by Lisa Star, Fieldwork Student

The gelding put his head near mine and blew softly – his warm breath on my neck and shoulders.  I was both thrilled and yet felt a bit vulnerable – for the intimacy of this action surprised me. This has happened a few times recently and I doubt I’ll ever tire of it for it is an action freely given of the moment. As I walk down the stable aisles, horses raise their heads and look at me – regarding me and I them. I feel a profound connection and calling with these animals. The experience I have now working with them is changing my life and I find myself in a continual state of becoming.

I’ve spent most of my adult life engaged in a myriad of non-horse activities. Besides my current day job I’ve traveled the world, been a baker of cakes, am a massage therapist, singer songwriter and at one point – an owner of a record label. I’ve also danced and performed for 30 years with The Don’t Quit Your Day Job Dancers.

Busy? Definitely!  Which is why when I recently felt an increasing draw to be with horses I had no idea what to do. What that would look like and how they could possibly fit into my overly committed life was a complete mystery.

Sure, I’d ridden here and there over the years.  Galloping horribly across a field with friends with no idea who I was on top of – though admittedly the thrill of being carried with such power below me was exhilarating.  But I would learn, as I grew older (and hopefully wiser and more aware) that it might not have been the mutually pleasurable experience of the steed under my saddle! My love of horses has existed since I was a child – I was lonely and had trouble connecting with kids my age. My aunt had her own horse and gave me her ceramic horse collection, which I coveted. Voraciously reading every horse story written, I read and reread Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind, jealous of Agba, the stable boy and his horse, Sham, and their intimate connection.  At the time, I identified with these powerful beings in the only way available to me since I had no access to owning or being near horses on a regular basis. I identified as one to the best of my two-legged abilities.  I even cultivated my own “herd” of classmates until they all drifted away to other interests (boys) though I held out as long as any 12 year old could.

Fast-forward to many decades later, horses suddenly reappeared in my world in an unexpected way.  It all began with an internet search for a corporate volunteer opportunity.  As I browsed the volunteer sites, I suddenly got a glimpse of horses staring from the web page of Halleck Creek Ranch, a ranch dedicated to equine therapy riding and lessons. I burst into tears and read on about this amazing organization dedicated to life beyond barriers.  They were seeking volunteers! I was immediately intrigued and pushed for the possibility of hauling the three (unsuspecting) men in our small branch office out to the country. And sure enough, the facilities director entreated us to clean tack boxes, water troughs, helmets and anything else they could throw our way. And although it was over 100 degrees, my beet-red, sweating face was beaming.  I felt called to this place and for over four years spent every Saturday leading or side-walking with the horses and their precious riders.

On my first “official” day at Halleck as a volunteer after orientation, one of the other volunteers handed me a horse’s lead rope. “Watch Dixie – she might try and bite as she gets cinched”, she said.  Oh my!  I gripped that lead rope so tightly that first day watching her every move (Dixie never tried to bite me, by the way).  Breathe – I told myself and so began my education on the ground with horses.  And as we walked those trails over time, I began to observe two things. First, that horses insist on me being present and observant and, second, as I watched them in their duties, I noticed that they carry tension in their bodies just like we do. I started to wonder if being a massage therapist for humans could translate into bodywork with horses as a way of giving back. They give so much of themselves in this very special job.

I then spent hours on the internet searching various equine massage programs and wondered where was the connection I was looking for with the horse in all of this? I was discouraged.

Changing my search to equine bodywork had different results! Here I found YouTube videos – The Masterson Method® – equine bodywork explained, and more!  I clicked and watched and was amazed – here was a man (Jim Masterson) working with and connecting with horses in a way I resonated with.  I went to the website immediately afterwards and suddenly I was face to face with Jim cradling the head of a horse whose expression was that of deep relaxation and trust – both of them projecting an exquisite sense of intimacy. Whoa! This was it and I knew immediately that I had found what I had been searching for. I would come to know that Jim Masterson is the founder of The Masterson Method® – a method of working with the horse and not on the horse which allows the horse to release tension in essential core muscles, and in the muscles of key junctions of the body that affect movement and performance.

I read everything on the website and was amazed that it gave me information on “The Bladder Meridian” technique that I could use and practice with right away. The very next volunteer Saturday, I gingerly approached the withers of one of the usual herd and with the pads of two fingers lightly touching – waited for the horse to blink – and blink and blink and suddenly the horse gave a giant yawn and let out a deep breath. Holy moly! I started working in this way with any horse that was waiting for the next activity.  Blink, blink, lick and chew, yawn, sigh and snort!  It was amazing and I was suddenly in a much more intimate conversation with horses – one that I had craved since childhood but thought was out of reach.

I enrolled in the Weekend Seminar course– twice, then the Advanced 5-Day course and onto Fieldwork course towards certification. The training is intensive, however, their system ensures that the instruction is monitored and supported every step of the way. There is also the new Membership website for education with recorded live chat technique breakdown reviews with Jim. It also includes online forums to connect to the larger community of practitioners and students, mentoring and coaching, lots of online courses on the website and much, much more.

To accommodate this body work training and rekindled connection with horses, I have had to change, make time, slow down, breathe, soften, clear my mind of everything but envisioning the horse releasing as I move through the various techniques. Soften my gaze, soften (quiet) my mind and check my body for tension – the goal being to release anything that would potentially evoke or support a brace response in the horse I am working with.

The experience of being more present and grounded in my body has impacted my relationships both in and outside the barns.  As I continue on this journey, I am incredibly grateful for the teachings and trust of these four-legged beings and what I’m learning about all of my relationships through the practice of this work. I am challenged to become more aware of myself and others in an attentive, kind and loving manner while asserting my own space and needs.  Perhaps a herd mentality!

A mare that had once pinned her ears at me with a worried face, now gazes at me with eyes soft, head lowered and a hip dropped. I had finally slowed down and listened closely enough for her to relax and let go. I take a deep breath and am grateful for her trust and for the path I’ve embarked on so passionately.

Ahead of me there is much experience to be gained but I trust that I will be taught “of the horse”.  I also benefit greatly from not only the founder, Jim Masterson, but from all of the Masterson Method Certified Practitioners (MMCPs), coaches, trainers and mentors that have gone before me and that will come after me. They continually forge the way forward with their years of worldly experience and horsemanship manifesting in this truly amazing community of equine body workers – all advocating for the horse.

Learn more about The Masterson Method® by ordering a copy of the Beyond Horse Massage Book.

Get hands-on training at a Beyond Horse Massage Weekend Seminar near you.