Heart & Soul Equine

Heart and Soul Equine was established out of a real desire to help horses. I also love helping folks, through useful information, become better partners with a horse. This information provides for a happier horse, therefore a better outcome and relationship for both.

The A.R.T. of Pain Relief – Introducing Active Release Therapy – Not Your Typical Equine Body Work

Until very recently, the idea of massage therapy or bodywork for horses was mostly unheard of. People would just get on their horse and ride. Horses were a necessary source of transportation. Armies rode them into battle. Cowboys used them to tame the west and work cattle. The animals were bought and traded like a commodity.


In modern times, the horse has become more a symbol of recreation and competition than a beast of burden. We have begun to understand them as athletes, with similar needs and considerations as their human counterparts. Top competitors in equine sports recognize the need for their animals to be in the best physical condition possible, and the role that routine bodywork plays in keeping a horse’s muscles and frame in top shape and minimizing injury.


People seek after bodywork for themselves all the time. Nothing feels better than a good massage, or a chiropractic treatment for a pulled muscle or stiff back. Top human athletes seek many forms of bodywork and invest in themselves, spending hours upon hours keeping their bodies finely tuned.


Recreational horse owners can also benefit from the practice of bodywork, but many are skeptical or simply unaware of it. It may never have occurred to us that our horse might have a sore muscle or ligament out of place. Imagine how even the slightest amount of discomfort might affect your horse while you’re riding. If your horse is finicky or resistant, it’s worth checking out. One session with an educated and intuitive practitioner could make all the difference in your overall enjoyment of your horse.


One of the breakthrough therapy techniques, or “modalities” used by elite human athletes is a called Active Release Therapy, also known as ART. Active Release Therapy is a dynamic and rare therapy developed in 1985 by P. Michael Leahy, DC, CCSP, who actually acquired a medical patent, a rare pursuit for any modality of bodywork. Although still little known to the public, ART has been highly sought after by some of the top competitive athletes and athletic events in the world over the last 20 years, including Ironman, an event that draws some of the world’s most intense competitors.


Active Release Therapy addresses nerve entrapments or repetitive motion tissue adhesions by combining pressure and range of motion to release the adhesions and scar tissue from the surrounding muscles. Scar tissue is an accumulation of small tears caused by lack of oxygen, produced by the body to protect areas affected by an acute condition, injury or simple overuse. Scar tissue restricts the surrounding tissues from moving freely, resulting in a lack of range of motion. Repetitive motion, whether in human athletes or horses can cause weak and tight muscles, leading to friction, inflammation and decreased circulation. ART provides a way to open up the adhesions and relieve the pressure from subtle (or not so subtle) scar tissue. ART also aids healing by alleviating acute pain, reduces muscle fatigue, reduces bruising and swelling, promotes relaxation, increases circulation, promotes balance, muscle tone and flexibility and prevents future injuries.



Active Release Therapy, in short, is a dynamic treatment for soft tissue ailments and limited range of motion. It alleviates pain and promotes healing. All athletes can benefit from increased range of motion, whether rehab from an injury or just routine maintenance. Although our equine friends are built on a much larger scale than human anatomy, aside from a few subtleties, our physical structures aren’t that different.


Dixie Snyder is a prominent, certified ART therapist from San Jose, California who has performed bodywork for human patients for over 40 years, and horses for over 20 years. Dixie, who saw the dynamic results from Active Release Therapy with her human athlete clients started to translate the technique to horses. She has now introduced ART to a number of horses with highly successful results, relieving repetitive motion adhesions and scar tissue. She considers this to be one of her most productive modalities in equine bodywork, particularly with muscles and ligaments in the legs, due to the nature of a horse’s motion. A top performance horse, whether a hunter Jumper or dressage horse, barrel horse or working cow horse will go through many repetitive movements in their training and daily exercise program. Relieving the scar tissue provides a major opportunity to increase the range of motion in a horse. Trainers in several disciplines are noting quantifiable improvement after the first session of Active Release Therapy with Dixie. Some of those cases alluded to over 60% improvement in gaits, maneuvers and transitions.


We can’t overemphasize the overall benefits of bodywork for horses. As we are fond of saying, a horse can’t use words to tell you when they’re uncomfortable. It takes a keen awareness to recognize limitations in a horse’s movements. Human athletes frequently acknowledge the benefits of body therapy in conversations with fellow athletes, but it’s an uncommon conversation among horse owners. Bodywork accomplishes the same thing for your horse as it does for you: keeps you limber, loosens tight muscles, relieves aches and pains, accelerates healing from injury, increases confidence, allows you to perform better, and enhances your overall enjoyment of any physical activity (which is, after all, the whole point). Again, it’s worth your while to check it out for your horse. You’re bound to have more fun when they’re feeling good.


Active Release Therapy isn’t your typical bodywork; it’s more like bodywork with a turbocharger. It’s a wonderful way to keep today’s horses in top shape, whether for performance or recreation, and offers huge benefits in routine and long-term health care. For more information please visit or Call Dixie Snyder from Athletic Body Concepts at 408-280-0303.

To Spay or Not to Spay; That is the Question

“Super mellow and not your typical mare,” was the wording in the ad placed for your horse’s sale.  Did you read it incorrectly or did you miss something?  Somehow, the horse in the ad is not the horse you brought home and you realize that she has fallen short of your expectations.  If this has happened to you, you’re not alone.
‘Mare days’ – those days characterized by anything but mellow behavior.
It is an unfortunate fact that the hormonal mood swings displayed by many mares has led to a ’mare day’ stigma that now sees geldings outselling mares at a rate of 4 to 1 in the world of horse sales.  So many wonderful mounts are passed over due to this ’typical’ stereotyping which is in fact a much misunderstood condition called estrus. 
 Estrus – the follicle phase, averaging 5-7 days in length, when a mare is sexually receptive to a stallion. 
If you spend a little time in understanding a ‘typical’ mare, you very soon begin to detect that these remarkable girls deserve some consideration. 
A mare displaying a strong estrus cycle is simply a mare that Mother Nature has indicated would be an excellent mother.  Granted, one might not have purchased their mare to breed, but should we spend endless time fighting with this natural situation when it occurs?  In some mares, the estrus condition is barely present – you may even wonder ‘if and when’ your mare is cycling – but in others mares it presents itself as a definite challange: a challange that can create so much friction between you and your beloved that you may even choose to sell. 
Common Behavior
The signs and ‘symptoms’ of estrus rotate on a natural 19 to 21 day cycle and will most commonly present themselves in a ‘gelding-mare-moment‘ but in some cases, the process can become a little more overwhelming to say the least.  These are;
Ÿ  Winking – this describes the mare opening and closing the lower part of her vulva. Usually exhibited near or for another horse
Ÿ  Peeing incessantly and at irregular times
Ÿ  Calling – vocalizing her need to stay as the center of attention
Ÿ  High bursts of energy, fits or even stallion like behavior 
All of the above can leave you wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into and if any of it resonates with you, taking time to analyze the options for both you and your horse would be time well spent.
If you’re in search of an answer to relieving the estrus behavioral symptoms your own ‘eternal mother’ is displaying, the following options are worth considering:
Ÿ  Herbs  These may produce a mild effect overall and can be a good option for the ‘easy’ mare with an occasional condition.  However, they may not be the answer for a strong cycler. 
Ÿ  Depo -provera or shots  these are veterinarian administered, monthly shots, of the same drug used by some women to relieve the symptoms of severe PMS.  The shots can provide a bit of relief in most cases, but the overall effect may not be significant enough in all mares. 
Ÿ  Regu-mate this is a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone which suppresses estrus and fools the horse’s body into believing it is pregnant.  However, it is a pricy option at approximately $250.00 for a 3 month supply and it also comes with its own set of precautions as absorption into the human body can produce challenges with the human cycle.  For this reason, rubber gloves for handling the product are highly recommended.  A dispenser gun can also be purchased for around $35.00, allowing the handler to coat the feed without direct contact.  On effectiveness or the balancing of cycles, it is my experience that Regu-mate provided the best overall results of the three.
Some mares are very uncomfortable during their period of estrus and they can suffer many of the same conditions experienced by women around their time of the month. Symptoms such as cramping, moodiness, and lower back pain etc. are just as likely to be suffered by a mare as they are by a woman.  These symptoms are not always alleviated by the above products as mares still ovulate on these remedies. That brings us to spaying.
To Spay or Not to Spay?
Listed below are important points to consider when making the decision whether or not to spay.
1.  15 to 20% of mares still continue to cycle during winter.  This is important for those considering Regu-mate as an option.  If your mare is one of the 15 – 20%, this would mean there would be no time off from the drug as it would need to be administered year round.  Case studies have not cleared this as safe and the cost would reach over $1000.00 per year for the remainder of your horse‘s life.
2.  There are 3 different stages of a mares cycle. Estrus is just one of three natural hormone driven stages in a mare’s reproductive cycle.  In simple terms, without the medical jargon, the stages are:
a.   Anestrus – the ‘I don’t care’ stage which in most mares represents the winter months.
b.   Estrus – the ‘Here I am boys’ stage in which winking and peeing are common behaviors, normally present for 5 to 7 days each cycle.
c.   Diestrus – the ’No, no, no, don’t even think about it’ stage when the hormone progesterone is present, lowering her desire to breed.
These are important to understand as spaying mimics the winter ’I don’t care’ stage. In effect, it generates a permanent reproduction shut down mode in a mare’s body. Regu-mate only mimics the ‘no, no, no’ or Diestrus period, meaning again, a mare will still ovulate and therefore may still suffer some of the uncomfortable symptoms of cycling.  Although a trial of Regu-mate will give you an approximate assimilation of what your mare would act like as a spayed mare, the natural behavior shown in the winter months would more likely resemble a closer approximation of spaying.  That is again if she actually shuts down.
The Spaying Procedure
For example, in Northern California, spaying is done at UC Davis in Dixon California. The cost of the procedure is quoted to be approximately $1800 to $2000 depending on after care developments and needs.  The winter months are recommended for spaying, while mares are not ovulating, although not required.  The whole procedure from preparation to completion takes about one and one half hours to two hours.  Surgery is performed by laparoscope, standing up in stocks, using drugs similar to those used in dentistry with the addition of an epidural.  Three small one half inch incisions are made in the left flank for cameras and tools and both ovaries are removed from an approximately three inch incision in the right flank.  Recovery time is minimal with a 12 x 12 box stall prescribed for two weeks and gentle hand-walking exercise only.  After two weeks, when the cut and cauterized fallopian tubes have started to repair, turnout in a quarter acre paddock is allowed and the frequency of hand-walking can increase.  After that, a gradual build up of regular work is in line.  Hormones take approximately three months to leave the mares body completely.  Your mare will come back ‘your mare’ after the procedure; she will still have all of her personality components intact without the hormonal influx she previously suffered.
If, after careful consideration and exploration of your own mare’s level of discomfort, you deem that the other available options are too prohibitive, either in terms of cost or in their level of effectiveness, it is recommended that owners of heavy cycling mares look into spaying as an option.
However, in closing this topic, it is important to note that this procedure is not a ‘fix all’ for all behavioral issues.  Many incidents of ‘typical’ mare behavior are not related to hormones at all, but are instead reflections of weak leadership that may have in fact developed from misunderstanding how to handle a high level hormonal horse.  The bottom line is that behavioral patterns or issues must be completely understood. Only with a sincere interest in learning to understand the difference, along with careful observation of your mare’s cycles and behavior, will both you and your horse be able to benefit fully from this procedure.

Book signing in Santa Cruz

Did a book sale in Santa Cruz last about the book was great!  Thank you to all who took the plunge! Looking forward to hearing back from you all.

Could this be my horse or what?

2012 Equine Industry Survey

Spread the news that horse owners can help the horse industry by taking the AHP Equine Industry Survey at This is an important survey about your horse’s health.

This survey took about 5 minutes and I think will help manufactures and other providers streamline their costs and approaches.

View survey

Ahhh …the Winter Bath Dilemma

Most people struggle with the idea of winter baths for their horses, but sometimes you have no choice due to excess sweat or just plain mud. If your horse is healthy, you should be able to bathe safely. Think twice with horses that have compromised immune systems, elder horses, young babies or a horse that has just gotten over being sick. Of course it is good to keep bathing to a minimum in the dead of winter, but if you are quick and careful, winter baths can be safe and healthy. Here are some ideas to help you with the best outcome for your horse.

  1. Ideally you would have warm water to use (ask yourself how you would feel about a cold outdoor shower on a cold day). If there is no hot water available at your boarding facility, consider using a portable water heater. These are available at your local camping supply store for a reasonable price, and can be used anywhere, year after year.
  2. Bathe in a closed area if possible, or even a stall depending on your situation. It is best to try to keep your horse out of drafts before and after bathing.
  3. Try washing the front half of your horse first, then put a cooler (a blanket made of material that wicks water away and keep the horse warm) on that half while you wash the back half. A bucket and a sponge would be better than a running hose, limiting the amount of water on the skin.
  4. Use a small amount of good rinsing soap to help expedite the rinsing process.  Try different brands during the summer to find out which work best.
  5. Wash the face with a wash cloth with careful attention around the ears, throatlatch and under the jaws where sweat seems to appear more often.
  6. Get rid of excess water as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. After scraping with a sweat scraper, found at local tack stores, try using bath towels to towel-dry as much of the horse as you can.
  7. After the bath, keep the horse covered until he or she is dry. Use two coolers if possible. Use a light one underneath a warmer one for best results. Always keep the chest of the horse covered. Change the light cooler underneath after a while to a different dry one if you have them available as this will help with drying the horse faster.
  8. Dry or waterless shampoos are useful for spot cleaning when a full bath isn’t necessary.
  9. Wintergreen rubbing alcohol is a good, quick remedy to dissolve and wipe away sweat under saddles, in the girth area and anywhere where excess sweat accumulates. You can find this at any local drug store near the regular alcohol.
  10. Don’t forget to clean your stall to keep your horse and your blankets as clean as they can be.

 With a quick bath procedure and a bit of thought, your horse should do fine.



Sound Asleep in the Arena

It was after a good long workout on the lunge line for my horse Grace, that I remained in the center of the arena to do a bit of Masterson Method (see Recommended Resources) tension release work on her. She was especially tight in the hind end area on her left. I had noticed this while she was moving. Beginning the release work, I was not only getting the blinks you look for which indicate tension in the horse, but I was getting closed eyes that day. She was really into it! After doing quite a bit of work on releasing her tension, I was done and was ready to exit the arena. As I went to leave, I took a quick glance at her and noticed that she had a bit of a dazed look on her face. Not her usual alert self. I tried again to get her to come with me and still she was not willing to move.  She looked to me to ‘be in the zone’. As I stood there realizing that she was still processing my work on her, she began that downward perch that horses do when they begin to lay down or roll.  Within seconds she had gone down. I started to think that she wanted to roll, but instead she just laid there in that kitty cat position. Mind you there was a lesson going on down at the other end of the arena and other people milling around just outside near us. I decided to go with it and within about a minute; she stretched out completely on her side and just laid there. Someone who was getting her horse ready by us said “that’s a funny place to take a nap”.  I chuckled as I thought to myself, “it sure is”. Grace proceeded to take a nap for about 10 minute’s right there in the arena. Had I not known that is was common for some horses to process this way after tension relief work, I would have wondered what had I done to my horse. A few passers-by asked if she was o.k. and I just said, “She’s just sleeping”. After a while, someone entered the arena at a gate near us and Grace decided to wake up and we eventually left the arena. I guess the work went well, as the next day she was moving better than ever! For anyone who would love to have a better relationship with their horse, I strongly recommend investigating a weekend course on the ‘Masterson Method’. Some of the best money you will ever spend.

Welcome to my Blog

Welcome to my new website for Heart and Soul Equine.  This year has been an amazing journey of development, for the site, for the book and for me.  I am excited to bring what I hope to be worthwhile information to people who are interested in looking at horses from more than a riding or training standpoint. The release of the book should be near the end of February 2012.  You will be able to buy it on or here directly come February.

Take a look around the site and feel free to email me to just stay in touch or to sign up for my newsletter.  I hope to pass on other valuable resources of products, services or information that I have found personally helpful and should be adding them to my recommended resources page now and in the future.  Stay tuned for other helpful tidbits forthcoming.  On behalf of the horse…our wish for you is Healthy Enjoyment And Respectful Teamwork & a Spirit Of Understanding and Love.

It is easy to forget in our day to day work with horses that there is much more involved than just hopping on and riding. Sandi reminds us that it is our responsibility to be the best caretakers possible for our trusty friends. It is also important not to become complacent in our dealings with horses and people connected with them… we should always strive to educate ourselves more, staying up to date with the latest news and information. Sandi’s 8 essentials are exactly that… Essential!

A. Milne – 36 Year Riding Veteran, Horse Owner and Equine Artist