Team Absorbine® member Jim Masterson is the developer of the Masterson Method® Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork®. Jim described more specifics about his bodywork, including interesting and challenging cases, how tension accumulates in horses, and how to develop your own bodywork skills.
We spoke with Team Absorbine® member Jim Masterson, developer of the Masterson Method® about some of the best stories he has from years of practicing bodywork. He also discussed some of his observations over the years of how horses develop tension and how horse owners can best help their horses to release that tension.
Absorbine®: Your method is based off of responding to the horse’s reactions. What are some of the most surprising or funniest reactions you have seen from horses you have worked with?
Jim: You can watch some of our YouTube videos to see! When the horse starts to release tension, he will often start to yawn. Sometimes the horse will yawn five, ten, fifteen times in a row! A lot of horses don’t want to show you the release in tension. In the wild, they can’t show any weakness or signs of giving in; it’s a part of their survival and they’re still survival animals. However, when you’re working on them and they have to release the tension and show that release, sometimes they’ll go walk around behind you and start yawning. In those moments the horse completely lets its guard down and you can see what is happening with the horse.
Absorbine®: Can you tell us about one of the most challenging cases you have faced?
Jim: Some horses are extremely sore, so it can be more difficult to release their tension. It just takes longer; you have to wait longer. With this method, less is more. So, for example, if you have a horse that is extremely sore in the poll and extremely head shy – pain in the poll is often the reason for head shyness – you can’t just start pushing or massaging or bending. If you just keep your hand up there with what I call air gap pressure, barely touching the skin, the horse will start to release his tension because he can’t brace against no pressure. If you bring the horse’s awareness to tension in a way that they can’t brace against it, their body will start to release it. So you have to use less and wait longer and allow the horse’s body to release the tension. Even with the sorest horse, if you go light enough and long enough, their body is going to start releasing the tension. There are also horses that are extremely territorial or defensive, where that is just their nature, their personality, and you have to figure out a way to work with them. This can be challenging, but the unique thing about this method is that you don’t have to do more in this type of case, you have to do less. It’s about figuring out a way to allow the horse’s body to go through the process. I have worked with a lot of horses that have been this way: they’re tough horses, they guard against pain, and they just hold it in until it reaches the point where they are rock hard. However, you can still get through that shell if you stay light enough, long enough. I’ve also had horses release enough deep tension, in abdominal or groin muscles, that they have almost fallen over.
Absorbine®: Can you describe how you have seen relationships between horses and riders evolve and improve due to participation together in this therapy?
Jim: A lot of times the horse’s personality is affected by their comfort level or the pain they have in their body. So a horse will be nippy or guarded with somebody and they’re that way because there is pain. When you do bodywork on them and it releases, then their personality will change and that changes the relationship a huge amount. In general, even in clinics and courses where we are teaching people to work on horses – and they are usually not using their own horse – when the horse realizes that the person is finding where they have pain and allowing them to release it, an immediate bond seems to form. The horse understands that you are reading their body language, that you are not threatening them, and that the result feels good. I’ve received emails from people who have tried the bladder meridian on their horse and afterwards it was like they had a new horse.
Absorbine®: How is it that horses accumulate tension that they are unable to release without human intervention?
Jim: I think that horses are wired to cover up any pain because they are herd animals and any sign of weakness makes them vulnerable. If they fall behind, they will be left behind, so they really don’t have any other option when they are sore than to cover it up and block it out with tension. Their survival instinct says cover it up and keep going. Riders need to be aware that repetitive movement and motion of the muscles of the horse – drilling things over and over – can have a negative effect on the body. I think we assume that since the horse is doing it, everything is okay, but doing things over and over creates muscle tension in the body. The muscles start to tighten up and stop working efficiently, and then the horse begins to use other muscles to compensate. Through doing the bladder meridian, a very simple technique, the horse will tell you how much tension it’s holding that you might not have noticed otherwise.
Absorbine®: What percentage of horses do you believe have their performance negatively affected by tension?
Jim: All horses who are competing are athletes and they are going to have tension. Most horses, if you did bodywork on them, would improve their movement and improve their performance. Learning how to read what’s going on with this method of bodywork allows you to help your horse. The horse tells you where he is accumulating tension and when he is releasing it, so you can keep up with that tension that builds in the horse’s body. Horses can get sore from repetitive movement, but also from foot or joint issues, ill-fitting tack, the rider being crooked, etc.
The Masterson Method® in action