What is the Masterson Method?

The Masterson Method is a method of equine bodywork in which the practitioner reads and follows the responses of the horse to touch to allow the horse to release tension in key junctions of the body that most affect performance. A unique aspect of this process is that it provides a language through which the horse can tell the owner where tension is building in the body, and also when it is releasing. The Masterson Method is something that the owner can do with the horse rather than to the horse to improve performance, communication and relationship.

Mystery Movement, Behavior or Lameness Issues

Tension can accumulate in the horse’s body to the point that performance and behavior is negatively affected. When the horse is showing signs of discomfort, misbehavior or lameness and there is nothing showing on the surface of the body, or in the feet and legs, then it’s possible that the cause is higher up, in the deeper muscles of the body such as core and postural muscles. This is referred to as undiagnosed, or “mystery” lameness.

Some characteristics of mystery lameness are that it may have developed slowly or may have shown up suddenly. It may have shown up for reasons unknown, or after a specific incident such having caught a leg in a fence.

Some examples of this might be:

  • A horse that has been involved in an accident such as a serious fall or a trailering accident in which afterwards the horse is just “not quite right” or “not the same”, but the vet can’t find anything specific.
  • A horse that has been treated for an injury such as a tendon or suspensory ligament injury, or a coffin joint or hock injection. The initial injury has been treated or is healed, yet the horse is still “not quite right”. There is the possibility that unilateral tension has developed in deeper muscles of the body due to compensating for the initial injury. This is common with injuries to a front foot.
  • A horse that is “off” or excessively short-strided behind, yet the vet can’t find anything in the feet, stifles, hocks or lower legs. Often the problem may lie in deeper core or groin muscles of the body. This may have come on suddenly as a result of a slip, fall or catching a leg in a fence, or may have developed over a period of time due to over-exertion of muscles.
  • Extreme behavioral issues for no obvious reason, such as extreme head-shyness, bucking when asked to change leads, or “dropping to the ground” when being palpated on the back or spine. These are signs that something physical may be involved.

Masterson Method Techniques have been effective at releasing tension in hidden muscles that cause mystery movement, behavior or lameness issues. The result of releasing this tension is an improvement in movement, performance and behavior. Batgirl is a case study in this.


Case Study – Batgirl at the Western States Horse Expo

We recently did a presentation at the Western States Horse Expo in Sacramento, the theme of which was “Dealing with Mystery Movement and Behavioral Issues in the Horse”. We asked for horses that fit the above description of horses with “mystery issues”. Batgirl was one of them. The purpose of the presentation was to talk about “mystery issues”; how they happen and how to recognize them; and to show the audience techniques that they can learn and use to address this common problem.

Description of Bat Girl before the Expo:

Bat Girl’s owner, Alexis:

“Bat Girl is a 10 year-old OTTB. She came off the track as a 2 year-old because she was threatening to bow a tendon. I started her as a 2 year-old and we do a little bit of everything. Our main focus is dressage, but we also do jumping and have competed in both dressage and hunter jumper shows.

Bat Girl she was off on her right front. We believed it was due to the on and off rain we had, she was out in pasture so the ground was constantly really wet and then would dry up and then get really wet again. We put her up in a stall hoping that the solid footing would help, but it didn’t. She was still very off.”

Bat Girl’s Trainer, Anita (http://hope4horses.com/ ) :

“We have a thoroughbred mare with a right front off-ness that has not been diagnosed.  It has been looked at and was “treated” as an abscess or bruising, but after 3 months she is still showing stiffness in the beginning of the rides. Her strides are short and stiff in the beginning, and saddles have been changed.  She will be available for your demos.”


Batgirl and the Masterson Method:

During the presentation Batgirl was worked on by a Masterson Method Certified Practitioner using MM Techniques. She was worked on twice more by Jim over the course of the four-day Expo outside of the presentations. She was found to have extreme tension in the poll and atlas, in her lower neck/trunk junction especially on the right, and in the hind end in the sacrum, and she was very tight in the hamstrings.

We know from experience that there are interconnections – or areas of tension that correlate to other areas or tension – in the horse. The poll/atlas, and the sacrum connection is one. If there is tension in one, there will most likely be tension in the other. There is also a connection between the junction of the lower neck and the trunk, and tension in the hind end. Bat Girl’s responses showed both of these. The sacrum and the hamstrings are also often connected, and this showed up Bat Girl. In addition to palpating and feeling pain or discomfort in these areas, the horse will tell you through visual ques where tension may be in one area, when working in another. Bat Girl was a prime example of how this works.


Case Study Results from Owner and Trainer

Bat Girl’s owner, Alexis:

“I was able to ride her and there was a huge improvement. When I let Bat Girl run in the round pen with her saddle on she kept bucking and I realized the new saddle we were using on her that we thought she liked she ended up not liking it any more, so the first thing we had to do was find a new saddle that she liked. At first she was a little stiff, but once we started moving and she was warmed up she was fantastic! She had so much more suspension and fluidity. Bat girl is doing so much better now. She is feeling so good under me and is actually at the California  State Fair in two demos a day and she is staying sound and improving every day.

Video of Bat Girl:

Bat Girl’s Trainer, Anita:

“Gotham City Thrills aka Batgirl was much better. We videoed Batgirl but the file is too big to email.  I will try again.

I finally had the chance to ride Ray (Ray was another horse in the presentation) today, and he felt much more relaxed and fluid. He seemed to turn easier and softer and was much less braced. I think the work done at Horse Expo definitely made a difference.”



The Masterson Method is about results; results observed

  1. a) during the bodywork through release responses from the horse, and
  2. b) results in improvement in movement, behavior and performance observed afterwards.

During the bodywork Bat Girl showed a significant amount of release of tension in the junctions of the  poll/atlas, neck/shoulder and the sacroiliac, as well as in interconnected and core muscles in the body due to compensation for a possible front end lameness.

As reported by the owner and trainer, Batgirl showed a significant improvement in movement, behavior and performance after the bodywork.