There’s the Rub
By Susie Sims
once was reserved only for the super-wealthy owners of thoroughbred
racehorses has now made its way to the hills of Franklin County.
Steward has brought the art of equine sport massage therapy to the masses,
at least in northwest Alabama.
massage is most popular at racetracks," said Steward, who lives near
Phil Campbell. "The racers see the benefits right away."
27, underwent 50 hours of training in North Carolina in order to offer the
service to local horse owners.
Equine Sports Massage Therapist Jessica Steward and her horse Array We Go.
idea of massaging horses is relatively new in this country. During the
late 1980s, the idea took hold at some racetracks and has been spreading
people think the idea is crazy at first—I did," said Steward.
"But as I learned more about it and saw the relief that massage
gave the horses, I was convinced it was good for them."
Above, Jessica Steward demonstrates her techniques on her horse Array We Go. The horse drops her head in response to the therapy. At right, tight muscles get relief from Steward’s massage.
has been performing horse or sport massage for the past three years.
"I love doing this," she said. "I love to see the look in
the horses’ eyes when I’ve helped them."
to explain what sport massage is and its purpose, Steward gave detailed
information. "Sport massage is just like massage therapy a person
would get," she explained. "A horse is 60 percent muscle
(based on body weight) and those muscles get tired and stiff just like
people’s muscles do."
Steward walks her horse around the pasture after giving her massage therapy. Steward says this is an important step in the process as it helps the muscles to relax after being worked during the therapy.
said she uses various methods for different muscles or problems. "I
use compression and percussion to open the muscles and then I can find
the knots," she said. "Once the knots are worked out, I close
the muscle (with other massage techniques) and move on to the next
the muscles allows the knots or lesions to be broken up. Steward said
the muscles sometimes release gas vapors during this process, noting it
sounds like knuckles cracking.
said that although sport massage can be used to promote healing, it is
best to use it as a preventive measure.
tell my clients to watch for signs that their horses need
attention," said Steward. "If addressed early on, problems can
be short-lived or avoided all together."
of the common signs a horse could benefit from massage therapy include
stumbling, bucking, refusing or resisting leads, girthiness, and a short
or choppy stride.
who also holds a degree from Mississippi State University in animal
science, tells her clients to be on the look out for symptoms of colic,
tying up, equine protozoal mylitis, and botulism.
can alleviate the symptoms of these conditions," she said. "I
didn’t believe it until I witnessed it for myself.
can see their bodies relax as the tension is relieved. They look at you
as if to say ‘thank you.’"
a healing measure, sport massage can speed up the process. Steward noted
that massage speeds away the toxins in the muscles, allowing the muscle
to heal more quickly.
increases the horse’s circulation, which puts less stress on the
heart," said Steward. "It can even improve their overall
noted that massage can actually increase muscle tone. She said the
muscles get a work out during the therapy, only they don’t have to do
Are You a
if her profession is similar to that of a chiropractor, she said the two
disciplines are far apart, though they can work hand-in-hand.
Jessica Steward scratches the head of Jessi’s Pet, a bucking bull. The bull is so named because he will follow Jessica around the pasture nudging her until she pets him.
said that chiropractors undergo extensive training and must complete
work on two different aspects of the horse’s body," she said.
"Massage basically deals with the muscles, while a chiropractor may
focus on the joints."
Long is the Therapy?
of the common misconceptions about massage therapy is that one session
will cure what ails the horse, so to speak. Steward noted that most
times a regular schedule of massage can greatly benefit most horses,
especially those who work or train hard often.
normally suggest that clients set up a regular schedule based on the
horse’s need and activity," said Steward. "Some need more
attention than others.
takes her just about an hour to complete a normal session on a horse.
Once finished, Steward stressed it is important to walk the horse in
order to cool down the muscles.
said that she wants people unfamiliar with sport massage to recognize
its use and benefits.
massage maintains the entire body in better physical condition, it aids
in preventing injuries and loss of mobility, it boosts athletic
performance and endurance, and it extends both the good health and the
overall life of the animal’s athletic career," said Steward.
"If you’re curious about it—try it."
interested in contacting Steward about sport massage may call her at
is also employed by the Winston Farmers Cooperative in Haleyville, where
she offers assistance to all customers, especially those with animal
Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.