Hands-on for horses-Equine Massage Therapy

Hands on for Horses

GRANGEVILLE -- If you’re looking to feel better, Nina Beckwell has literally the hands-on approach to help improve your physical well-being.

And that goes for your horse, too.

I actually went into equine massage therapy before human,” Beckwell said. “I knew I didn’t want to be a veterinarian, I knew I didn’t want be a horse trainer. I wanted to work during the week and have the weekends off to enjoy my own animals and family. So, I decided to go into this.”

“I’ve always enjoyed the medicinal side of healing,” she continued, “and I feel this fits along with massage therapy, for both humans and horses.”

Beckwell grew up in the Chicago area where, during high school, she went for and received her certification in equine massage therapy in 2000. A year later she became certified in human massage. She did both sides of the massage business there until she encountered Grangeville outfitter and guide, Miles Hatter.

“I bought a horse from his family. That’s originally how we met,” she smiled “He’s just an all-around good guy.” She moved out here nearly seven years ago, and the pair is currently engaged.

Human massage is Beckwell’s day job. She owns her own business, renting a room out of Final Touch Salon in Grangeville. Here she works 15-20 hours a week on new and regular clients anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes each. For all, the massage is for overall health, helping people with relaxation or issues with stress.

“I work with chiropractors, physical therapists, doctors -- They will all refer patients to me if there’s something that they feel is musculature; they will refer them to me to work on their everyday health and performance.” Beckwell’s satisfaction is in the results of physically working muscles to reduce tension and stiffness, which in turn provides not only physical comfort, but also mental clarity.

“I have a nurturing side. I like helping people, making them feel better and seeing a difference,” she said. This also applies in her equine therapy, as well, for which she travels back to Illinois for seven days every month to do this exclusively for a range of clients.

“I do anything from the weekend horse owner, who rides two times a week, to world champion horses, and anything in between,” Beckwell said, but she’s quick to add she is just part of a team who contributes to the horse’s overall well-being. “The farrier, trainer, riders, chiropractors, dentists. It takes a circle of us to get a horse to its top level.”

Beckwell starts with a horse that is first referred by a state veterinarian. Her examination will assess proper saddle fit – a common problem in the industry that can result in a buildup of scar tissue along muscles, affecting both performance and animal attitude. She will then conduct a full massage, from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, starting at the “pole” of the horse – behind its neck and ears – and working down to the knees and hocks, and the full neck and body. From this she can advise the owner on why they are experiencing horse issues due to the problems she’s found, and advise on exercises to keep loose muscle areas of concern.

Therapy starts at twice a week, backing off to every two and then three weeks, depending on how the horse responds to treatment. If Beckwell finds areas beyond her expertise, she refers them for a veterinary exam.

“I only use my hands. I use no tools of any kind,” she said. “I’m just working on the musculature. I’m not moving bone, not giving injections. It’s much like human massage: You get in there and really work deep on those muscles, if the horse will allow you to.”

“You can tell if a horse is enjoying it and it’s working for them,” Nina continues. “You look for quiet eyes. You look at the ears, that it has a comfortable body stance. Licking and chewing are good. These are signs they are enjoying it, that you got that knot out and they are going to relax.”

As part of her therapy, Beckwell deals with horses that have been abused. These situations require a lighter, slower touch to get them comfortable again with having hands on them and getting them to relax.

“It’s just trying to get that animal’s trust back again,” -- allowing the therapist to work around their head, get the licking and chewing motion going, get that quiet eye -- and help them overcome that fear of human contact, Beckwell said.

What problems have the owners seen? Are their horse’s ears pinned back? Is it trying to reach around and bite you when you put on the saddle? Is it not tracking properly? Knowing your animal – what it was and what it has become – can be indicators massage therapy is warranted, Beckwell said.

Warning signs of animal discomfort help therapists to back off or end treatment – “They aren’t always bad,” she says – and so far, Beckwell hasn’t been kicked by a client – horse or otherwise.

Beckwell said she enjoys having owners present and interacting with her while she’s doing massage, so she can be showing them what they can be doing in between treatments to help their horse.

“I love educating owners, helping people understand what I’m talking about,” she said. Having them present, Beckwell can also assess the riders – how they walk and carry themselves, how they sit in the saddle. “Does that horse have back issues because of how the rider is sitting or standing? Are they heavier on one side or the other? I can look at those issues and work with the rider, as well,” she said.

Beckwell says therapy is good for any horse as, like humans, they age and suffer from body hurts, arthritis and other musculature problems in the same ways. They also, like humans, enjoy the massage for its touch, the physical relief and its loving and caring ability.

“I’m lucky, and I’m fortunate. God has blessed me well,” she said. “I love my jobs, I love my clients, and I love hearing their stories.”

Ask Beckwell questions on equine therapy by phone or text at 630-605-9616. Along with this, she creates horse hair jewelry as a side business for those wanting a memento of their favorite animal. Find her on Facebook at Trinity’s Treasures Horse Hair Jewelry.

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