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It looks a bit like tug-a-war — horse versus human, only the tail is the rope.
Emily Sharratt of Bodywork for Horses reaches back with her leg and uses every inch of her tall frame to pull firmly on the horse’s tail.
The weight advantage is all on the horse’s side. Sierra — a 20-year-old Morgan Arabian — simply leans forward.
“Good girl,” Sharratt says to the horse.
Sharratt is using the weight of the horse to loosen up Sierra’s sacroiliac joint, which anchors the horse’s pelvis to the spine, and relieve stiffness.
“The thing that I do is put movement back into their body,” Sharratt said.
Sharratt uses a combination of therapeutic massage and equine chiropractic principles to alleviate pain and stiffness in horses, which, if left untreated, can lead to behavioral issues.
“It is not the same as a person lying on a table getting cracked and popped. It is working with their body to get movement back into it,” Sharratt said.
Sharratt graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in equine science. She was working as a licensed veterinarian technician and training horses.
“I was running into issues that I couldn’t fix with training,” Sharratt said.
During the summer of 2006, she attended an equine bodywork program in Fort Collins, Colo., that focused on massage therapy and chiropractic.
After the program, Sharratt adjusted her approach. She began to do bodywork therapy on horses when they first came in for training, which took care of a lot of the behavioral problems.
Prime candidates for bodywork are horses who abruptly have a change of attitude or refuse to do a known task — all of a sudden they will not pick up their lead or get into the roping box. It is likely pain related — the horse begins to associate that job with pain,” Sharratt said.
Other ways horses communicate pain is through balking, bucking, crow hopping or throwing their head.
Sharratt also checks for correct saddle fit.
“The biggest problem I see, is the saddles are too small or too narrow and they pinch and suck in the horse’s back,” Sharratt said.
A saddle that is either too small or too large might create white spots on a horse’s coat and cause sore withers and tight shoulders.
“They are trying to move freely under something that is ramming into their shoulders,” Sharratt said.
Most horses she sees once or twice.
“I see them once and after a session they are feeling a ton better. I might see them again in a year and do the same thing,” she said.
Some performance horses — such as roping horses — that are used a lot and needed for work, are seen more frequently.
“The owners recognize their horse needs work as soon as they start getting grumpy and don’t want to go in the box. I work on them and they seem like a brand new horse,” Sharratt said. “Those reactions are generally pain related.”
Horses are not the only four legged creatures to benefit. Sharratt also works on dogs that have slipped discs, paralysis or back issues. One winter she even worked with a goat that suddenly could not get up. After about a month of treatment, it started walking again.
Sharratt enjoys using her hands to help horses feel better and get back to work.
“I love the interaction with horses, I think they are absolutely amazing creatures,” Sharratt said.