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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005, 00:00 GMT 01:00 UK
Tackling the tension of a stable life
By Stephen Robb
BBC News

This week the BBC News website is looking at people who do unusual jobs. In the sixth of the series we meet a masseuse with a very different clientele.

Suzanne Hackman's service offers the benefits typical of any massage, including improved circulation, relief from joint pain and muscle tension, and simple pleasure.

Suzanne Hackman massages Albie
Good technique is more important than strength in equine massage

The difference is that you can only enjoy them if you are a horse.

The 26-year-old trained last year as an equine body worker, having ridden horses since she was about three.

That level of experience on and around the animals is vital for the work, she believes.

She says: "You have to have a way with horses for the client to trust you.

"It is no good going in and looking completely nervous around a horse because they are going to go: 'You don't have clue what you are doing.'

"It will help the horse relax a lot more if you are relaxed around them."

Improved performance

For horses involved in competition, equine massage can boost performance, Mrs Hackman says.

"Performance horses of any discipline, you can improve their range of movement and their stamina, because you are improving muscle quality and their circulation," she says.

There are obvious reasons for using massage - to ease pain from injury, and to relieve other muscles which are put under increased strain because of such injuries.

Suzanne Hackman uses a ball to massage Albie
It is also a feel-good thing for the horse
Suzanne Hackman
Equine body worker
But Mrs Hackman, who is based in West Sussex, is also called in when owners notice something wrong with their horse - a stiffness or sensitivity to being touched, for example - without knowing the cause.

She is trained to analyse a horse's posture, movement and environment to identify the precise location of a muscle problem, and what could be causing it.

Factors as varied as one slightly shorter leg, an ill-fitting saddle, or uneven ground in a stable are among the kinds of things which could be to blame, she says.

But Mrs Hackman says horses do not need to have something wrong with them to benefit from a massage.

She says: "As with massage for humans, you don't need to have an injury to get a massage - it is also a feel-good thing for the horse.

"The British love their horses and love to pamper them."

'All about technique'

There are moments during her demonstration on 12-year-old gelding Albie when the horse visibly responds to the massage, his bearing noticeably relaxing.

"They quite often fall asleep, or nuzzle into you - they completely relax," Mrs Hackman says.

Equine body workers can identify the causes of muscle problems

"If you are massaging the back and you hit a knot in the back, they will really start to lean into you as if to say: 'Yes, harder.' "

She is dwarfed by Albie and also seems to exert very little pressure during the massage. - "You don't need big muscles to do it - it's all about technique," she insists.

Yet she must have her wits about her.

"You get some horses that will not stand still, or go to bite you or kick you - like humans, some just don't like being touched," she says.

But they are often easier to deal with than their owners, she jokes.

Results and rewards

There are people that remain unconvinced of the benefits of equine massage, even though the general idea is not new - "There has always been someone who has rubbed your horse," she says.

Suzanne Hackman massages Albie
Twelve-year-old gelding Albie shows his enjoyment

"There are still trainers who wouldn't put their money into it, because they wouldn't feel it is effective enough.

"But I have seen it work. I have seen results. I have had clients who say that they notice such a difference.

"Repeat business proves that it does work."

And what does the equine body worker herself get out of it?

"If you really see an improvement in the way a horse moves, it is very rewarding.

"You are not stuck in an office all day. And it's working with horses, which I love."


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