By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
Evita's owner watched the mare carry a rider down a trail. At each steep incline, the well-conditioned horse would hunch her back and give a little sideways kick.
"She's never done that before, really," said Malia Bales of Union. "Something's not right."
Bales, a polo player who spends extensive amounts of time with her polo horses, decided to make an appointment for Evita with the regional version of an equine chiropractor/massage therapist/sports psychologist.
Jeff Moore of Enterprise calls what he does "integrated bodywork," and really doesn't care for any references to "horse whispering."
"I have a problem with the whole horse-whisperer bit," he said.
Anne Hamann, whose Grande Ronde Valley ranch he visited recently to work on area horses, laughs. A horse-trainer herself, she jokes that when people ask if she's a horse-whisperer Â— popularized in a Nicholas Sparks' book and Robert Redford movie Â— she responds that the whispering only happens "when I don't want others to hear what I'm saying to them."
Moore gives a small grin in agreement and keeps pressing down along Evita's spine.
His version of integrated bodywork on horses, animals he calls athletes, involves many levels of knowledge. He needs to know muscle and nerve systems, understand how joints, pressure points and the deeper muscles respond, be knowledgeable about feet and leg problems, and be able to tell if the problem comes from a poor-fitting saddle or another source.
"About 20 percent of the time (with horses he sees), it's not a body problem, but some other problem," he said. "A big part of horse soreness is saddle fit, or how a saddle is ridden."
Doing integrated bodywork with horses came to Moore as an outgrowth of other professions.
He'd been a farrier and operated a pack string in the Hells Canyon area. Those horses, he said, were often inexpensive animals he bought from racetracks and often ended up sore and uncomfortable.
And, he added, "I found out a lot of feet problems had to do with issues higher up in the limbs and back."
Moore studied with various others in the business and for the past seven years has done bodywork throughout the Northwest and into California. He's now concentrating mostly on horses in the Portland metro area and in Eastern Oregon, Southeast Washington and Idaho.
"I'm working all over the region," he explained, adding that many high-level performance horses in Western Oregon and Washington are regular clients.
Whether the horse is a national show horse, a cutting horse, a jumper, a polo pony, or a family riding horse getting ready for a county fair, the massage, pressure, neck turns and subtle touches Moore does in a typical hour-and-a-half session can make a difference, one most riders and owners can immediately see.
Evita, the polo mare, is a typical client. When Moore started the session, there were clearly points along her back and hips that gave her discomfort. Her tail would swish; she'd move her feet, turn her head toward him.
A little more than an hour later, Evita's eyes were half-closed as he pressed those same points. She let Moore pull her head around toward her shoulder and hold it there. She was relaxed, licking her lips.
"What I do has to make a difference in the way of going for the horse," Moore said, watching Bales lead Evita away.
"If the bodywork helps, you should really see a difference."
It isn't unusual for a horse owner to wonder about paying for a bodywork session, Moore said.
"I have a lot of people who won't tell me what's going on when I arrive." It helps, he said, if he knows how the problem started, but it isn't vital.
"At first, I didn't tell him," Hamann confessed. "Now I trust him."
Evita's problem, Moore and Bales agreed, probably started with a near-fall during a rough game. The horse then had additional stress applied during conditioning rides.
Evita demonstrated one of the difficulties in working with horses, Moore said.
"Horses have an amazing ability to compensate" if one area is hurt or sore, he said. "If one place hurts, three others compensate. I have to sort through the trail of compensations."
Sorting out what ails a horse can leave watchers impressed and amazed, he said. Most horses, Moore said, quickly relax and calm. What he does is relieve pain and pressure, rather than add to the horse's discomfort. It is not uncommon for owners to think the horse's personality has changed.
But integrated bodywork, Moore cautioned, "it not a silver bullet. It only works if the problem in the horse is coming from a restriction, that's coming from the hard structure within the horse."
That's one reason Moore often works under the supervision of a veterinarian, who can eliminate medical conditions as the root of the problem.
Because of the many issues involved in his work, Moore believes that some sort of licensing won't be far in the future. It's a way of letting horse owners know what they are paying for and can expect as a result.
While most of Moore's work now is done on valuable, high-performance equine athletes, he doesn't lose touch with the all-important connection between horses and people.
He recalled a few years ago working with a teen-ager on her 4-H horse.
"She came to me with a bag of babysitting money," Moore said, smiling. "She asked if I could make it so her buddy wasn't sore."
Moore works out of his pickup and can be reached at Equine Rehab and Therapy, 541-377-7770. His Web site is www.equine rehab.com.