Team Absorbine® member Jim Masterson is the developer of the Masterson Method Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork®. Jim gave us an introduction to his method and talked about what inspired him to develop a therapy that is done with instead of to the horse. He also recounted some tales from his time as official equine bodywork therapist for the USA Endurance Team.
The Masterson Method® Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork® was established by Jim Masterson as a system in which horse owners learn to recognize and use the horse’s response to touch to find and release accumulated tension in key junctions of the body. Tension can be the result of conformation, lameness, work, ill-fitting tack, or sore hooves or teeth. In contrast to most traditional modalities of massage, it enables the horse to actively participate in the process of releasing tension. Releasing this tension results in an immediate improvement in a horse’s mobility, comfort, attitude, and performance. Recently, Jim has expanded the benefits of his bodywork to include programs for equine assisted therapy and mustang adoption. Absorbine® celebrates our sponsorship of The Masterson Method® as an excellent addition to our long tradition of equine wellness. We talked with Jim about the development of his method and learned about some of his best success stories.
Absorbine®: How would you describe the Masterson Method® to someone who is unfamiliar with its methodology?
Jim: It is a type of equine bodywork where we read and follow the visual responses of the horse to our touch, thereby helping it to release tension that has accumulated in the body. It’s an interactive way of working with the horse to help it release tension. You do it with the horse rather than to the horse.
Absorbine®: What inspired you to study equine massage and bodywork?
Jim: Absolutely nothing about equine massage interested me! I was grooming hunter jumpers on the show circuit and I notices that when therapists were working on horses, either massage therapists or acupuncturists hired by the trainer, there were these little changes in behavior in the horses – what I can responses – to their touch. The horse would give these responses, but the therapists weren’t really recognizing them or using them, because they were trained to do what they were trained to do. I was intrigued by the horses’ responses to what they were doing as they were doing it and that’s what got me interested. I learned that if you pay attention to what the horse’s body is telling you while you’re working on it, and you follow what the horse’s body is saying, you could get the horse to start releasing tension on its own. So that’s what piqued my interest, these changes in the horses as they were being worked on. Some changes were very subtle, and some were not so subtle.
When Conego responds to Jim’s searching by blinking, Jim begins the stay/release portion of the bodywork. He keeps his hand in the same place that generated the response, and continues to use air gap pressure until he sees senses that Conego is releasing.
Absorbine®: You were the official equine massage therapist for the USA Endurance Team from 2006 to 2014. Can you share any stories from you work with them?
Jim: In the winter of 2006 I was in Florida working on show horses and I happened to meet Valerie Kanavy, who was a two-time world champion American endurance rider, and I worked on her horse. She liked what she saw, she liked the effect the therapy had on the horses, and three months later they made her the team captain for the USA team for the World Equestrian Games in Germany that year. So she asked me if I would go with them to WEG, and that started it. In Endurance, in order to compete, you don’t have to have a lot of money; you just have to be good at it. It’s a do it yourself sport! The ethos of Endurance riding also ties in with the mission of Absorbine®, helping people care for their own horses themselves.
Absorbine®: Many therapies are done to horses, while the Masterson Method is done with the horse actively participating. In your opinion, how does this difference affect the quality of the results of the therapy?
Jim: When you are following what the horse is telling you as your working on it, you’re allowing the horse’s nervous system to be a part of the process. When you can access that part of the horse’s nervous system that releases tension, rather than guards tension, you can relax the horse. The parasympathetic nervous system relaxes and rejuvenates, while the sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight response. By following the visual responses of the horse, we are allowing the horse to use his parasympathetic nervous system to release tension on its own. We can help that with further techniques that ask for movement and manipulation in a way where we do not activate the fight or flight response, which results in bracing and further tension. Working with the parasympathetic nervous system makes the method very effective and also for a rewarding interaction with the horse that improves communication. Mechanically massaging muscles, working on the fibers of the muscle, does not involve the horse in the process of releasing tension.
After completing the bladder meridian release on both sides, Jim manipulates Conego’s poll to help him to further release tension.