Toni Horsley: Equine therapist
Article posted in the Equestrian Hub November/December 2021 issue.
A highly qualified therapist who specialises in a wide variety of alternative modalities, we asked TONI HORSLEY to tell us about her approach to healing.
How do you ‘read’ a horse?
I use all my abilities to read a horse. Typically a few things will strike me at once. The horse’s posture is a big giveaway. I like to see if they are able to stand square. Then I look at the angle of their shoulder, legs, lumbar spine, pelvis, and feet.
Their emotional state is also very informative. For example if they are fidgety and anxious this tells me a lot about what’s going on, and similarly, if they are shut down in their eye this also tells me a lot before I even put my hands on them. From experience, I can guarantee that if they’re shut down in the eye, they will be restricted in the poll.
There is a lot to be said for the trained eye and a simple scan of their body and energy field can offer a wealth of information. Things like tension in the fascia and muscle spasms are visible when you know what you’re looking for, and it is also important to know what looks ‘normal’.
Then when I touch the horse, I ‘read’ their energy and that’s where I get intuitive flashes about what might be their primary cause of discomfort. I can also feel just with a light touch the quality of their muscle tone and level of tension carried in their body. Sometimes a horse will flood me with emotional energy and if that happens I let the owner know because it’s often related to something they can control – like the horse’s companion, or anxiety over whether or not this is their permanent home.
How do you decide which modality to use?
I work with a wide variety of modalities and tools, and over the years I have fine-tuned the way I work into a pretty efficient, deeply effective and lasting treatment. The first time I see a horse it’s typically a rebuild. It’s rare to see a horse that doesn’t require re-aligning on a skeletal level, and that’s what I like to do first.
Once the horse’s entire skeleton is re-aligned, at least 80 percent of their muscle tension will have released. So I then bring in some soft tissue techniques to address any residual tension. I like to use laser therapy, and physiokey, myofascial release, Emmett Technique, and/or the Masterson method or sometimes just good old fashioned remedial massage. I do have other tools at my disposal, such as Sure Foot pads and kinesiotaping. On a follow up visit, I recheck the skeletal alignment and then work on balancing the organs and again, release any muscle tension.
Is there a modality that you prefer?
My modality of choice is the Tucker Biokinetic Technique (TBT) founded by veterinarian Dr. Renee Tucker. Dr. Tucker is an experienced equine vet also trained in equine chiropractic and acupuncture.
She found many common problems that would correct at the time of treatment, but the body would not hold the alignment. This became the driving force that led her to research and develop her own technique of energetically aligning the horse on every level – physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual. I travelled to the USA to learn directly from Dr. Tucker several years ago, and am now qualified as a Master Practitioner and Senior Instructor of TBT. At the time I had practised bodywork for over two decades, but I immediately noticed profound changes in the treatment results after the first course of TBT.
How do I know if my horse needs adjustment?
The biggest telltale sign is a change in either movement or behaviour, especially if it is out of character for the horse. Here are some other things to look out for:
- Unwillingness to go forward
- Difficulty on one rein
- Inability flex evenly on both reins through either neck or body
- Disuniting in the hind legs
- Difficulty with the canter strike off
- Head tilting or pulling on one rein
- Teeth grinding during work
- Flinching through the back when using a sweat scraper
- Hollowing the body during work
By the time the horse is pig rooting, bucking or rearing, their discomfort is at screaming point!
Some simple chiropractic checkups can ascertain whether or not a horse needs adjusting and I always perform these first. Even if a horse is mostly in alignment, I usually find something that isn’t quite right. However if a client’s horse doesn’t require treatment, I will always tell them.
I like to balance the four pillars of the horse, the poll, sternum, underneath the pelvis and the sacrum. This alone can affect great changes within their body. As far as regular clients go, I tend to tailor the frequency of sessions to suit the demands of the horse’s performance requirements and individually body needs.
I like to get horses to a point where they don’t require adjusting and sessions mostly consist of a combination of some lovely soft tissue techniques. Every technique I’ve learned has value and I think the artistry comes in how you put them together for each individual horse.
I massage people for 20 years before working with horses and I believe that the treatment should be enjoyable with the minimal amount of discomfort possible. After all, horses are incredibly generous animals who give us all. It’s the very least I can do to ensure their time with me in both therapeutic and deeply rewarding for them.
Visit www, equinebodyworx.com.au to learn more about Toni and her equine bodywork techniques and services.
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