RQF Registered equine therapy courses in Devon

Study Patterns: How to choose the right training in equine sports massage

Different study patterns for equine massage

In this article I discuss various training options in equine massage. I’m discussing this because trying to find a way of learning which suits you, particularly if you are a mature student or trying to fit your training around another job, can be difficult.

In this article I will broadly cover the various patterns of delivery of courses which are available if you search “training in equine massage” on Google.

Before reading this article, I strongly recommend you read the “Training to become an equine sports massage therapist” article which discusses the difference between a course and a qualification.

Before choosing any equine massage course you need to be clear that the course you undertake will give you the outcome you are hoping for in terms of acceptable level of accreditation or qualification. In other words, will the course you choose enable you to work in the way that you wish as the industry moves forwards?

Obviously, I am going to advise according to my own opinions – yours may differ!!! – and everyone has life situations which mean their priorities will be different too.

Online vs In-person

Anatomy and Physiology (A&P)

It is possible to undertake the study of anatomy and physiology online. The materials and course booklets or videos can be watched at the learner’s leisure. Learning this way however, is notoriously difficult. It can be difficult to relate the knowledge in a book or web page to a live animal and it is essential that you do this.

equine massage course practical learning

Whilst A&P can be achieved online, if you are a visual or tactile learner, consider whether you would find learning easier if you could engage in practical learning such as picking up a bone and physically placing it against the horse, or whether learning muscles would be easier for you if you could actually put your hands on the right area of the body and feel the structure underneath with the guidance of an experienced tutor.


I am a purist about this. I don’t believe that massage can be properly taught or learned online. At ATSL we ask our students to have some human massage experience (not necessarily a full qualification) before they work on horses. This is not a legal requirement but it is built in to our regulated course.

Human massage experience means that all our students have a base level of manual skill before they come to us. Our students will be familiar with massage strokes and know what they feel like to receive before applying them to a non-verbal patient which cannot give feedback. Even if the equine massage course you are looking at doesn’t require human training first, you should probably make sure that the manual training is face to face. Only then can your trainer make sure your position, depth, rhythm and stroke technique is correct.

If you hold a human massage qualification, then obviously you will be able to also work on the rider. Knowledge of how the rider affects the horse and vice-versa can make significant differences to the performance of the horse/rider team at all levels, from hackers to serious competitors and from Trek to Eventing.

Intensive/short term vs long term study

Practical skills

It can seem attractive to do an online theory course with an intensive period of in-person massage training, however most courses (at least the reputable ones) will ask you to do case studies to support your learning. This will involve working on a number of horses over a number of weeks.

When undertaking an intensive course of practical study, you may be given all your manual skills at once then asked to go and practise them. Despite taking the greatest care, there will be slight changes in your technique and slippage away from the correct manner of performing strokes. As your patient is  a non-verbal animal, they cannot tell you that you have changed your hand pressure, strength, rhythm or tone. There is a real possibility that you may develop bad habits resulting in your technique becoming less effective. The lack of ongoing monitoring can mean that you embed these habits into your technique and your muscle memory.

equine massage techniques

Ongoing supervision from a tutor or mentor will always be the best way to learn. You may even be given the techniques in bite-size chunks enabling your hands to familiarise themselves with the feeling of the technique and learning how to adapt one particular skill to a variety of horses.

A tutor may watch you work and advise making minor adjustments to your hand position – these tiny adjustment can make all the difference. The more supervision you have, the better and more precise your manual skills will come. From this embedded knowledge will develop an intuitive touch as you begin to make the small adjustments yourself.


If you are very good at assimilating a large amount of knowledge in a very short period of time, then maybe an intensive course will suit you. If you need longer to make sure that you have understood the knowledge to the point when you can apply it to a real-life situation, perhaps a longer term delivery would be better for you.

The anatomy is key to underpinning all your treatment decisions so it is something that must be very clearly understood. At ATSL we cover farriery, saddlery, a variety of equestrian disciplines, ailments and veterinary treatments as well as stable management in great detail, so all of this will become second nature to you too. It is a huge amount of work to cover and trying to learn everything in a short space of time is very difficult.

Studying alone or with a cohort

Many of the training options you will come across make much of the students’ ability to “study at their own pace” or to “work their learning in to their life pattern“. For some people this approach will work, but for others it may not. If your aim is to become a professional therapist, then you will have a great deal to learn (see “theory” above). Sometimes students working alone lose motivation and let their work slip or find they struggle with difficult elements due to not having anyone else to confer with.

studying for an equine massage diploma

It is often better to enrol on a programme of study where students work through the modules together where they can encourage each other and are able to discuss the work so that depth of understanding is increased. Peer pressure can also help with time management; everyone wants to move forward together so members of a group motivate each other.

Student Insurance

Any course which requires the students to work on horses which are not their own (and all reputable courses should do this) should require the students to obtain student insurance. This will cover the student for any problems occasioned during the period that the student is not fully certificated. This is extremely important. Massage can cause problems when performed incorrectly and students must be insured. So you need to check that the course you are looking at will entitle you to student insurance.


Some courses – even accredited courses (which are not qualifications) will use internal assessment by the course tutors for final assessments.

I believe that a professional exam in equine sports massage should be assessed externally by expert professionals in the field such as vets or physiotherapists. Only then can the student be certain that the standard they have reached is truly going to be recognised in industry. You are about to be passed (hopefully) as competent and effective to work on a paying client’s equine athlete. You need to be sure that your skills are actually up to the job of that responsibility. Exams are tough, but when you pass, you and your client will feel fully confident in your abilities.

What is your long term aim?

If you are hoping to become a professional therapist working on horses and make your living this way, you should aim to become fully qualified in the role.

This means you will need to undertake a course of study which is a formal, regulated qualification, not just an accredited course. I suggest taking a look at the “Training to become an equine sports massage therapist” article to help understand the difference between a formal qualification and an accredited course.

You will need a qualification which is professionally recognised within the industry and also recognised by a therapists’ register as preferred by the RCVS and DEFRA*. Registration with either RAMP or AHPR will be essential going forward. These registers only accept regulated qualifications, so if you want this to be your new career, make sure the course you take meets the requirements of the register you should be aiming to join, or your training alone may not be enough.

*A professional association – which is an organisation supporting a particular interest group of therapists, such as IAAT, IRVAP, NAVP, ESMA – is NOT a REGISTER.

Open Awards

Partners ATSL in developing the RQF Level 4 Diploma in Equine Sports Massage

Which course do I recommend?

If you are serious about making equine massage your carer then I strongly recommend you to consider the course we run which is the Level 4 Diploma in Equine Sports Massage delivered by Animal Therapy Solutions.

Pros of the Level 4 Diploma in Equine Sports Massage:

  • OFQUAL Regulated Qualification at Level 4
  • Accredited by AHPR
  • Recognised by RAMP
  • Confers entitlement to membership of the Equine Sports Massage Association
  • Single intake per year – so students work through as a cohort on a long term study programme
  • Case study support
  • Mentoring programme in place
  • Face to face tuition for theory and practical
  • External expert lecturers
  • Insurance available
  • Will produce excellent, industry recognised and competent therapists
  • Externally assessed


  • It’s hard work!
  • A Diploma requires dedication, good time management and determination
  • In-person attendance required on specific dates at a single location, which may mean some logistical challenges need to be met

Level 4 Diploma in Equine Sports Massage

Article by Helen Tompkins MSc (Vet Phys) MSc (An Manip) Dip ITEC MMAA MNAVP RAMP Reg’d

If you have any questions about this article or would like to find out more about the courses available at ATSL, please contact Helen through our contact form.

  • Equine Sports Massage Association
  • Animal Health Professions Register
  • Open Awards
  • RAMP