Sunday, May 2, 2010
Bodywork at Traveller’s Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary
by Jill Deming, M.A - Certified Massage Therapist
Jill is a member of the International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork
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 (in the area of the poll), down the spine to the coccyx (tailbone) and is comprised of three layers of membranes. The outermost layer is the dura mater which is a tough, waterproof membrane that houses the brain and spinal cord. The next layer is the arachnoid layer, and the inner layer is the pia mater which adheres snugly to the inside of the spinal cord. These membranes 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.