Massages helpful for horses as well as humans
Fargo - If dogs are a man’s best friend, equine massage therapists are a horse’s best friend.
At least that’s true when it comes to Julie Cardwell, an equine massage therapist at the North Dakota Horse Park in north Fargo.
“When I start massaging a horse I feel all over them to let them know me,” Cardwell said. “I let them know that I am their friend.”
Massages are just the beginning of the anthropomorphic treatments race horses receive.
Box fans line the hay-covered stable rows to keep the temperature cool, the stalls are kept in pristine condition and a horse’s personality is celebrated.
“Every horse I massage, I fall in love with,” Cardwell said. “They all have different personalities. Once I start, I lose myself in the process with each different horse.”
Since the horses are treated like athletes, equine massages are an important factor to race preparation.
Cardwell completed a program last November with certification in equine massage and one less item on her bucket list.
“Because I have such a passion for horses this was on my bucket list to learn how to do this,” Cardwell said.
Optimal massages last an hour to 90 minutes, but vary from horse to horse.
She begins the process running her hands all over the horse to discover its sensitive or sore spots.
Cardwell says she particularly enjoys working on the trapezius, triceps and bicep muscles the best in race horses because of their strong, athletic build.
“Once I start working on them they pretty much tell me what they want done,” Cardwell said. “They can’t speak like a human … but they show with their body language. Sometimes, I close my eyes and just feel.”
Cardwell’s passion for horses began in sixth grade with riding lessons and grew in sentiment when her father bought her a horse when she was 16 years old.
“(My dad) bought me my first horse when I was 16,” Cardwell said. “He showed up to school in his business suit and he said, ‘I have a horse picked out, we’re going to go get it today.’ And that was a cool thing because he died (that year).”
Currently, Cardwell owns three horses. One of which she uses to “pony” with at the races.
A pony horse escorts a race horse to the starting gate.
“Horses are herd animals and don’t like to be alone,” Cardwell said. “The pony horse can help calm the race horse. When I’m ponying them I do a lot of breathing exercises and talk to them. I’m their happy person.”
Sometimes, since Cardwell is able to give horse massages, she is asked if she can give people ones as well.
“People are always asking if I can massage them, too,” Cardwell said. “And I can’t. I always say, ‘If you can whinny like a horse and stomp your feet like a horse, maybe.’ I tease them.”
Lucky for the jockeys, that’s where doctors Lucas and Aimee Marz of Riverview Chiropractic Clinic come in.
The two volunteer their services to work with the jockeys before, during and after the race when needed.
“Most of them like to get adjusted before (the race),” Dr. Aimee Marz said. “During the race if they hurt themselves and it’s not a serious injury, they will come over here to get taped or worked on a little bit.”
Unlike Cardwell, the Marzs are able to ask their patient directly where they need help the most.
“They all have had a traumatic injury at some point,” Aimee Marz said. “For a lot of them it’s their backs that they’ve broken. So we need to really make sure we are asking if they have had trauma.”
Although this is the first year the duo from Riverview Chiropractics has offered their services at the race track, they can already see how well the horses are treated.
“When the jockeys talk about which horse they are going to ride they always talk about ‘How beautiful she is’ or ‘How great she is,’” Aimee Marz said. “And I think that’s why I like being here so much. It’s kind of like the animal that gets the credit and in every other sport it’s about humans. So it’s kind of cool they hold the horses to that higher standard.”
Whether it’s humans or horses, race preparation is equally important.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than giving a horse a massage,” Cardwell said. “Just like a human loves a massage, horses love a massage. (The horses) are superstar athletes so their muscles might have some soreness or be a little bit tight and I do it because I know I can make a difference for them.”