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Jim Masterson on Effective Equine Bodywork, by Nan Meek

Jim Masterson makes horses blink, yawn, and stretch. These and other reactions are welcome signs that the horses are releasing stress that can cause stiffness, pain, and reduced performance in horses from grand prix jumpers to backyard equine companions.

Even better, by teaching his Masterson MethodTM of Integrated Equine Performance BodyworkTM at workshops and certification courses, Jim is passing along his knowledge so more horses can experience the relief of release.

“We use the horse’s response to our touch to find and release accumulated stress in the connective muscles and tissues,” he explains. His method is applied to the junctions in the horse’s body that most often show the results of accumulated stress from repetitive movement: the poll and neck; the junction of neck, shoulders, and withers; and the sacroiliac and lumbar junction.

Performance horses such as the United States Endurance Team at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games, the 2008 FEI World Endurance Championships, and many US and international Grand Prix jumpers have benefited from Jim’s sure touch.

No matter the discipline, Jim’s intuitive technique can be used effectively by horse owners as well as by his certified practitioners. By recognizing the horse’s response to touch – such as blinking, licking and chewing, or yawning, among others – anyone correctly using his method can find and release stress that adversely affects performance.

Are you patient? If so, you already have one of the most important requirements for effectively using the Masterson MethodTM , as horses can hold onto stress or tension longer than you may expect. Even more important, with patience, results can be achieved with less pressure.

Jim uses memorable images to describe the various levels of pressure. “Air gap pressure is merely the heat of your hand or fingers, really no pressure at all. The other types of pressure are just what it would take to squash each item: Egg yolk pressure, grape pressure, soft lemon pressure, and hard lemon or lime pressure.

The Process: Four words describe his intuitive technique: search, response, stay, and release. “Search for the response, and stay at that spot until the horse shows signs of release,” he says simply. Some horses respond more readily than others, while others show very subtle signs, perhaps a mere softening of the eye.

Getting Started: You can use the bladder meridian technique described below to discover how the Masterson MethodTM works. It will give you a sense of both the intuitive nature of the method, and the subtle responses of your horse.

First, identify the bladder meridian, an acupuncture meridian which connects to all the other major meridians and moves chi, or energy, throughout the horse’s body. It begins above the horse’s eye, runs over the top of the horse’s head between the ears, and then a few inches below and parallel to the horse’s topline, all the way back to the “poverty line” of the hindquarters, where it follows that line down the hind leg, alongside the hock, in the groove between the flexor tendons, over the fetlock, and down the ridge on the side of the pastern to where the coronet band meets the hoof wall. That is one of the ting points on the foot where a meridian ends.

If that sounds like a fairly complete tour of the horse’s body, it is. Working with the bladder meridian gives you the opportunity to access and release a tremendous amount of the stress accumulated by the horse. It also gives you the opportunity to learn how subtle responses from the horse make a distinct difference to the horse’s comfort.

Search: Now that you’ve identified the bladder meridian, begin the “Search”. Start on the left side with a very light “air gap” touch and move your hand or your flat fingers very slowly along the bladder meridian. You’re searching for a response and you have to move slow enough to allow the horse to respond. “Take your time and throw away the clock,” Jim instructs his students.

Response: Watch for the horse’s response. Tune in to the horse’s most subtle indicators, such as blinking, lip twitching, or sighing. The response might be a little larger, such as licking or chewing, shifting weight from leg to leg, or fidgeting, a sign that the horse is about to release.

If a horse wants to move away from you, lighten the pressure even more than the “air gap”. A horse that is in survival mode may not even tolerate a light touch, and some horses respond when your hand is actually a few inches above their skin.

Remember that the horse is far more sensitive than we sometimes think, Jim advises, and use the least amount of pressure, along with plenty of time, to produce the response.

Stay: Stop and keep your hand or fingers at any spot, for any length of time that you feel is necessary to get a release or response. Sometimes you may need to stay at one place for up to a minute or more.

Release: A release can manifest as yawning, eye rolling, snorting or sneezing once or repeatedly, head shaking, and bending to scratch a leg or the back. As the release occurs, you can adjust the pressure, manipulate your fingertips or hand, or slow your hand. Let the horse’s responses guide you.

To observe Jim teaching the bladder meridian technique, visit www.mastersonmethod.com and click on training video clips.

Jim values this bladder meridian technique as a way for you to learn how the horse responds, and as a way for the horse to get an idea of the level of touch you will be using. In some instances, this will be all you do with a horse; in others, it will be a prelude to further body work. In any case, it establishes the level of language used, whether shout or whisper.

“The main thing I want you to get with this exercise,” Jim says, echoing many a dressage instructor, “is the correlation between your hand, and the subtle responses of the horse.”

Anyone practicing equine bodywork should be aware of the inherent risks associated with all equine activities, including the exercises described in this article, which are in no way intended as a replacement for veterinarian intervention and treatment. Always consult your veterinarian before choosing any therapy for your horse.

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