To complement “Massage for Dogs: Legal & Marketing Considerations” in the March 2016 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.
Equine massage therapy is in demand in horse venues including show jumping, racing and recreation. Equine massage as a specialty demands specialized knowledge, the ability to work with horses, and, importantly, the ability to market effectively to horses’ owners.
Horse and Human
Horse people have a very specific kind of relationship with their horses. Repetitive exercises, training trials, errors and successes develop loyalty and responsibility. Their relationships develop through mutually shared moments. Both the horse and the human become attuned to each other’s physical and mental ways. Riders know their horses’ personalities and define themselves through the ongoing process of deep engagement. Owners tend to identify with their horses’ personalities.
Horse people are so profoundly connected to their animals that when their horses are injured, or not functioning optimally, they are devastated.
Horses are magnificent, and in my opinion, their owners are just as magnificent. Sure, horses are prey animals, and everything they do is sourced in that insecurity—or so we’ve been taught. But horses are not helpless. They are neither fragile nor vulnerable. In the wild, they are self-sufficient. When they think they are threatened, they can defend themselves.
Horses are a bundle of tantalizing contradictions. Horses are sweet, and they can be recalcitrant. They are gentle, and they can be wild. Horses are loving, and they can be distant. They are trusting, and they are suspicious. Horses are usually sound, and they can be out of balance. They are usually healthy; and they can be sick. They can occasionally be forgiving; and they can be spiteful. Horses can be forgetful; and they can remember a perceived wrong forever. They can be quiet and gentle; they can lash out, kicking, biting or whipping you with their tails. Horses can intentionally step on your foot. They can crush you into a wall.
Horse owners know their horses can be dangerous. When we are working on horses in their stalls or on crossties, they are often aggressive, moody and feisty. Their owners will watch to see how you handle their unhappy and hurting partner.
This makes sense, though. If horses were perfectly balanced, you would not have been called in and your services would be unnecessary.
Horse owners’ horses are four-legged spirits, almost godlike in their movements and petulant aloofness. Horse owners have a lot in common with their horses.
Market Equine Massage
Marketing to horse owners includes the horse owners trusting the equine massage therapist, before they hire you to work on their precious co-beings. So, the core of an equine massage therapist’s success in marketing is presenting oneself as possessing the skill and knowledge sets the horse owners need.
Being an entrepreneur takes planning, work and perseverance. The trusting relationship begins with first impressions; therefore, you must create the visual and emotional perception that you are the one who will get the job done.
- Get the job done. Your demonstrations will prove your competence and skills. When you are first starting your business, arrange to demonstrate on friends’ horses. People will trust you when they observe that you know what you are doing. They know the signs of comfort, evidenced by the horse responding and shifting. Massage your own horse often, especially when you know people will be watching. This is basic advertising, plus it is great practice, and your horse will benefit from your massage.
- Be present. Listen to what you are told. Listen to the horse’s history, the complaint, and the stories that describe how the horse ended up in this condition. Don’t make assumptions. Ask questions to ensure clarity. Your clients will appreciate that your intention is to be specific. Communicate as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings and drama.
- Know your stuff: anatomy, pathology, kinesiology, saddle fitting, leg-and-hoof maintenance, equine body language, equine breeds, temperaments and behaviors, which massage techniques and stretches affect which organs and muscle groups. There is a lot to know. Horse owners are judging you by your confidence and ability to navigate all of these knowledge bases.
- Be media-savvy. Make sure that your website, Facebook page, Pinterest boards, and business cards are all current and updated. Make sure the image you present is one that will instill confidence and communicate your passion for what you do. Clients want to read what others have written about you and your work. So, in your media releases, include testimonials. Also include your connections with vets, farriers, barn owners, celebrities and the school where you received your training and credentials.
- Dress for success. Your first impression will give your potential clients a feeling for your abilities and standards of practice. We may not want to admit it in an age of jeans and sweatshirts, but you will be judged by the way you comport yourself, and that includes what you wear and how you wear it. Take care in how you groom yourself.
- Demonstrate common sense. When I bought my first horse, a beautiful liver chestnut Morgan, I was a complete novice. I was apprehensive of every terrible thing that could befall him. Our first spring together was very rainy; many of the horses were being treated for thrush. I, being a city boy, wondered how birds were infecting our horses’ hooves. One morning, I noticed a groom taking a break, relaxing against a fence. For me, the stalk of hay he was chewing gave him instant credibility.
I approached him and asked what I ought to do if my horse’s hooves got too wet. He smiled, gazed up toward the sky, sucked his teeth, and drawled, “Stand him outside where it’s dry.”
“OK,” I said, feeling my ignorance, “What do I do when his hooves get too dry?”
He paused for the three beats that make for good comedy timing and grinned, “Stand him in a puddle.”
The Competent Equine Massage Therapist
Your clients look to you for advice, support and competence. They pray that you know more than they do. They pray that you can restore and enhance their horse’s movement and temperament. They pray that you have the skills that will make their horses the godlike spirits of perfection they love. Their need to be responsible in their relationship with their horse, their self-image, depends on it.
These six skills are essential for you when you are creating and marketing your equine massage business. Happy trails.
Jonathan Rudinger, L.M.T., is a registered nurse; the founder and president of the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork; president of the Association of Canine Water Therapy; and founder and primary instructor at the PetMassageTM Training and Research Institute, in Toledo, Ohio. His book, Creating and Marketing Your Animal Massage Business, is available on Amazon and his website. He wrote “Massage for Dogs: Legal and Marketing Considerations” for the March 2016 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.