Animal Massage in Arizona: A Constitutional Fight For Rights

Anyone who has been acquainted with me for more than about 20 minutes knows I am inclined to explore a variety of non-medical (as in conventional western medical) approaches to caring for and healing horses. Why? Because in 46 years of owning and working with horses, I have found that while conventional veterinary care is essential in some situations, in others, it just doesn’t provide the answers I need to keep my horses healthy and happy.

I’ve written about this issue before, questioning the irrationally broad definition of what supposedly constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine in Arizona.

So I am very pleased to be one of three practitioners representing both my fellow certified animal bodyworkers and fellow horse owners in a constitutional legal action asking the state of Arizona to stop being so ridiculous as to consider animal massage as “practicing veterinary medicine.”

Massage, both for humans and for animals, has become a mainstream healing modality both for elite athletes and for the general population. And I don’t expect there is a single sensible person who expects his or her own massage therapist also to be a physician.

So why does the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board seek to require animal massage therapists to spend the money and time to attend vet school where, incidentally, massage is not part of the curriculum? Good question.

All the Board’s interpretation of the Arizona statute really does is interfere with the livelihoods of people who seek a career in animal massage and limit the choices of Arizona’s animal owners seeking to provide the best possible lives for their horses, dogs, etc.

Hair, Hair Everywhere

With apologies to all my friends in far-flung places being pummeled by winter weather, I have to note that here in southern Arizona it’s full-on horse shedding season.

You know, that time of year when you studiously hold your mouth closed and squint behind your sunglasses while raking mounds of hair off your horse. And have to examine your clothing as you leave the barn to decide whether you’re likely to disgust the people in line behind you if you stop for groceries on the way home.

In theory, horses start to lose their coats as soon as their endocrine systems react to an increase in the number of daylight hours. Due to other factors, including nutrition and temperature, every horse seems to have a personalized shedding schedule.

My senior citizen Ichobod grows a longish coat and always, always starts shedding in January, right after the solstice tips the balance to give us a few more seconds of daylight each day. I always worry he’ll shed off too much hair before the last cold snap, which usually hits in our desert home in mid- to late February. (Back in Colorado it seemed like he shed from January through to June; he should have been bald by then, but he never was.)

Sport, on the other hand, grows a short but very dense winter coat, which he proceeds to shed off in a couple of weeks. In Colorado he’d hold his coat until May and then slick off in what seemed like a matter of days.

Junior, whose winter nickname is “yak boy,” seems to fall in the middle. He grows a long coat –including an impressive goatlike beard – and sheds for several weeks. Which pretty much means I have shedding beasts from New Year’s to April Fools.

I know horse owners tend to moan and complain about the inconvenience of the annual hair fest. I’ve done my share of grumbling – especially on a breezy spring day when it seems no matter where I stand while grooming, I’m downwind. (And just put on sunscreen or lip balm in time for a big gust to paste fur to my face.)

But as my horses have aged, I have to say I’ve come to think of shedding as something to celebrate. As in, “Yay! The 20-something-year-old gelding is shedding this spring! No Cushings worries this year!”

So, in honor of Ichobod’s 31st spring as a fuzzy four-legged shedder, I’ll be happy to get a face-full of fur or feel itchy because my clothes have sprouted horse hair.

The Blissed-Out Pony

How do you explain the positive ways horses react to bodywork for someone unfamiliar with the four-legged beasties? Take a picture!

During her massage earlier in the week one of my clients mentioned to the therapist that her horse was having bodywork the next day. The therapist wanted to know what a blissed-out horse looked like. Here’s one of the photos that might give her an idea:

We decided horses have it even better than humans in some cases. This horse got to munch on his lunch hay during most of the session. Now how can I figure out how to eat chocolate the next time I’m on the massage table? That would be bliss!


Happy Holiday, Scandinavian Style

Wandering the internet for something else entirely, I came across these charming images by Danish artist Anders Olsson of the traditional Scandinavian gnome-like beings known as a “nisse” or “tomte.”

I learned about the Julenisse, a kind of Christmas elf, when I lived in Norway years ago. And about how other nisser – distinguished by their bright red hats – had been considered to be part of everyday life, helping people in their daily tasks. But I didn’t learn about the barn nisse, who helped care of the farm animals. So I enjoyed following these images through cyberspace to read a bit more about the gnomes who help farmers take care of their animals.

“They are both solitary, mischievous domestic sprites responsible for the protection and welfare of the farmstead and its buildings. Tomte literally means ‘homestead man’ and is derived from the word tomt which means homestead or building lot. Nisse is derived from the name Nils which is the Scandinavian form of Nicholas.

“A tomte is described as an older, little man about the size of a young child. He wears old often ragged clothes, usually gray or navy, and sports a bright red cap on his head. He resides in the pantry or barn and watches over the household and farm. He is responsible for the care of the farm animals, especially the horses.”
Legend of the Nisse and Tomte

Of course, I’m going to like any creature with an affinity for horses. So in this season of celebration and looking forward, I wish you the best and hope the nisser take good care of you and your critters!


Mother Nature Paints the Skies

One nice thing about the evening horse feeding and cleaning routine is that I’m out and about to enjoy Tucson’s amazing sunsets.

This evening was one of those “Ooohhhh! Ahhhhh!” kinds of sights, with a beautiful moon rising through an indigo sky on one side …

… and a gorgeous orange and pink sunset painted across the sky on the other side. Beautiful!

A Day to Celebrate Horses

  • Whereas the horse is a living link to the history of the United States;
  • Whereas, without horses, the economy, history, and character of the United States would be profoundly different;
  • Whereas horses continue to permeate the society of the United States, as witnessed on movie screens, on open land, and in our own backyards;
  • Whereas horses are a vital part of the collective experience of the United States and deserve protection and compassion;
  • Whereas, because of increasing pressure from modern society, wild and domestic horses rely on humans for adequate food, water, and shelter; and
  • Whereas the Congressional Horse Caucus estimates that the horse industry contributes well over $100,000,000,000 each year to the economy of the United States: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress–

(1) encourages all citizens to be mindful of the contribution of horses to the economy, history, and character of the United States;

(2) expresses its sense that a National Day of the Horse should be established in recognition of the importance of horses to the Nation’s security, economy, recreation, and heritage; and

(3) urges the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States and interested organizations to observe National Day of the Horse with appropriate programs and activities.

Wildlife Crossing

Half a dozen javalina crossed the road in front of me just before dusk one evening last week as I was on my way to feed my retired school horse. The next evening a pack of coyotes crossed at the same place at about the same time.

Made me wonder how the predators and prey share this trail. Is there a schedule posted somewhere?


Share the Trail

Predators Monday/Wednesday/Friday and alternating Sundays.
Prey animals Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday and the other Sundays.
Please don’t litter. If you must poop on the trail, please use the plastic bags snagged on the brush to clean up after yourself.

Cross the road at your own risk!


A Blanket of Misinformation

On the eve of the first expected freeze of the season here in southern Arizona, I know at least a few horse owners are asking themselves the annual question: to blanket or not to blanket.

Now the show crowd has been blanketing for months, either trying to coax coats into staying short or keeping clipped horses warm. But for those of us who leave our horses fuzzy for the winter months, these sudden cold snaps can provide a dilemma. Tuesday’s low temperature was 50; Thursday’s is forecast for 30. That kind of drop can be a problem for some horses.

But how much of a problem and for which horses? Common sense suggests, of course, the very old, the very young and the sick should have a bit more warmth on extra-cold nights. But how cold is too cold? And what about other horses?

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some nice, clear answers? Maybe some quality research, even? Voila! This post was making the rounds on social media this fall, being passed around by horse owners facing this season of dropping temperatures and the associated horse-management issues:

Here is something for my horsey friends….
Here is some information on winter blanketing that may surprise you. This is the result of a multi-year study done by CSU, using state of the art thermal detection equipment. Colorado State University is widely considered to be one of the top three equine veterinary schools in the country: Blanketing horses is one of the worst things that you can do to a horse in the winter. Horses have the ability to loft and lower their coats to 17 different levels, so it’s like exchanging 17 different thermal weights of blankets off and on them all day and night, depending on what they need- except that we don’t know what they need as well as they do. Their ‘self-blanketing’ process works a little like ‘chill bumps’ do in our own skin. That’s why long-haired horses may seem fluffier on some days than on others. Only three things make the ‘self-blanketing’ process not work: blanketing, clipping, and wind. Not even snow or rain stops their own thermostats from doing the job. Also horses are in ‘neutral’ (meaning not using energy for either heating or cooling) when the air around them is between 26 and 38 degrees. Otherwise, they’re using energy to control their temps. So- since they’re cooling their bodies when the temp is over 38 degrees, they’re having to use extra energy to cool themselves when blanketed in temperatures over that. Any time a horse that is outside and has a long coat is shivering, it’s because the horse has opted to shiver to warm itself, instead of using the option of moving. Moving generates a considerable amount of heat for a horse, but they sometimes stand and shiver while napping, etc. It does not mean that they need to be blanketed. However- a horse MUST have a way to get out of the wind in order for their
‘self-blanketing’ abilities to function fully. It turns out that blanketing is done more for pleasing the human, than to fill a need of the horse. The horse blanket industry has done a great job of making us think that their product is a necessary part of good horsekeeping- when it is actually an item that is very seldom needed.

Finally, a credible institution like Colorado State University has done some research to help us answer the blanketing question. Except, CSU didn’t actually do any such research. What?!

Ichobod, at age 30, will be wearing a blanket when the temperature dips into the freezing range. Turns out those little muscles that loft a horse’s coat can wear out, so his coat doesn’t fluff up as efficiently as it did when he was younger.

I admit I fell for it at first read. Some of the information matches what I already know about how a horse keeps warm even in rain or snow. (I wrote about it a couple years ago, even.) And I don’t disagree that some people are more inclined to respond to marketing campaigns than to learn about the physiology of their four-legged charges.

On second read, though, a couple of things stuck out. First, I find it hard to believe that temps between 26 degrees and 38 degrees are optimal for horses acclimatized to warm places like Arizona. If that were true, our horses here would be way more stressed most of the time.

I also have doubts regarding the anonymous writer’s assertions about horses choosing to shiver instead of move around to keep warm. I can only think of one instance I’ve ever seen of a horse shivering when he wasn’t wet and/or in wind (ie: cold) and that was a horse with a super short coat reacting to a cold, damp evening. (He got walked until he was warm, then was blanketed on subsequent damp nights and the shivering behavior didn’t recur. Draw your own conclusion.)

I was tempted to share the post to my Facebook page just like many others no doubt did. So glad that instead I did my due diligence, looking for both the source of the post and for an abstract of the research. Instead of finding either, I found a blog post by someone else who was temporarily fooled and then put right by a CSU source. And a reputable forum with not one but two discussion threads about the bogus research.

I can only hope there aren’t too many horse owners who believed the poster’s assertion that blanketing “is one of the worst things that you can do to a horse in the winter” based on the false reference. And that there aren’t too many cold horses out there on freezing nights because someone faked a scientific basis to back up his or her own point of view.