Woman uses massage techniques to soothe stressed equines

Sunday, August 25, 2002

WINCHESTER, Va. -- Pamela Rolfs can soothe, calm, heal and even improve a horse's performance with a touch.

Rolfs owns On Site Massage and practices integrated massage for horses, as well as humans.

"I believe all muscle tissue, be it human, horse or other animal, can be nurtured through massage therapy," said Rolfs, whose business is based from her home. "And I apply the same techniques for a horse massage as I do for a human massage."

Although Rolfs, who grew up in both northern Virginia and Palm Beach, Fla., has been a licensed massage therapist for only 13 years, she began using massage techniques on horses as a teenager.

"I started going to Palm Beach polo games and walking the horses after the matches," Rolfs said. "I began trying some massage techniques on the horses, and it seemed to make a difference."

Rolfs, who works mostly on a horse's neck, shoulders, hips and legs, said that muscle discomfort is often the underlying cause for an abnormally high-strung horse.

"I've found that massage therapy often helps a horse that is hard to handle," she said. "After treatments, they are usually a different creature -- more relaxed and very much easier to manage."

Rolfs also said she once used massage to help a horse that had been bitten by a rattlesnake.

"I helped massage the swelling out," she said, "and the horse survived and lived many years."

In addition, Rolfs uses massage therapy and stretching exercises to extend a horse's leg muscles, which, she said, over time will lengthen its stride and provide an extra edge for competition.

"In the history of the Olympics, massage therapists have been employed not only for the men and women contenders," she said, "but also for the horses during equestrian competition."

Along with massage therapy, Rolfs is trained to do acupressure and trigger-point therapy. "These techniques are used to relieve spasmed muscles and to increase energy flow."

Rolfs often uses a carrot to help locate problem areas of the neck and determine the horse's range of motion.

"I'll hold a carrot up to a horse's mouth and move it to the left and right to see how far its neck will turn," she said. "I'll also use a carrot to help improve neck stretches."

Rolfs, who has two horses and has been riding since she was 3, moved her 12-year massage practice -- for humans and horses -- from Palm Beach to Frederick County in September.

The 37-year-old said her father introduced her to massage therapy when she was 12.

"My father believed in healthy living, and he used to get massages at the Watergate (complex) in Washington," Rolfs said. "He later had a massage therapist come to our house to give my brother, Hank, and me a massage when we were young."

Rolfs decided on a career in massage therapy and graduated in 1990 from Seminar Network International School of Massage Therapy in Lake Worth, Fla.

She also earned a bachelor's degree in equestrian studies from Averett College in Danville.

Rolfs said she takes her practice to her clients' homes, whether it's for a human massage or a horse massage.

A horse massage, however, usually takes place in a stall or barn.

Rolfs said she could also apply her massage expertise to other animals, too.

"But I love horses and working with humans," she said.

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