Equine Massage or Feldenkrais Method for Horses? What’s the Difference?


Mary helping a horse discover freedom of movement in his ribcage.

Many people who see me work with horses assume I’m doing a gentle form of equine massage. And I can’t blame them.  They see me touching a horse, who is usually quite relaxed and happy. When I explain to the onlookers that I’m not an equine massage therapist, but a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method®, I am often met with a blank stare.  Then they ask,  “What’s the difference between massage and the Feldenkrais Method?”   

Here’s my explanation in a nutshell.  With equine massage and many other bodywork approaches, the therapist generally focuses on releasing tension in the horse’s muscles.  This can be a pleasurable, helpful approach.  However, as a former equine massage therapist, I found that most horses would return to their chronic muscular tension and poor movement habits.

And if you think about how the brain organizes the body, this makes sense. If you focus on changing muscles, you’re dealing with lower-level organization.  After all, muscles don’t give orders, they only take them.  It’s the horse’s nervous system that tells the muscles when to contract and relax.

Let’s imagine that a horse is having difficulty rounding his back.  The veterinarian rules out a serious medical condition, but notes that the horse’s back is sore and tight.  It’s tempting to simply focus on relaxing the horse’s back muscles.  And doing so would probably help the horse feel better and be able to round his back more easily too.  For a little while.

Manola Mendez

Dressage master Manolo Mendez

But rounding the back actually requires an exquisite coordination of various parts of your horse’s body. It’s not just about the back muscles. For example, did you know that your horse’s ribcage plays an important role in rounding his back? Unfortunately, many horses have restricted movement in their ribcage, which can create chronic tension in the extensor muscles of the back.  This makes rounding the back difficult and leads to a tight, sore back.

By gently shifting the horse's weight, Mary can feel if a horse loads his limbs evenly.

Helping a horse feel the connection between his spine and his sternum so that he can use his back more freely.

So we need to remind the horse that moving his sternum and ribs in specific ways can release the tension in his back and make his life a whole lot easier.  We’re communicating with the horse’s nervous system when we do this. And we’re getting to the root cause of the horse’s problem.

As a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, I use gentle, precise touch and movements to help the horse feel how all his parts can work together harmoniously, improving body awareness, athletic performance and confidence.

In a career spanning more than 25 years, I have helped horses with a multitude of problems.  To list a few, I have helped: stiff horses become more flexible; tense, resistant horses relax and enjoy their work; “girthy” horses find pleasure in being saddled (yes!); and dressage horses have more swing and impulsion. In short, I help horses maximize their movement potential.

Equine Feldenkrais sessions have benefited horses of all ages and levels of fitness, from improving the performance of an Olympic-level equine athlete to helping an arthritic gelding move more freely.

A Feldenkrais Method® session can help your horse:

  • Engage the hind end and round the back easier
  • Eliminate stiffness, back soreness and other discomforts
  • Improve flexibility and the ability to bend in both directions
  • Make tacking up a pleasant experience for even “girthy” horses
  • Promote long-term soundness by reducing strain on joints and muscles

Interested in learning more?  Click here for a list of Mary’s workshops and clinics.

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People are talking about Mary’s clinics:

“Mary Debono is skilled at making both you, the rider, and your horse feel better than you ever have. Through exercises, workshops and hands-on technique, Mary teaches ways to be more balanced and flexible, whether you have two legs or four.”

– Victoria Cummings, author of Teachings of the Horse

“Mary has been instrumental in keeping myself and my horses balanced and supple. She has an unbelievable gift which she shares in her work.”

– Shannon Peters, FEI dressage competitor

“If you missed the Chapter-sponsored clinic with Mary Debono, Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, you missed a GREAT clinic! Our Feldenkrais clinic on November 5 was a sell-out and hugely rewarding for the participants.

“Clinician Mary Debono taught attendees about bio-mechanics and new ways of moving to break old habits. Gentle exercises were used to interrupt ingrained patterns of movement that may be unwittingly leading to asymmetrical movement or even pain. There were many “aha” moments as people unlocked resistance and discovered a new range of motion for their bodies. At the end of the session, bodies felt better aligned, and people were more tuned in to how they moved, and how their movement habits influenced their life and their riding! Feedback was overwhelmingly positive and demand for this clinic was so strong, that we may try to hold another. We’ll keep you posted!”

– San Diego Chapter California Dressage Society Newsletter

Please click here if you would like to learn how the Feldenkrais Method can benefit equestrians.  I wrote this article for Equine Wellness Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 2.

Would you like to know if a Feldenkrais session can benefit your horse? Or you? Please email Mary@DebonoMoves.com. Let me know what concerns you have about your horse, yourself or your dog. I’d love to hear from you!

Mary Debono
Mary Debono, is a Certified Feldenkrais® Practitioner who teaches people how to increase mobility and confidence while minimizing the effects of aging and injury. She is the author of the award-winning, Amazon #1 bestseller, "Grow Young with Your Dog," and the creator of Debono Moves. Mary travels internationally to teach workshops with an equine, canine/feline or human focus. She also offers online consultations. Mary lives in sunny Southern California with her husband, horse, dog and cat. Visit her at www.DebonoMoves.com
Mary Debono
Mary Debono

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