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Equine Bodyworkers; Certified Doesn’t Mean Qualified

Regulations versus Certifications for Equine Bodyworkers

Brittany Gray explains the Regulations for Equine Bodyworkers; don’t let just anyone work on your horse!

Unfortunately, equine bodywork is not as regulated as it should be. Unlike licensed human massage therapy, there is no state board that regulates who is allowed to become an equine bodyworker. While human massage therapists are commonly required to obtain a license, complete a specific number of training hours from an accredited massage therapy school, pass a licensing exam, and keep up with continued education requirements, the only regulations that equine massage therapists have to follow are state laws that vary state to state. There isn’t a state board monitoring the quality of education that equine bodyworkers must put themselves through before calling themselves certified practitioners. There is not a license that they must obtain. In many states they will require bodyworkers to be certified; but they don’t care where the certification comes from.

Types of Programs to Watch out for

Many certification programs have jumped on the opportunity to capitalize on this relaxed system. It seems that many of their top priorities are to make it quick and easy for students to get certified through their course. They will do the bare minimum to prepare their students and then hand out a piece of paper at the end that allows uneducated “professionals” to go work on other people’s horses. But hey, this will increase enrollment, which in turn increases profit. So who cares, right?!

Online Courses for Bodyworkers

For example, if you’re considering hiring a bodyworker that received their certification solely through an online program… run far and FAST. Equine bodywork is not something that you can thoroughly and confidently learn how to do while watching a computer screen. Sure, you can learn the basics or utilize it for continued education. But you need to be able to understand what pressure feels like, know when to use less/more pressure, how to read a horse in the moment, what “normal” tissue should feel like, what Abnormal tissue feels like, be able to find bony landmarks on the horse, be able to identify contraindications when present, have experience handling all kinds of horses, know when it’s time to refer a horse to the vet or another professional, etc. How are you going to learn the FEEL of equine bodywork online? Especially to the extent of doing it for your profession. 

Short & Sweet Programs

And then there are programs that certify someone after a day or two of classes… what trade do you know of that allows someone to become a certified professional in the field after two days of training? Two days and then they’re sent off on their own working on a 1,500 pound living animal. It just doesn’t make sense. How are you expected to cram in all of the relative topics in two days…

For example…

  • Body mechanics
  • Conformation
  • Contraindications
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Safety
  • Body Mechanics
  • Massage Strokes
  • Different Modalities
  • How to Structure a Session
  • Session Reports
  • Gait Analysis
  • Lameness
  • Basic Saddle Fit
  • General Management
  • Liability/Waivers/Insurance
  • Marketing
  • Business/Finance
  • Client Management
  • Etc.

There is no way students are coming out of a two day course covering all of that. What’s the quality of service they are going to provide if they haven’t had all of the necessary training?

Equine Massage Routines 

Or maybe they were certified through a program that only teaches them a massage “routine” that they are meant to perform on every horse they work on, no matter what the horse’s age, workload, lifestyle, conformation, discipline, age, concerns, etc., may be. There is no personalization in their sessions because they weren’t properly taught how to analyze the horse and create a customized session based on what each horse personally needs. It doesn’t sound like you’ll be getting the results you’re hoping for if you go with this bodyworker.

The Bare Minimum: No Horse Experience Required

There are even programs that enroll students with no previous horse experience at all. They proudly list this as a benefit of taking their course. If you’re a horse person, you know how awkward and uncomfortable non-horse people look around horses. Imagine unknowingly hiring one to work on your horse. Now that just sounds downright dangerous.

The Moral of the Story

Are you starting to see my point? There is so much information and hands-on learning that goes into becoming a quality certified equine bodyworker. Too much to cram into an online or two day course. Equine bodywork is more than just a routine that you were taught helps every horse; it’s having a well rounded understanding of equine wellness and being able to adapt to create a customized maintenance plan for each horse. Then on top of all of that, you need to be able to educate owners, managers, trainers, etc. on WHY you are suggesting and doing the things that you are.

The moral of the story is: be cautious of who you are hiring to work on your horses. Do your research on potential practitioners and ask them quality questions before adding them to your horse’s wellness team. There are many qualified bodyworkers out there, you just have to weed through the broad spectrum of “certified” professionals to find them.

July 7, 2023

Brittany Gray 🇺🇸

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