Helping Horses and Humans Feel Better
by Kim Roe
How did you start with horses?
My aunt was responsible for infecting me with the horse bug. She lives on a large farm in Wales and hosted me for school vacations. I took lessons at local riding schools around Oxford, played with jumping, cross-country, gymkhana games, and some simple dressage maneuvers.
After a long break from riding from my mid-teens to my mid-twenties, I decided to take a vacation to a guest ranch in Montana in 2012. I met my husband, Chase, there; he worked at the ranch that summer, and taught me a lot about horses. I moved to the U.S. in 2014.
What prompted your career?
In my teens, I watched an equine physical therapist work on a horse that belonged to a friend. My friend turned to me and said, “When you grow up you should be an equine physical therapist.” It didn’t cross my mind until years later, after graduating from university and after a short career as a dancer that left me with chronic pain. I received treatment from physical therapists in London and was completely inspired. My friend’s career advice about working on horses bubbled back into my mind.
After my life-changing trip to Montana, I took a one-day course in basic equine massage, and began a physical therapy degree in London. When it became clear that my life was steering me to move across the ocean, I reassessed my career plans.
I had a great deal of education from the physical therapy program that I did in London. After I moved to Washington, I trained as a human massage therapist. Then I did an intensive 5-day course in the UK in Equine Sports Massage with Gilliyan Carter-Morgan of Equi-Therapy UK, one of the leading therapists and educators in the field. I obtained my diploma several months later and was thrilled to receive the highest grade possible.
However, I live and work in Washington, which has very stringent licensing laws for animal massage, and there are just a handful of schools with approved programs. My UK diploma was not enough for me to work on horses legally, so I did a second program with Mary Lou Langley at Langley Equine Studies in Soap Lake, WA. This was a 3-month course designed specifically for human therapists to add equine work to their license, so it was perfect for me. I crammed the course into one month, graduating with honors, and obtained my large animal massage endorsement on my massage license shortly after that. I now work on both horses and humans.
What is it you love most about your job?
I love the challenge. I play detective and listen to every tiny signal, to “see” with my hands. I love finding that magic spot that seems to be the key, and watching a horse release, unwind, relax; sometimes they say thank you in their own special way.
When I hear about the dramatic improvement in a horse’s way of going after a massage, it’s a joy. I’ve worked on horses with “conformation issues”, only to have their body shape realign and return to a healthy posture. I have been lucky enough to treat horses with chronic issues that have affected them for years of their lives, and helped transform them into supple athletes in their teens and twenties.
What is it you like least about it?
When I can’t help. No amount of massage can cure neurological disease, or structural mutations like a misshapen sacrum. At times, lifestyle factors or training techniques counteract the bodywork I do, and I end up treating symptoms. People want to do their best by their horses, but sometimes good intentions can be very damaging to a horse. The most common ones I see are overweight horses, bad saddle fit, and poor hoof care.
What are your goals for your business?
I will be opening my home office for human work soon. I’d love to offer clinics for horse owners to learn basic bodywork techniques. I have several things on my list for my continuing education and tools that I want to add to my services soon. One day, I would like to open a school for equine massage and have a rehab center where horses can come for intensive bodywork and specific physical conditioning.
What kind of riding do you do?
I have hung up my English spurs and now ride Western. I do my best to follow the principles of traditional Californio horsemanship and compete in Ranch Sorting. I have great support and help from my husband—he is a wonderful horseman and pushes me to keep going when I have a difficult day or a disappointing ride.
Anything else you would like people to know about your business?
My website (www.equilibriumwa.com) is the best place to find out about what I offer, and the blog page is where I share articles and ideas of interest. You can also follow me on Facebook at my business page, Equilibrium Bodywork. I’m always happy to answer questions!