When Liza Tangney turned 40 years old in 2011, she says, she decided it was time to “have a life worth living”—so the 1990 graduate of Bancroft School of Massage in Worcester, Massachusetts, turned her attention to four-legged creatures. After completing an equine muscle massage therapy program in South Carolina in January 2012, she launched Core Equine Bodyworks, focusing on providing massage therapy to horses. Her new goal is to massage 16 therapy or rescue horses every month, which she is put in touch with through organizations such as Therapeutic Riding, 4-H, and animal-assistance groups.
Tangney contacts local therapeutic riding and rescue centers to announce her pro bono massage services. When she gets the call, she travels to the farm and chats with the owner for an update on the horse’s recent physical activity and health condition. At the same time, she observes the horse and sweeps the sternum and spine with her hands. “I want to [check the] bony landmarks and find out where the horse is tight,” she says. Tangney specializes in myofascial release and also uses direct method, deep tissue, trigger point and sports massage, and sometimes includes acupressure. “You have to figure out what else works beside the trigger point method.”
While you might think massaging such a large, strong animal requires inordinate strength, Tangney explains, “Horses are sensitive enough to feel a fly land on their backs. They have a neural perception that causes them to shake that fly off.” She has learned by experience how much pressure to apply and where.
Sessions usually take place in a barn or grooming stall, preferably in a space with minimal distractions. Length of sessions depends entirely on the horse. “You can’t make them receive more than they want to. Also, it takes time to build trust,” Tangney notes.
Much like the benefits for humans, horses can experience decreased muscle spasms and soreness and increased range of motion after massage. “When a tight muscle or fascia is released, it helps the joint and the capsule be in better alignment,” Tangney says. “It helps increase the strength and muscle tissue exponentially and increases athletic performance.”
As for Tangney, equine massage has deepened her practice as a bodyworker. “Horses are powerful teachers. They have helped me develop my hand skills,” she says. “I focus on horses that really need the work. Basically, it’s giving back to horses that give back.”