Moonsong Highlight: What is a bodywork session?

“Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years.” – Richard Bach


It’s been a super busy spring, and thus a while since the last highlight! These last few weeks I’ve been gifted with lots of new equine friends. It’s been invigorating to meet so many wonderful horses, each with such specific needs. The influx has left me feeling so grateful for the Moonsong “regulars”, as well: the weekly, biweekly, and monthly horse/human pairs that I’m so fortunate to know and love. Some are competitive in the show ring. Many are in training for a demanding season. A few are rehabbing from injury or illness. Others are aging naturally, while we do our best to support them on their way.

There are great benefits to receiving bodywork on a regular basis. Being very familiar an animal’s body means that changes can be perceived early and addressed efficiently. We can tweak, rather than reinventing the wheel at every session. We build momentum. Perhaps most importantly, we can nurture a relationship that deepens and evolves with time.

But even the most steadfast regulars began as strangers to me! I remember each of their first sessions vividly. We’ve shared such special journeys. I’m often asked what an initial session is like, how to prepare, and what to expect. For anyone who’s wondering those things, below are the answers I usually give (in a nutshell). Keep in mind that these are specific to my practice at this time, and another bodyworker might say something totally different!

1.      The horse should be in his or her most comfortable place. It is counter-productive to change environment or routine for any appointment, including bodywork. There should be ample room to move around. No cross-ties, just a halter and long leadrope.

2.      It’s ideal but not mandatory to receive bodywork following a typical/moderate exercise session, if your horse is in work. If it is very cold outside, try to do at least a little something prior to the session. If it is very hot, give your horse time to cool off. A little spritz or sponge bath is fine, but try to avoid a full-fledged soak because slippery horses are…well, slippery!!

3.      A little grooming never hurt anyone.  ;)  No need for show sheen and braids, but at least knock the mud off (this is as much for the horse as it is for the human!). This includes the legs.

4.      Have some forage available, if possible. Horses eat when they are comfortable, and they are comforted by eating. More on this later…

5.      Divulge as much information as possible, especially that which relates to safety. Be honest about potentially dangerous behaviors, even if they are infrequent or unusual. These are often indications of physical, cognitive, or emotional discomfort. Facts are important, and there is no shame in sharing them.

Expect the following throughout the session:

1.      We will be looking for signs of “reactivity” and signs of “release”.

“Reactivity” can mean: raising the poll/head above the withers, widening or squinting the eyes, flaring the nostrils, clenching the jaw, holding the breath, locking the knees, clamping or swishing the tail, becoming agitated, biting, kicking, increased pulse rate, and changes in temperature or “feel” of a certain part of the body.

“Release” can mean: lowering of the poll/head below the withers, blinking or softening of the eyes, making eye contact, licking and chewing, breathing deeply or sighing, yawning, resting a limb, relaxing the tail, having increased GI motility (gas or passing manure), making physical contact, slowing heartrate, and regulation of temperature and consistency throughout the body.

2.      It is normal for there to be an escalation in reactivity before every release. Knowing that, we can set an intention to see our horse through the discomfort and onto the other side. The body (and mind) will always prefer what is familiar to what is necessarily “best”. It is our job to teach something new and hopefully helpful, and it takes time.

3.      It is normal for releases to take a while to happen during the first session. It is also normal for them not to last very long, and to be arrhythmic. Over time, they will come sooner and last longer, until eventually the body learns to take care of itself.

4.      Bodywork is not training. We never insist, or even expect, a “result”. The most important aspect of bodywork (to me) is to invite communication. If we acknowledge and reciprocate every attempt at this, we pave the way for productivity.

On that last note, what if we treated every interaction with another living being as the first, with an open mind and soft heart? What if authentic connection was our only expectation? What a world that would be! How possible it is!

What are we waiting for??