Lisa knew if she woke from her dreams with a stiff shoulder, Red would need a massage.

By Catherine Bird

Ouch… why do I have the same pains as my horse?

Being both a human and horse therapist has its advantages. You begin to notice similarities between owner and horse. You may have them with similar personality traits or you may find they have the same physical problems.

Because we are all one spirit it is often difficult for our horses to keep themselves separated from us. Often when being ridden by the same rider if the rider is weak in the hip, often a horse will develop a weakness in the same hind.

Now we can look at this on many levels. The imbalance can be one of biomechanics where the rider’s balance is off and it throws the horse off balance. We can also step outside the normal paradigm and look at the emotional links between owner and horse.

The horse is a service animal. They previously ploughed our fields or carried us to war. We needed them to literally survive. Now that that role has been taken over by machinery, the horse has searched for another way to be of service. They carry our burdens for us in other ways - they take on our emotions we may be finding overwhelming, or they reflect back to us our physical aches and pains so we can heal them.

Now this is something the horse does because he perceives he is helping his owner or rider, and if his efforts are noticed and acted upon, he has fulfilled his task. If not, then he may suffer to his detriment and his efforts may be fruitless.

Another aspect to be considered here is that you cannot truly heal a problem if you are still working on someone else’s stuff. So if you are massaging or treating a horse and the problem does not appear to shift, then you need to ask the owner to look at his or her own body, or emotional state, before the horse improves.

True Red was one of my first horse clients. His owner, Lisa, ran the local School of Equitation. After I had been massaging Red for a while he would only improve to a point, but I was not satisfied with his improvement. I discussed this with Lisa and she mentioned she also got a stiff shoulder when Red was stiff. I booked her into my ‘human’ clinic and when we massaged her shoulders and neck, Red responded to my massages to a point I was happy with.

Bill's sore back cleared when Anne took control of her finances.

Lisa would then call me early on a morning when she woke up stiff and sore, knowing that when she got to the stables Red would be stiff and sore in the same spots and would need me that day. This never failed us, and if Lisa left her phone call too many days, then she had to have a massage herself to help Red.

Bill was an advanced dressage horse I massaged regularly. He was often heavy in the shoulders, which would ease out without too much trouble. But he began getting soreness in his lumbar region and his owner, Anne and I were perplexed as to why, until she came for her monthly massage.

Anne too had developed soreness in her lumbar region. We had analyzed Bill’s gait and checked everything we could possibly think of. Then Anne began discussing her bitter legal battle with her sister over her father’s estate.

What was happening with Anne was she was finding it stressful standing up to her sister over the financial aspects of the negotiations. If you look at writings of metaphysical healers, like Louise Hay in Heal Your Body, she refers to lower back weaknesses as being fear of money or lack of financial support.

Once Anne realized this and began to take control of her side of the negotiations, her back problem miraculously lifted and so did Bill’s.

Bobby was a sweet showjumper. He trained beautifully at home, but quite often at competitions he would stress out and become so anxious his owner, Jane, claimed she could not ride him.

I suggested calming oils and herbs for Bobby for the week leading up to the next competition and as this situation was so distressing to Jane, I accompanied them to this next competition. Well, the problem turned out to be Jane. As we approached the grounds I could feel her inner tension building, her own anxiety levels beginning to undermine her confidence.

As she was in the middle of her own sea of emotion, she could not see it was her stress that was the sabotaging factor, not Bobby’s. I had taken chamomile tea for Bobby, but insisted it was Jane who drank it. I had also the Bach Flower combination Rescue Remedy that was meant to prepare Bobby, but I insisted both Jane and Bobby have their doses.

I also talked Jane through her own anxiety and fears. I had her inhale the essential oils for this situation including bergamot and frankincense. As Jane took responsibility for her own emotions, Bobby no longer had to carry them for her.

Not only did they compete successfully that day, Bobby and Jane came home with two place ribbons. Jane is now mindful of her own emotions and with Bobby she is enjoying a successful jumping career.

One of the keys to working with your horse is identifying if it is you or him that is causing the problem.

With my own riding I found it varied with the horse. With Red, I would always get off with a sore left shoulder. Now we have already discussed him earlier in this article with Lisa and as I was the casual rider, it was his weakness being reflected in my body. When I rode Cal my lower back would ache, especially on my left side. I would check him before and after each ride to determine if it was him or me. His back was only sore after I had ridden him. In this case I had my back aligned and neither of us suffered a sore lower back on the left side if I was balanced and in alignment.

One case that was interesting, as the person and horse were not a rider combination, was the manager taking on the pain of the horse. Stan was a racehorse and he was performing well in his barrier trials, but not as well as expected. I was called in to massage him, and there were the usual signs of strain most racehorses suffer, but not enough signs were visible to justify his lack of form.

Michael the manager was concerned and investigating the problem as much as he could. No one could find a reason. Michael began getting an ache in his right wrist. It would often intensify when he was inspecting Stan or discussing him with someone.

Michael's sore wrist was a hint to look at Stan's lower leg.

He began rubbing his wrist one day when we were viewing a video of Stan running. I noticed and I asked him about his wrist, when it had begun and when it hurt him most (moreso because I am the chronic therapist, even at parties).

A couple of days later, I called Michael and suggested we investigate Stan’s offside fetlock. He seemed a little stiff when I tried to flex it and it just didn’t feel right that day. After veterinary investigation, with the focus being on Stan’s offside foreleg, x-rays revealed damage to the sesamoid bone.

Stan was spelled at a rehabilitation farm, and with treatment was back on the track within three months and Michael’s wrist stopped aching.

If your horse has a recurring problem, take the time to look at your own body and life and see if something you are doing may be the cause to his discomfort. Sometimes all it takes is you becoming aware of something in your own world so your horse has served his purpose, for the problem to clear up.

Also be aware if you are a rider and you begin to ache in places you don’t normally ache when riding. It may be an early warning sign that something is happening with your horse’s body.

Sometimes it can be a mutual experience. Fiona had been riding her mare Mikala and had been concentrating on improving her canter. One day they got what felt like a perfectly collected lope and Fiona was thrilled. The next day her back had seized up and she was still all down one side. She sought out a physical therapist and had her back worked on but hadn’t considered Mikala. For a couple of weeks she found Mikala stiff on one side and she finally called me to massage Mikala. It was unusual for Mikala to get stiff along her back like this, and eventually Fiona mentioned how her back had been bad since this great moment.

It is difficult to determine in this situation if the back problem was Fiona’s or Mikala’s, but after we identified the problem and massaged Mikala, Fiona’s back finally responded to her physical therapy.

The important thing here is to be aware that you and your horse are connected. What hurts your horse hurts you, and your horse may experience whatever you are experiencing.

Become aware of the ‘hints’ that are offered to you to make both of you more comfortable and able to face your next challenge, and life may become a little easier.


This is an informational article only and is not intended to replace veterinary or professional care.

About the author:

Catherine Bird is a Sydney-based qualified Aromatherapist, Medical Herbalist and Massage Therapist specializing in treating animals. Her clients have included the NSW Mounted Police, Olympic level competitors, and horses in all disciplines as well as backyard pets. She is the author of Horse Scents, Making Sense with Your Horse Using Aromatherapy, which is one of a series being developed and she offers the Equine Aromatherapy Correspondence Course worldwide. For more information see www.hartingdale.com.au/~happyhorses, and http://communities.msn.com/HealthyHappyHorses, or email Catherine directly at happyhorses@hartingdale.com.au