The Water of Being and Bodywork

What is a human being? A human being is a container invented by water so that it can walk around.

–Dean Juhan, Jobs Body

I rather like this little joke about what a human being is. It also applies to our animal friends. Water; it seems likes variety as well.

Consider for a moment what it means to be flesh and bone; regardless of whether you are a horse, dog, human, or a duck. We exist on the same physiology; we all have similar nerve impulses, muscle, and bone elements. These elements make up the whole structure of the container that was invented by water so that it can walk around. The varying architecture, or bone structure that makes up the different species may be arranged for different form and functionality, but the general way that it utilizes food, regenerates itself, and depends upon the muscles and bones to move it from one place to another works the same way.

Lets look a little closer at the components that hold all of this water together into a functional unit we call a living being. The best place to start is with the connective tissue. Connective tissue is the glue that binds a cell into cells, cells into muscles, muscles into tendon, tendons into bones. It is the material of ligaments that wraps and secures bones to bones allowing the structure to have joints and hinges without which we would have neither flexibility nor movement. Without this tough white, stringy, and slippery connective tissue, I am afraid we would be just another puddle of water droplets.


Muscles supply the crucial tension in our tensegrity structure. The skeleton is held erect by the musculature, and not vice versa.

Dean Juhan, Jobs Body


Intertwined within the connective tissue we have the muscles. Each muscle fibril is enclosed in connective tissue that binds them one to the other, then encloses groups of them into bundles. These bundles are then laced together to form muscles such as the hamstrings and quads. Each muscle bundle consists of the belly of the muscle that tapers on either end to the tendon that then attaches it to the bone. Each muscle attaches to one bone and then crosses a joint attaching to another bone enabling mobilization and flexing across the structure. Water is the main element that gives the structure the elasticity and suppleness to bend.

Muscle tissue can do three things, it can shorten which is a pull (called flexion), it can lengthen (called extension) by being pulled or it can go into a lock position (most of the time a very painful and limiting position). As you can see muscles never push us anywhere. It is this flexing and pulling power of the muscle that acts upon the bones as a series of levers, pulleys, hinges and cables in order to suspend the limbs and organs in an erect and weight bearing form. Muscle creates movement through the joints thereby propelling us around in our most fluid and graceful ways.

Muscles as individual compartments do not utilize their full flexing power at any given time. They all work in synchronization to form a full range of motion throughout the entire body. For each action on a joint there is a flexion and an extension, and agonist muscle that creates the action and the antagonist that counterbalances the movement. This is the means that allows the container of water to stand up through the pull of gravity and to walk about.

It is the watery nature of connective and muscle tissues that allow the body to ebb and flow, bend and be bent, shorten and lengthen, harden and soften in a instant with fleeting thought. It is this mutable quality of liquid and the interplay of connective tissue and muscles that make the horse an athlete, a dancer or a runner.

It is also this soft watery substance that tears, spasms, and atrophies when stressed or injured. When muscles suffer emotional or physical trauma they will often times lose vital moisture needed to allow one muscle fiber or compartment to slip unimpeded by another. This loss of fluid causes fibers to stick together, become dry, hardened and immobile, which restricts full range of motion in the area of stress. This is rarely just one particular muscle, but rather an area of muscle power. When movement is compromised in one area the whole structure has to shift in order to compensate for the loss. The muscles then cease their balanced pull on the connective tissues, the connective tissues affect the associated joints and if left unchecked for a long enough period of time the stresses will eventually begin to deform the bone structure.

Trauma does not have to get a tight and unrelenting grip on the equine structure. The more we study the benefits of massage therapy the more we know how it can influence and restore health to the watery nature of soft tissues. Manual therapy restores the free flow of nutrient rich fluids between cells by creating the space for the water to fill and regenerate dry tissues. It is this fluidity that allows muscle, tendon and ligament to be manipulated back into its inherent integrity after being distorted from trauma or injury.

Massage therapists often refer to our profession as bodyworkers. When we contemplate the nature of our work, we manipulate soft body tissue to restore it back to health and functionality. So we bodyworkers are like soft tissue sculptors. The hands of the therapist gently stretch, pull, push and coax the watery tissues to relax, bend, and flow back to its original nature, back to its inherent design allowing the structure supple, harmonious and unencumbered expression to its movement. Joy and grace is expressed through freedom of movement, no matter whether you are human, horse, dog or duck. It is all the same.


Look Me In The Eye

Look me in the eye.

Look me in the eye.

Look me in the eye, tell me who you are. Look me in the eye and I will tell you who I am. Then we may know each other’s souls.

There is an ongoing debate about looking a horse in the eye or any animal in the eye for that matter. I want to look into an animals eyes, to see their souls, their state of mind, how they feel about themselves and what they think of humans. I do not look in their eyes to challenge, belittle or pity them. I want to know their spirit. I look in their eyes to see if they can connect with me, be with me, invite me in and have a conversation with me. I can ascertain a lot about how the horse is feeling with this one simple act of looking to see if they are willing to look back. I want my horses to know they can look at me without feeling challenged or diminished. I want them to see that I am looking back and that we can share each others souls with kindness, respect, and communication one being to another. Eyes are the doorway to the inner reaches of our hearts and through that doorway we genuinely see each other.

Do you look into your best friends eyes?


Equine Massage Benefits for the Therapist

“So thanks yet again for training us the way you did……I love this work. And the coolest part is that the more I refine my bodywork, the better my riding gets. And the more I refine my riding, the better my bodywork gets. Love that circle of energy!”


I got this wonderful quote from a student who has been steadily building her clientele. I love this quote because she so gets the job at hand and the benefits of working with horses this way. I have to admit that I am a bit spoiled practicing equine and human massage and cannot imagine my life without it. You see, I say that I get paid to meditate, to stay healthy and feel connected to my world through the work that I do. I touch to help the horse relax and change, the horse teaches me to soften, let go, breath and relax as well. The more I relax, the more my horse relaxes and follows me. It is a circle of sharing and a practice in awareness and feel. It is a wonderful career.

Dancing Partners with Equine Massage

Think about the times you just stepped out of the saddle all invigorated and thought, I just had the most perfect ride on my horse today. It was amazing, like the two of us were one! All I had to do was think it and my horse was right there with me. Those rides I call The Perfect Ride.

If you have ridden long enough I would believe you have felt that perfect ride. I live for those moments of great joy with my horse. To me, thats worth all the money spent on my horses for hay, hoof care, vet visits, then we have to have the truck, trailer, a beautiful saddle, several blankets, bridles and did I mention the acreage to keep it all on? Well, you get the idea. We dont spend our lifetime with these wonderful creatures without good reason. We love the communion, the partnership, freedom and spirit of the horse when all the elements come together and the magic just seems to set the stage for the perfect ride and we are dancing together like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Grace in motion.

We know this takes spending hours together practicing making the connection of communication with each other and wanting the partnership to be perfect. That is why we seek out good trainers to help us understand horses and the way they think and trainers to help us see where our riding needs improvement. We make sure the saddle fits, the bridle fits, the feet are correct and the nutrition is balanced (along with our checkbook). Then we can rest assured the perfect ride inevitable. Right? Discouragingly not always, sometimes something feels amiss, your horse wont pick up a lead, she is short striding, has stiff lateral flexion or just aint doin right.

Theres help. I am going to add into your budget one more essential ingredient that is of the utmost importance for your horses well being whether you are riding endurance, reining, a dressage, hunter/jumper, or on the trails (the list is a lot longer but again you get the idea). A few sessions with a talented equine massage therapist can often help your partner move with suppleness, ease and greater range of motion in all of the joints then you are back to enjoying your ride. Regardless of your riding discipline, equine massage is essential to keep your horse dancing like a pro.



Sometimes an equine massage is going to look very different than doing a massage. The later is what people perceive as doing a massage which is rubbing, kneading, pushing and pulling. Our perception of massage has been influenced greatly by what we see as massage on television and maybe some of the pinching massages we have experienced. If you have ever received a massage like that you might want to get up off the table and leave. Besides being unproductive it is often times painful. Massage does not have to be that way and in fact should not be that way. Many times my hands will not be moving much at all and that does not mean I am not making changes to the efficiency of the body/mind of the horse.

Spur is the horse you see in the picture and Spur is a rescue from a situation that could no longer keep or feed him. He is now in very good hands and is being cared for by Alison who is student of ours. Spur is a very interesting character and I want to share something about the way that I worked with him that I believe is important to you as an equine therapist and I believe is important that your clients also know that not all sessions are about kneading and pushing soft tissues and thinking that is the massage. Change has to be lasting and of genuine help to the horse which in turn gives back to the owner a happy horse.

You see, Spur, in his short eight years was never really touched by humans beyond how he was touched by his momma. I know this by the way he responded to my first touch. It was disconnected and he was very nervous and flinched with every little move. He was trained and he was ridden but was not comforted along the way and by not knowing comfort lost his confidence. He is very worried about just being touched. He reactswhich is not the same thing as responding to my touch, listening to my touch and then interpreting the meaning of my touch. He did not know what to do with it. When a horse is reactive, I believe their natural intuition to read the intention of the human has been disconnected and they no longer trust what it is they are sensing and they are desperately trying to make sense of it before they are chastised for making a mistake.

What Alison and I did was place our hands on his spine, the core of his nervous system, then we relaxed and waited for him to sense that he could trust his natural instinct to understand we were touching him to be of help and not trying to force him to do something. We waited for him to draw us in. So the first stage of the massage is to listen, genuinely listen to what he was saying about how he feels about himself and how he feels about his relationship with humans. When he began to trust our touch and interpret it as non threatening, then he began to listen back. When we made that connection, we would move our hands to another spot and start the process over again. When we had touched all over his body and he trusted us to be there with full acceptance of the idea and feel that just being gently and kindly touched was ok business we called it a success. In fact touch was down right comforting and pleasurable. He connected with us wholeheartedly and with a genuine curiosity of who are these people?

We removed his halter and three of us just stayed in his paddock and chatted about him and other things while he comfortably stayed in the middle of the three of us with a soft accepting and curious look in his eye. After another fifteen minutes or so we left his paddock but continued to stand by his gate and talked. He quietly stood by the gate with his head over the gate comfortably sniffing us and listening as a part of the group. His curiosity was freed to explore us.

To me, this was a very big improvement for this horse and nothing else needed doing. He really didnt have any soft tissue stresses so from that stand point, there was nothing to physically fix. Spur was emotionally and mentally unbalanced and that is where he needed and needs the most comfort and confidence in himself. If we had gone in with very busy hands and started doing a massage on this horse I believe we would have overloaded his mental and emotional senses because he could not listen and very busy hands would have made no sense to him.

Ah, the power of a listening touch! I learned a wonderful lesson from Spur that not all massage gets right to moving soft tissues around and that does not mean that changes are not taking place. The doorway to the physical being comes from the mental and emotional. In Spurs case, he is balanced from a soft tissue perspective, in fact he is downright athletic, but the tension from apprehension that he holds within those soft tissues creates the mental and emotional upset and mistrust that does not serve him well in the human realm. The mental and emotional imbalances creates the resistance and bracing in the physical body.

I know it is difficult to get clients to understand that sometimes just touching needs to take place and that the very act of touching relaxes the mental and emotional thereby allowing the soft tissues to turn loose before there is a detrimental change in physical structure. Spur will be fine and Alison will continue along those lines until Spur is indeed seeking her to touch and connection with him where he experiences comfort and trust in her. When his mental and emotional state has balance, his physical balance will be there as well.

It has taken me some time to trust that just being there with the touch can sometimes do more than all the moving and shaking and just because my hands are not doing a television massage doesnt mean I am not doing a massage. My joke is that the client pays to see their horse move in a more efficient and relaxed mannerthey dont pay to see my hands move. Spur brought that back to me full circle and I am grateful for the reassurance from him that I am on the right track as well.