After hearing about the benefits of equine massage, you have decided to set up an appointment for your equine partner. That is wonderful! If this is your equine's first-ever massage, you may not know what to expect; to help, I've written down a few guidelines for how things tend to go on my new client visits.
For the first few appointments, I will request that the owner meet me at the barn prior to working with their horse. Not only does this give me a chance to chat with you about how your equine is doing, I also like to have the guardian fill out a brief summary on the SOAP chart prior to beginning the session. The SOAP chart provides a record of the appointment. The top half provides me with the basics: your name and the name of your equine, date of service, vet information, and your equine's breed, age, and health history. Information that is helpful in the health history would include any issues you may have noticed recently and any past lameness or health problems (regardless of whether or not the issue(s) were diagnosed by a vet). For instance, you might put that your horse's gait has been unusually short-strided, or felt "off" recently. The second half of the chart is a record of the things I notice while performing body work, the actions I perform during our session, and any future recommendations and/or "homework" I may suggest for you and your equine. At the end of the session, you will receive a copy of the SOAP chart for your records.
It is appreciated if your equine is haltered and ready for their appointment when I arrive, and not out in the 'back forty.' While I do enjoy hiking, I would prefer to spend our session performing bodywork instead of working on my cardio. However, it is usually better if your horse is not groomed before I get there, as there may be signs or signals that may inform my work that are literally brushed away during a grooming session. That said, if your horse is very muddy, it is not a bad idea to knock off some of the excess dirt. In addition, if it's fly season, you may want to apply a bit of fly spray before I arrive. I want your horse to be able to focus on the massage and their body, not on obnoxious flies.
A clean, dry, and level place to work is also appreciated. A level place will allow a more accurate assessment of posture, stance, and any lameness or conformational faults far better than an unlevel surface would. And anyone who spends winter in Western Oregon can understand why a dry place to work is necessary! It is also preferable to have the session somewhere quiet. If your equine is at a busy boarding facility, this may just mean working in your horse's stall. I prefer not to work in the middle of a busy barn aisle for a number of reasons; the first of which is your horse and I will both be distracted if there is a lot of activity going on -- it is for this reason that I also prefer to avoid performing bodywork during mealtime, as your equine will have their attention on dinner arriving, rather than on their body. In addition, I hate to be rude, and I do not want to be in someone's way while they are trying to clean stalls or feed and water their own equine.
Depending on your equine's demeanor prior to starting a session, I may or may not ask you to hold your horse. For the first session, my equine clients are typically kept haltered, with a loose lead draped over my arm for safety. However, there are times I may want to remove the halter (such as to see them move out in an arena), or I may want to tie them if they are especially distracted or agitated. I do not prefer to cross-tie during a session, as it restricts their movement, and may hide something I would notice more readily if the horse is free to move. If you are holding your horse during our session, I do request that you pay close attention to their behavior, and try to block them if they attempt to nip or bite at me; often, the work I perform is necessarily in 'squeamish' areas, because those are typically spots where your horse is feeling discomfort. Strong correction is not necessarily needed here, just a quick bump on the lead rope or halter to keep their head straight.
If you have any questions during or after a session, please feel free to ask them! I love engaged owners, and I am happy to explain what I am doing and why I am doing it. I am also happy to show you some stretches or massage strokes that you can do between sessions to keep your equine healthy and happy. Additionally, I encourage collaboration between professionals; if your vet or farrier has any questions for me (or if I have questions for them), I would love to chat with them, as well.