure and/or massage. The calming points are always helpful too. In next month’s article, I’ll share the three massage and acupressure techniques that I use most often in the training process.

Doris Eraldi and Blue, 2005Doris Eraldi of Eraldi Training in Potter Valley, trains horses and riders of all ages. She specializes in Pleasure, Showmanship and Equitation events. She can be contacted at 707-743-1337, or by e-mail

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