“Does anyone know a good back person to come and see my horse?” – how many times do we hear this asked?
As with humans, a horse’s back is prone to injury from numerous causes. If you believe your horse has a problem with their back then the solution is to get someone to come and take a look.
You could seek the advice of a vet, a veterinary physiotherapist, or more commonly nowadays, an equine massage therapist.
Consider your recommendation
There is a degree of reassurance to be had when choosing an equine massage therapist that has been recommended by a friend, but unless your friend has fully vetted their therapist, then that recommendation may not be reliable. Worse still, there could potentially be a risk to your horse’s well being.
Although you may not think so, any form of massage can significantly affect your horse’s body tissues and occasionally there are times when massage should not be performed because to do so could make a problem worse. For example, disrupting tissues at the wrong stage of healing or destabilising a structural pathology.
Remember that, anyone who is going to work on your horse can (and should!) make a difference to them. This might mean that they will affect muscle tone, pain thresholds, suppleness or flexibility. Massage is a clinical therapy – it is not just about making your horse feel good, so how can you be confident you have chosen the right massage therapist?
Advice from the experts
As horse owners and riders ourselves, our advice at ATSL would be that any “paraprofessional” (non veterinary surgeon therapists working on animals) coming to treat your horse should be correctly qualified, registered, regulated and insured to give you the owner/rider the reassurance you need.
How to check qualifications
There are NO protected titles in the animal therapy sector. Anyone can refer to themselves as an equine physiotherapist, massage therapist or chiropractor. The first and most important step is to double-check the therapist does actually hold a qualification to substantiate their title.
A veterinary physiotherapist, veterinary chiropractor or animal osteopath should have completed a degree in their subject. There are different colleges and universities who offer this training but the therapist’s postnominals should help you.
You may want to visit the therapist’s website to get some background information – what does their “about me” page say?? Where did they train? – and if qualified, does their qualification meet a recognised degree level?
Massage therapy is a slightly different area. There are absolutely no restrictions on who can practice as an animal massage therapist. There is a bewildering array of training courses and certification available from online courses, colleges and even private tuition but the vast majority of these courses do not meet any formally regulated or assessed qualification.
We are aware of some courses where a certificate can be gained in as little as two days. Many courses are delivered online with no hands-on practical training too.
Therapists who have completed training courses at reputable institutions usually have the opportunity to join a professional association (PA) related to their training. The PA will provide support to the therapist, but also set out expected standards of professional behaviour, as well as providing a programme of continuing professional development for their members.
PA’s usually list their members so horse owners and members of the public can check to ensure that the therapist is listed with a PA. This offers some reassurance that the therapist is up to date with latest developments and maintains a professional network.
Which member body are they registered with and what is the criteria needed to join?
Regulation is a different matter. There are two registers for animal therapists. These are RAMP, and AHPR. They overlap, but there are differences between them in terms of which therapists can be included on each register.
However, both Registers exist to regulate their registrants in order to provide a minimum standard of professional competence and to ensure CPD records are kept up to date. They are also the point of contact for the public where there is any suggestion of poor practice or complaint.
They are working closely with DEFRA and the RCVS toward restructuring regulation throughout the whole veterinary profession but particularly with regard to paraprofessionals. Any properly qualified therapist who understands the importance of this for animal safety and welfare should be registered with either RAMP or AHPR.
Check both RAMP and AHPR websites to see if your recommended therapist is listed.
Your therapist should be insured to treat your horse – usually to a value of around £4million. Any therapist registered with a professional association or register will have insurance because this is a requirement of the register.
Check that anyone who works on your horse holds valid professional indemnity insurance.
Reassurance from ATSL
ATSL is an equine training school that offers the ONLY equine massage course in the UK to offer all of the following:
- An OFQUAL RQF- listed qualification that is independently taught and externally assessed
- Professional Indemnity Insurance
- The opportunity to be recognised by both animal health registers
- Registration with the largest and longest standing professional association for equine sports massage.
- Accountability for maintaining high standards of professional conduct
- An up to date CPD programme
- Post graduation support
If your therapist has trained at ATSL then you can be assured your horse is in good hands and will get the treatment they require.
Get in touch for more information on finding the right back person for your horse or finding the right equine massage course for you.