A few weeks ago, one of the women I know through yoga class approached me about coming out to the barn. She lives nearby and has been out in the past with the gal who does reiki on the horses. She’d read about something called The Masterson Method and wanted to try it out. I told her I was more than happy to have her over- I’m always game for trying new things.
Before she came over, I read up on The Masterson Method, as I wasn’t familiar with it. The technique was developed by equine massage therapist Jim Masterson, who was the official massage therapist for the USET endurance teams from 2006 to 2014. The basic premise is that practitioners release tension in a horse’s body via an interactive process of touches and releases. Anyone can learn to do it through the books, DVDs, and YouTube videos available. You can also become a certified practitioner through what sounds like a fairly rigorous and lengthy process.
Masterson summarizes the method with “search, response, stay, release”. The key to achieving releases with this technique is being patient: you must apply pressure lightly and move slowly.
Masterson suggests beginning on the bladder meridian. It’s a major acupuncture meridian that runs down each side of the horse’s body about two inches parallel to the topline and down the side of the hind leg. It runs through three major junctions (poll, withers, lumbar), connects to other meridians, and is easy to reach. You start at the horse’s poll and slowly move your fingers down the horse’s neck along the meridian until the horse gives some indication of tension (“search”). The amount of pressure you should use varies from horse to horse, but it’s better to start very lightly. The horse can indicate tension in a variety of ways: blinking, fidgeting, nibbling (“response”). Once the horse has shown you where it’s carrying tension, you keep your fingers on the tense spot until the horse releases (“stay”). Horses will indicate release by licking and chewing, lowering the head, sighing (“release”).
Candy was our first guinea pig. She’s a pretty friendly horse, for all that she’s riddled with anxiety. The Masterson Method books and videos suggest having the horse loose in a stall while you work on it, but Candy seemed content to hang out in the shady part of the pasture with us. My friend began at Candy’s poll on the left side and as she worked her way down Candy’s neck, Candy started to fidget. She didn’t seem interested in leaving altogether, but she was clearly uncomfortable. My friend kept her fingers very gently on Candy’s neck until Candy lowered her head and licked and chewed. She kept going along the bladder meridian, pausing any time Candy seemed to respond. Candy gave several more releases. She seemed super into the technique; it was maybe the most relaxed I’d ever seen her.
When my friend switched to the other side of Candy’s body, Candy was way less relaxed. Her eyes lost the half-closed sleepy look and she fidgeted more often. She let out a big yawn after a couple of minutes, and then walked away. Candy wasn’t upset or distressed, but she had very clearly had all she could take.
The next time my friend came out, she wanted to work on Moe. Moe’s personality is much different from Candy’s. She is affable and pleasant without being pushy. He’s aggressively friendly- he loves people and is always, always glad to see me (or Johnny, or any other human being). I thought he would be totally into The Masterson Method, but he was definitely not! I brought him into the barn and held him in the aisle while my friend worked. He fidgeted constantly and seemed very uncomfortable. He gave the tiniest releases, but his attitude was definitely one of tolerance instead of enjoyment. His behavior is intriguing- he doesn’t seem like a tense mess, but is he stiffer or more nervous than he lets on?
My friend did a little work on Gina after we put Moe back in the pasture. Gina dropped into a zen-looking state almost immediately. Her eyes closed, her lower lip drooped, and her ears flopped. She relaxed completely. I was very surprised- Gina’s not as anxious as Candy, but she isn’t an easygoing horse. She didn’t appear to have much tension to let go, but it was clear she was enjoying the attention and technique.
I’m excited to practice The Masterson Method on my horses myself! It was really interesting to see how they responded, and it was helpful for me to watch someone work on them (even if that someone is inexperienced). If you’re interested in trying it, I recommend watching videos on the YouTube channel or reading articles on the website.
Have you ever tried this variety of equine massage? What about acupuncture or traditional equine massage?