EQUINE MASSAGE AND ACUPRESSURE Rubbing horses the right way

JUST BEFORE ECHO DELL ROAD disappears into the woods and winds steeply down to Beaver Creek, a sign at the end of a farm lane proclaims "Rocky Hill Farm: equine massage and acupressure."
At the other end of the lane is Kelly Rockenhauser, who at 23 lives with her parents and an ever-changing assortment of horses and ponies at the farm, located near Rogers in Columbiana County.
Rockenhauser said she was a "horse crazy" child, and has naturally progressed into a profession of horse breeding and training.
She has been kicked, stepped on and tossed into walls, but that has not diminished her love of horses.
Rockenhauser learned equine massage and acupressure as part of her horse certification classes at Hocking College, where she earned an associate degree in horsemanship.
The Rocky Hill Farm Web site rockyhillfarm.iceryder.net states the goal is to provide horses that adults can ride and children can easily handle.
Horses come and go from Rocky Hill Farm and usually among the 20 or so horses and ponies in the herd are some who need a great deal of patience and care before they are ready for sale.
What often helps
Massage and acupressure often works wonders in such cases, she said.
In worst cases, horses that have been abused are difficult to even approach, let alone touch, she said. After very slowly and patiently massaging the horse, however, Rockenhauser has seen amazing results.
Horses that have been abused have difficulty trusting people, and also may be in pain, she said. Massage and acupressure release natural chemicals -- as do similar techniques on humans -- that both reduce stress and promote healing, she said.
Rockenhauser said she finds in less drastic cases that what horse owners may interpret as a behavior problem is actually their horse's response to pain.
A saddle that doesn't fit properly is a common problem that causes such pain, she said.
Rockenhauser performs massage and acupressure on her own horses at the Rogers-area farm, and also travels to farms or stables at owners' request.
She said, however, that equine massage and acupressure don't offer a quick fix to a horse's problems.
Owners often want her to work on a horse the day before it is to race or perform in a show ring, and that's not a good idea, she said.
No last-minute fix
Massage and acupressure work best over time, and working on a horse too close to an event could cause the horse to perform differently, she said.
Rockenhauser is a member of the Buckeye Horseman's Association and has demonstrated her acupressure and massage techniques at association gatherings and to equine 4-H clubs.
An average equine massage takes 60 to 90 minutes, and a massage on a sore horse can take longer, she said.
"If I'm going out to do a massage, on the first visit I'll take time to get to know the horse and the owner," she said. "I want the owner's involvement. I ask lots of questions. I find out how they handle the horse and how it responds," she said.
At one Buckeye Horseman's Association event, a woman volunteered her horse for Rockenhauser's demonstration.
Rockenhauser had never seen the horse before and it typically didn't respond to people very quickly. Rockenhauser said she started slowly and it wasn't long before she saw and felt signs that the horse was relaxing.
"It was just a demonstration so I didn't do a full massage," she said. "By the time I quit, that horse was leaning into me and licking my hands."
She said the owner immediately noticed the change in the horse's behavior.
Keeping horses on her farm, Rockenhauser has plenty of opportunities to practice her massage and acupressure skills. Rockenhauser said both she and her horses benefit.
"I can tell the horses enjoy it," she said. "I use different types of pressure and I can feel their muscles respond. And when I hit a sore spot, believe me, they let me know," she said.
When a horse responds well, it will totally relax under Rockenhauser's hands.
"Sometimes I have to wake them up," she said.

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