Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bodywork at Traveller’s Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary

Traveller’s Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary is very fortunate to have Jill Deming, M.A., of Integrated Animal Therapies as one of our complementary healers. Jill is a certified Massage Therapist and member of the International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork. Incorporating massage, acupressure, myofascial release and craniosacral therapy, animal Bowen and equine myofascial structural integration into her practice, Jill integrates elements of several types of bodywork into each visit, based on each animal’s individual needs.

In Jill’s words, here is a basic description of an integrated therapy session:

During my initial bodywork session with each horse, I carefully evaluate each individual. I keep in mind that at this stage in their lives my objective is not to address any dysfunction in the body of the older horse, but simply to help them to be comfortable. This is because many of these horses have dysfunctions in their bodies that they may have been living with for quite some time. They have learned to adjust to these difficulties and their body compensates accordingly. To make any major changes at this point could be catastrophic.

I begin by working at the junction of the head and neck, a neutral non-threatening area of the body, because predators will often attack the head. Initially, I also want to stay out of the kick zone (around the hindquarters), I want to establish that this experience is pleasurable and non-threatening. By allowing the horse to invite me into his personal space, rather than forcing my way in, there is a much better chance of having a successful bodywork session.

For this reason, I use a lot of CranioSacral Therapy and Myofascial Release in my work. CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle and non-invasive modality. The CranioSacral system extends from the occiput to the coccyx (tailbone) and is comprised of three membranes (the Dura Mater, Pia Mater and Arachnoid Layer) housed within the spinal cord that are constantly bathed in fluid. This fluid is known as the cerebrospinal fluid. It pulses throughout the life of the horse (also all other animals as well as humans) and influences the movement of the skull bones and the connective tissue (fascia).

Fascia is the layer of connective tissue directly under the skin. When you cut into a chicken, recall the stretchy, translucent layer? That’s fascia. It is similar to a body-stocking just underneath the horse’s skin—-encompassing all the muscles. It extends from the brain to the hooves and everywhere in between. If horses (as well as all mammals) didn’t have fascia, they’d be nothing but a bag of water. Fascia gives us our shape. It also contributes to the health of the horse by increasing transport between the cells, moving nutrients into the cell and toxins out.

In addition to its’ location just under the skin, the fascia extends 3-dimensionally throughout the body, encompassing muscles, organs, bones—in short, all structures inside the body.

Whenever the fascia has been disturbed in the body, it will be felt other places as well, because of the fascia is so interconnected. It is impossible to influence one area without also influencing others.

Because so many of these horses are in such fragile health and some of them have compromised immune systems I don’t try to change the structure of the fascia, as I would endeavor to do in younger, healthy horses. Instead, I work within their energy level.
TREES residents all respond to Jill’s therapeutic touch, but some are more appreciative than others. Each time Jill works with Betty, the mare afflicted with pemphigus, Betty tries to follow her out of the stall as she leaves. Betty’s bodywork is usually followed by a long nap. With so little known about pemphigus in horses, it’s heartening to see Betty respond so positively to these sessions.

In addition to horses and other equine, Jill also works with dogs and cats in Fredericksburg, VA and the surrounding area. Be sure to visit her web site for more information.

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