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Published August 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

A massage for a horse, of course, of course!

If stress is affecting producers’ horses, they may want to consider an alternative method of relaxing them: Equine massage.

By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press

If stress is affecting producers’ horses, they may want to consider an alternative method of relaxing them: Equine massage.

Said to help horses relax, ease muscle tension and help release toxins in their body, horse massage has prompted about 20 schools throughout the U.S. to open and offer accredited certification.

A love of horses motivated Samantha Unhjem, of Bowman, to receive her degree from the Rocky Mountain School of Animal Acupressure and Massage in Colorado and says there are many benefits to equine massage.

“I’ve been working with horses my whole life,” Unhjem said. “It just one of those things I’ve been interested in and finally went and did it.”

Unhjem completed a two-week course to be certified and will complete continuing education throughout while practicing.

As of now, Unhjem travels to places to practice, having gone as far as 250 miles.

“It’s hard to get people interested in it,” Unhjem said. “Some people are very skeptical about it. It’s just like humans, your back goes out of place and you go to the chiropractor but they also recommend a massage to go along with it.”

The massage does a variety of things for horses.

“It helps with pulled muscles and sore joints, it helps fight off soreness,” Unhjem said. “Horses get so relaxed that as you’re pushing on them and manipulating their muscles they start to rock and sway. I’m short so I have a stool I bring with to get to their back if I need it.”

Jonathan Rudinger, president of the International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork in Ohio, said equine massage is the “granddaddy” of animal massage.

“There are other people who specialize with work in cats, there are some people who work with birds, we have had people work with llamas, with ferrets and there’s a fella that works with walruses,” Rudinger said. “There’s a huge range. Equine massage is kind of where it got accepted first of all.”

Equine massage is used in horses used for racing as well as those who have them as a hobby, he added.

“When I started doing equine massage in the early 80s, there were very few of us around,” Rudinger said. “People would look at us strangely and say, what? You just want to rub my horse? Once they saw what the effects where it became more and more accepted.”

Unjhem charges $50 for an hour-long massage, from their head to their tail. If the client is outside of 20 mile radius, mileage is also charged.

The equine and pet/animal industry has embraced the idea, Rudinger said.

“I don’t know how many people are practicing, but I would say in the thousands,” Rudinger said. “Horses are a unique group; basically they view everything as a threat. They have a lot of fear-based behavioral issues and they can easily be enhanced with repetition and reinforcement. Massage can identify what those are and when confront them and massage can be a reward.”