Therapist gets kick out of horses

EQUINE ATHLETE: Monty the thoroughbred gets a massage from Rachel Harford.
EQUINE ATHLETE: Monty the thoroughbred gets a massage from Rachel Harford.

Human athletes are not the only ones who get sore muscles after a workout. Jenny Ling talks to an Auckland equine therapist who is healing horses through massage.

There are two vital requirements for Rachel Harford's job as an equine massage therapist - you must love horses and driving.

The Silverdale resident travels all over the greater Auckland region for her job as a horse physio, massaging the muscles of racehorses, eventers, ponies, dressage and endurance horses.

It's tough work and can be dangerous.

"I still cop bites," Mrs Harford says.

"Every day they will try and kick you.

"It's hard work but it's fun.

"I like the variety. Every day is different."

Mrs Harford, 41, treats a horse in a one-hour session with massage and manipulation techniques. She also uses an infrared laser which helps reduce inflammation and speed healing.

When the East & Bays Courier visited she was treating Monty, a 13-year-old bay thoroughbred, owned by Whitford resident Steph Cross.

Mrs Cross called on Mrs Harford when Monty developed stomach ulcers after being on medication for an infection last summer.

"When I brought him back to work after he was sick he was giving me trouble and it's not like him to do that," Mrs Cross says.

"A friend suggested Rachel who came to have a look at him.

"He's a different horse to when she started treating him."

Mrs Harford started riding at age 4, got involved in pony club seven years later and began competing in horse trials and three-day events.

She worked as a groom and schooled young horses in England, France and Germany from 1994 to 1996.

She was working in a gym in London when a friend suggested she try her hand at massage - humans that is - and she began training.

A few years later she completed horse massage training in Australia followed by more courses in Germany, and gradually switched to working on horses only.

"I came back here to New Zealand and bought a horse off the [race] track that had lots of problems and started using techniques on that horse and thought, ‘this is really fun'.

"I never liked massaging people."

Mrs Harford has worked with equestrian greats like Vaughn Jefferis' horse Bounce leading up to the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.

She also worked with Mark Todd's horses for several years.

She takes a holistic approach to her job, which includes the use of supplements.

"It's not just massaging, it's working with what's happening. Is the owner doing something wrong? Is the saddle not fitting? Is there something wrong with their diet? It's like being a detective.

"I work out what's wrong and what you need to do to get them well again."

Mrs Harford admits she does get a sore neck and shoulders from massaging tall horses. But that's outweighed by the positives.

"Seeing an animal in pain is not nice," she says.

"They can't fix themselves, whereas we can go somewhere and get sorted.

"The look on some of their faces when you put their neck back in place . . . they're so happy."

East And Bays Courier