I was out of town all last week at a week long course for equine massage. I am now certified to do maintenance massage for horses as a student practitioner but I'm only halfway done in my studies to be a professional equine massage therapist. I'm excited to say I know what I'm doing a lot more than I did a week ago.
Leaving my family for six days was actually a really big deal for me. The longest I'm usually away from my daughter is about two days and that's few and far between, like when my husband and I go away for the weekend for our anniversary. And I've never gone away totally by myself since my daughter was born (almost ten years ago) so that was very unusual. I felt really excited once I got on the ferry by myself and was driving to the house I was renting a room at. But then when I was unpacking the first night I got really sad and felt like crying for most of the evening. The second day I was so busy in classes all day I didn't have time to think about missing my family, but then I passed a group of 10-year old girls at the deli picking up stuff for dinner and that made me feel very weepy. I adjusted by the third day though and was enjoying time to myself in the evenings after class. Part of that though was I was starting to be really tired by then because we'd spend the whole day in classes alternating between lectures and hands-on work with the horses and get back to our lodging in time to make dinner, watch a little tv or read and fall into bed. Then get up and do our homework first think in the morning before class because we were too tired to do it the night before.
It was all very interesting though and I learned more in those five days than I did in the distance learning - or maybe I should say what I learned in the distance learning gelled into a coherent form during the five days of on-site education. I came home and did an assessment on Maiden and Trainer K asked if I felt anything I could work on for her and I said I could write up a full-page assessment on her of everything she needs help with. It's amazing how two weeks ago I couldn't recognize a lot of things and now I can feel all sorts of stuff - dehydrated fascia around the lumbar spine region, bilateral hypertonicity in her semitendinosus, adhesions in her brachiocephalicus, severe hypertonicity in her deltoids - just to name a few. Not to mention the mess that is her bilateral Longissimus Dorsi.
The classes were also fun too though, not just enormous amounts of information. I don't think I've laughed that much in a long time. Unfortunately, most of it loses the humor in translation. I'd love to share the funny moments with everyone but when I try to it just doesn't come out right unless you were there. There's a certain punch-drunckness that comes from taking all day classes several days in a row with a small group of people.
One thing that surprised me was not everyone had a lot of hands-on horse handling experience. Most of the folks did, there were women there who were professional trainers, and high-level competitive riders, and one woman who had founded and runs a horse rescue. But there were a small handful of women who didn't have a lot of recent horse handling experience and one actually said to me "I'd like to see what happens when you go out and handle [one particular horse]." I asked why and she said "Because you know what you're doing. You work with horses all the time." Which is true I guess, I'm out working with horses every single day. But I still think of myself in regards to professional training, riding and instructing as being in kindergarten as compared to Trainer K, Beth Glosten, Trainer KL, my boss at the pony camp, etc as all being seniors in high school in comparison.
I did notice the difference though when working with a couple of the horses. Most of the horses were either retired performance horses, or in rehabilitation. A couple were very large - over 17 hh's which translates to their withers (or highest point of their back - what a layman would think of as their shoulders) being 5'8" tall. Which means their head when held up is well over six feet tall. Which means for someone like me who is 5'5", if they hold their head of I can't even remotely reach the top of their head from the ground. Anyway, one of the larger horses in particular was problematic for a small handful of students who told me "horror stories" about how they couldn't even give this giant horse a massage because they couldn't get him to stand still and he kept trying to stomp on their feet and push them up against the wall. Of course, being the nervous-nelly I am, I was very worried after hearing this about working with him. So, when it was my turn I asked the instructor if I should be worried and she said he's completely fine, just set your boundaries right away and he would be perfectly fine. Of course right when she was saying this another student walked by and said, "Oh! He's so hard to work with! I couldn't even give him a massage it was so hard!" and the instructor said, "Don't listen to the stories, just set your boundaries and you'll be fine."
So, I went out to catch him in the field to work on him and sure enough he was a doll! A gigantic doll, but he reminded me so much of Trainer K's. horse - a very big kid who had lots of energy and just wanted to play and was really connected. He was very mouthy and had a ton of energy and he did stomp his foot a lot, but the latter was a reaction to trying to kinetically let go of tension in his neck when I was massaging him. It was a very innocent and quite appropriate action to the situation. So, it occurred to me that if this were six years ago when I'd only been back into horses for about a year, doing equine massage would be very overwhelming. Only one or two of the horses we worked on were dead-broke and stood perfectly still for everything. The rest were typical horses with their own personalities and their own ways of relating which might seem confusing if you aren't around horses all the time. So, I was feeling very grateful that I waited as long as I did to learn about this field because the horse handling experience I have made it all a lot easier - I got to spend all my energy focusing on learning the massage portion instead of worrying about how to handle the horses.
This is a photo one of my new friends/classmates took of me and the gigantic guy that I loved so much. I wanted to take him (and half the other horses I worked on) home with me!