Physical therapy is a part of any professional athlete's routine. It is quite common for those whose lives are dedicated to sports to get massages, acupuncture, chiropractic and a wide array of other forms of preventative and rehabilitative bodywork in order to maintain optimum performance.
The same holds true for equine athletes. In this day and age, one would be hard-pressed to find a top trainer in any discipline who does not employ bodywork work of some kind in their training program to keep horses healthy and sound.
As important as it is to include therapies in the overall wellness plan of an athlete (human or horse), often it can be just as important, if not more so, to include them in the process of transitioning into retirement to ensure long term soundness and musculoskeletal health.
Tammy Brockman knows this better than most. After spending 27 years specializing in sports medicine and massage therapy for humans, from high school and college athletes to Olympic competitors, she has seen what massage and bodywork can do to help bring athletes back from injury and to prevent future injuries.
It wasn't until she stumbled upon using massage therapy on horses that she truly began to appreciate how it could help them in a similar way.
“Once day as I was feeding my niece's horse an apple, I began doing myofascial release on him without even thinking about it. I had my hand on his scapula and the tissue started unwinding the way it had done on humans I'd worked on,” said Brockman. “He was leaning into it and neighing – he loved it. I thought I should learn how to properly use my skills on horses.”
In 2014, Brockman put together an Equine Myofascial Release course and brought an instructor to Tampa to teach her and others the nuances of applying their professional massage techniques to horses. To further her knowledge, she also spent time at the track during training hours and races, watching how the horses move and what their routines are from stall to track and back.
Just a few months later, Brockman learned of Equestrian, Inc., a retraining and adoption facility primarily serving the horses of Tampa Bay Downs. They also take in equine victims of neglect and abuse, as well as those that might otherwise be destined for slaughter via auction or other circumstances. The organization had fallen on hard times thanks to major storm damage.
“I saw an article in the paper about their need for hay after a tree had fallen on their barn and feed room in a storm,” said Brockman. “I explained what I did and asked if I could come out and work on their horses, and they welcomed me with open arms.”
One of Brockman's specialties is working with horses that come to the organization with injuries requiring stall rest or limited activity.
“With the horses I treat on stall rest, I find their muscles and joints get tight throughout their entire body. The equine bodywork helps to decrease pain during their recovery,” she said. “There is no doubt that equine body work and other therapeutic treatments for recently retired OTTBs or those on layup help in their recovery and transition to ground work and riding.”
In a way, Brockman's professional life has come full circle. Her career as a massage therapist for humans included working with the top riders in the world. Now, she is working with the other athlete involved in the horse-rider partnership.
“As an athletic trainer working in sports medicine for 27 years, I was on the medical staff for the 2003 Pan American Equestrian and Dressage teams. Then, I walked into the Olympic opening ceremonies in 2004 in Greece with the Dressage riders,” she said. “I was there to fix the [human] athletes, and now I'm fixing the horses.”
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. While she currently has no plans to build an arc, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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