The Power of Touch

A few years before I owned my first horse, I came to know him at a therapeutic riding facility.  Over several years his pain level seemed to be increasing.  A colleague and I decided to see if we could find a properly fitting saddle for him, and perhaps that would resolve his pain issues.  I remember gently touching his back on both sides of his spine, looking for where he would pin his ears.  That is where he hurt.  His shoulders were uneven and western saddles tended to pinch them.  He made it clear he did not like being touched on his shoulders.  If I touched his shoulders, he pinned his ears.  By the end of the afternoon we found an English saddle that seemed to steer clear of his shoulder pain.

Every time I exercised him I first checked his back for pain.  I watched his eyes and ears for communication from him as I slowly ran my fingers along his back.  As I did this routine more and more, I began to see another pattern developing.  There were places I touched where he would relax and close his eyes.  Fascinated by this response I was soon looking for the places where he wanted to be touched, rather than the places that caused him pain.

After a few months of this new discovery, I started experimenting with my own thoughts as I touched him.  One afternoon I put my hands on him, and in my head I expressed my appreciation of him.  As I consciously said in my head how much I appreciated him, he relaxed and closed his eyes right in time with my thought.  I knew horses could read people inside and out, but this was the first time I experienced a purposeful thought in my head and his corresponding response, all in silence.  Fascinated again, I spent many afternoons just experimenting with positive thoughts in my head and observing his response.

Several years later, I came upon a type of body work for horses that is similar to massage called the Masterson Method, where the horse directs the human on where and how to touch.  I realized I had learned many of the basic Masterson Method techniques by accident from my horse.  Not only does this type of body work help the horse physically, it also increases the bond between horse and human.

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My first horse getting one of his many massages.

In the photo above, notice that his ears are slightly back, which means I don’t have quite the right touch or place he wants my hands.  I can try many things in my own body to change this:  breathe, change the thoughts in my head, decrease the level of touch, or move a few millimeters to a new location.  His ears will tell me when I get it right.  Try it with your own horse.  The horse will let you know when you’ve found the spot.

Notice his ears in this photo.  My sister gets it just right.
Notice his ears in this photo. My sister gets it just right.

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