Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Interview with Equine Bodyworker Loni Langdon

This month, I interview equine bodyworker Loni Langdon. Equine bodyworks uses massage and acupressure/acupuncture to relieve tension in a horse, mule, or donkey. I'll give it over to Loni to explain it more in depth.

1. What is equine bodyworks?
To me equine bodywork uses human touch, movement and intention to communicate with an animal to help them feel better on both a physical and emotional level. Equine bodywork involves using feel, timing, intuition, patience and communication. When I work with a horse, mule or donkey it is my goal to relax and/or stimulate muscles and systems in their body that benefit their overall wellbeing and address specific performance issues. Bodywork involves understanding anatomy, biomechanics and different equine disciplines. Being able to recognize patterns that may develop based on each animal’s individual conformation and the jobs they do is essential. In general, there are many techniques and combinations of modalities used by equine bodyworkers. Some examples include but are not limited to: acupuncture/pressure, massage, myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, passive stretching. There are also specific methods developed by folks in the equine industry such as TTouch and the Masterson Method of Integrated Equine Performance BodyworkTM.
2. How does equine bodyworks benefit horses? Bodywork can benefit equines by alleviating soreness, muscle strain and tension creating more comfort for the equine. Additional benefits include improved performance, suppleness, and mobility. Long-term benefits of regular bodywork can help reduce incidents of lameness. When done with the animal, bodywork can help them relax significantly and can create behavioral changes such as better attitude. Many owners say their horses are more willing to do their jobs or are more relaxed or energetic after having bodywork.
Working on the neck/poll
3. How can equine bodyworks help detect and relieve tension in the horse’s body that may be causing problems, such as resistance to the bit, difficulty bending on a circle, or trouble picking up the correct canter lead one way, etc?
I’m going to quote Mr. Jim Masterson here because he sums it up really well… “Repetitive work, pain, lameness, or compensation for any discomfort can cause tension patterns to develop in muscles and connective tissues that can restrict movement in joints and major junctions of the body. This accumulated tension and restricted movement can negatively affect performance and comfort. These tension patterns can themselves eventually contribute to lameness.” The Masterson MethodTM focuses on three key junctions of the body that most affect performance. They are the Poll/neck, shoulders & withers junction/hind-end junction.  

“When tension is released in any of these key junctions, tension is release in muscles and connective tissues in the larger areas of that junction and often in more remote areas of the horse’s body. The most important junction in relation to overall mobility and comfort in the horse is the poll. In my experience, tension, pain or discomfort anywhere in the horse’s body shows up in the poll.”

“The other two main junctions are junctions where the horse’s limbs join the body, so it makes sense that the forces exerted by the horse’s limbs as well as concussion during movement transfer to the body here. And when tension patterns begin to accumulate unilaterally – meaning more to one side than the other – then forces are exerted in an unbalanced manner. And performance problems can become apparent in bending, lead change, and movement.”
4. What kind of issues do client’s horses commonly have? The most common issues I see have to do with unilateral imbalances. For example, many owners say their animal has difficulty picking up or maintaining a lead or is stiffer bending to one side than the other. In these cases, I usually find there is tension in the poll and restricted range of motion through the cervical vertebrae. By working slowly and staying under an animals’ bracing response I can help loosen and relax the connective tissue between the vertebrae and in small increments increase range of motion, which in turn helps with the imbalance.

5. How did you become interested in equine bodyworks? I became interested in equine bodywork in 2013 when I was training and showing my mule Feather. She started developing tenderness in her lumber region. At that time, I had a friend who was studying the Masterson Method so I asked her to come and do some work with Feather. What she discovered was that Feather had a more primary issue in her right hind limb that was creating tension and soreness in her loin. Terry worked with Feather and I saw Feather relax and release tension like I’d never experienced with any equine (my mule being especially skeptical & introverted was challenging!). Terry showed me how to do some range of motion exercises with Feather and also showed me how to help release the tension that Feather carried in her jaw which directly affected other parts of her body. I did the exercises daily with Feather and it really helped improve her range of motion but it also helped create a deeper bond and trust in our relationship. Since then I have been fascinated and intrigued with how equine bodies work and how to help equines via bodywork.
6. How does someone become an equine bodyworks professional? People enter into the equine bodywork profession by a variety of ways. Some are physical therapists or licensed human massage therapists that expand their practice to equines. Some people go to school specifically to study equine anatomy and biomechanics and then work as sports therapists on their own or in conjunction with veterinarians. Others get certified via various programs such as massage schools or through organizations such as Equinology, or The Masterson Method. I also know people who have apprenticed with practitioners, learned from them and then gone out on their own.
For me, I find that the Masterson Method is a great fit for my style of horsemanship and personality. I have attended advanced coursework in the Masterson Method and am currently working on my certification through that program. I started by working on horses at the barn where I keep Feather and then started offered bodywork to friends outside the barn. I have expanded my practice to working on horses, mules and donkeys for other folks while getting paid to do something that I love! Right now my goal is to become a Masterson Method Certified Practitioner and use that knowledge to help my friends in having the best performance with their equine partners that bodywork can support.
Working on the hindquarters
7. What is your favorite thing about doing equine bodyworks? I am excited by what I can learn from all equines through bodywork because it is really a cooperative process. There’s a deep level of trust and communication established when a horse allows you to take their head in your arms and puts all their weight onto your shoulder. I love, love, love it when an animals says “yes! that’s the spot! stay there! or please do more!”. It’s like you are a detective searching for clues that lead you on a path towards knowledge about what’s going on in their bodies. The results can be very profound for the equine and for me it’s one more way to study horsemanship on a deeper level.
Here’s an example: I recently worked on my boyfriend’s mule, Tomas. I’d been working on him for about an hour and a half when I found an area on his sternum that just sent him into distress. It caused him to try to take off my head with his hind foot! I couldn’t even touch that area. So I focused my intention and energy where he could tolerate it and that was about 3 inches from his sternum just between his front legs. If I touched his guard hairs he would brace hard through his whole body. Luckily, he stayed with me and didn’t leave the scene (which is his typical mode of operation when he doesn’t like what’s going on). By focusing my intention and energy with my hand to this area, after about 3 minutes, he let out a big sigh then licked and chewed for about a minute. That was his way of showing me that he had released, so I decided that was a good time to quit him. Tomas walked over to the trough, had a big drink of water then proceeded to yawn repeatedly, over & over for 15 minutes! The next day I was able to palpate his sternum with no signs of tension or a big reaction like the day prior. For me, that’s hitting the jackpot! Very satisfying. My boyfriend Zack, also reported that Tomas has not been sensitive in that area since nor has he shown any signs of pain in any other areas. Considering that he ropes from Tomas regularly, it’s really pretty amazing.
I also really enjoy interacting with equine owners. The session with Tomas really made Zack, my boyfriend a believer in bodywork even though he admits he doesn’t quite get it. When I get to interact with owners who care for their equine and listen to their concerns, I’m offered a great opportunity to be of service. By listening to what the owner is saying and by feeling what an equine presents in their body, I’m able to piece together a picture of the whole horse, mule or donkey. It challenges me to think critically, keeps me wanting to learn more and is very gratifying when there’s a positive outcome. It’s great when the equine shows you they feel better and lovely when an owner gets to see & feel the results of the bodywork. I love it when an owner asks what they can do to help their equine through bodywork.
Loni releasing the sacrum by putting her hand under the tail and just barely moving it up and down.
This is called the sacral float.
8. How do you use equine bodyworks on your own mule? I have a routine each time I go to ride or work with Feather. My routine involves a quick palpation of her body to see where she might be sore or tense. If I find a place that’s very sensitive, I’ll work with her to release it. Before I turn her out to pasture, I usually do some under the tail points that release endorphins and help her relax her hind end. She loves the sacral float and a little massage to her groin. It keeps our relationship predictable and helps maintains connection that goes beyond riding. After all, equines are comfort seekers and if I can offer my mule some comfort, hopefully she’ll continue to seek me out.
9. Anything else? Anyone can learn simple and effective bodywork techniques to support their equine partner’s overall wellbeing. Touch is a language unto it’s own and bodywork can be a very positive and fun experience with your horse, mule or donkey. Who doesn’t enjoy a good massage or hug? The Masterson Method website is a great place to start with lots of video tutorials, resources and examples.


  1. great interview!! and a reminder that my mare is due for some body work haha


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