Cassie: Accepted for Who She Was

Cassie: Accepted for Who She Was

I started working with Cassie when she was about 16 years old. She had been a riding horse, but wasn’t really suited to that so her person, Chris, bred her a couple times. Cassie was no longer breeding successfully, so Chris brought her to a lesson barn where I was working to see if Cassie could be re-trained for riding — but things weren’t going well. As was the case when she was younger, Cassie was distractible and spooky. Chris thought maybe massage would help Cassie be more comfortable and relaxed when she was ridden, so she asked me to start equine massage therapy for Cassie.

Cassie was an interesting horse to work with. I couldn’t put her in the cross ties because she would panic, so I worked on her loose in her stall. It worked out pretty well. It was a big lesson barn, so there were always horses around to keep Cassie company, so she could relax as best she could. Cassie was naturally mentally tense, which creates a lot of physical tension — whether you’re human or animal. But she clearly enjoyed her massages and her muscles really needed the release she got from her massages.

After a few months, the trainer told Chris to retire Cassie because he wasn’t making any progress with her. Fortunately, Chris had a small barn and pastures with a few other horses on her property and could take Cassie home. Chris said she definitely wanted to continue Cassie’s massages after she went home, so we made plans for that.

The first time I worked with Cassie at Chris’ house, Chris told me that Cassie couldn’t be in the barn alone or she would panic. To prevent that, I’d have to bring in Cassie’s best horse friend — a small black and white pony named Oreo — as well as Cassie. I had to bring in the pony first, then Cassie and when I finished, take them both back to the paddock. So that’s what I did. With Oreo in the barn, I could put Cassie on cross ties for her massages. I saw Cassie once a month for the next 3 years and the system worked perfectly. The pony was quiet, Cassie was relaxed — most of the time — and she enjoyed her massages.

I really got to know Cassie during that time. She was quite a character! People at the lesson barn didn’t like her because she could be unpredictable and spooky. But I understood that about her and because all I was asking her to do was trust me and relax, she was mostly well behaved. When she did get a little spooky, I just had to wait and let her work through it. She was never dangerous and I had no doubt that she trusted me.

Chris told me she had never seen Cassie as relaxed as she was since I’d been working with her. That was saying something, because “relaxed” was not a word that most people would think of to describe Cassie. When I worked on Cassie, she would close her eyes, drop her head, lick and chew (all signs of relaxation in horses) and she’d touch me with gently with her nose. Cassie loved her massages. She was always waiting for me at the gate when I went out to her paddock to bring her in. Cassie was honest with me and, like Chris, I accepted Cassie for who she was and loved her just the same — and Cassie knew it.

Sadly, Cassie’s best pony friend, Oreo, eventually crossed to Spirit. Both Chis and I hoped that Cassie would be able to relax in the barn despite Oreo’s absence and I told Chris I would try to make it work by doing Cassie’s massages with her loose in her stall, like I did at the lesson barn. Unfortunately, with no other horses in the barn, the worst of Cassie’s spookiness came back the first time we tried this.

It was a windy day and we were in Cassie’s stall. All was going well. Then the wind spooked the horses outside and they started running. Cassie lost it. She started walking panicked circles around her stall, as close to the wall as she could get. You could see in her eyes she was not paying attention to me or anything but her panic. I was on the outside of the circle she was walking and the only thing I could do to keep myself safe was to get out of the stall until Cassie calmed down. But before I could make a move, Cassie took a step a little too close to me and her hoof (she had horseshoes on too) landed on the big toe of my right foot. She was in the process of turning the corner, so there was extra torque on my toe. The pain was incredible — I was quite sure she’d broken my toe.

I managed to get out of Cassie’s stall before she made the next circuit, secured the stall door. I hobbled over to a bench down the aisle a bit from the stall door and took my shoes and socks off to examine my toe. Thankfully, my barn shoes did their job and although my toe was badly bruised, it was not broken.

When I realized I was OK, I looked up and saw Cassie standing at her stall door perfectly calm, her attention completely focused on me. Her look was full of genuine concern. I heard her say, “What happened? Are you OK? Can I help?” It was so comical I had to laugh. I’m sure, if she could have, she would have offered to call 911!

When I could put weight on my foot again, I finished Cassie’s massage. She was good as gold the rest of the massage.

I knew Cassie hadn’t meant to hurt me. She could easily have stepped on my instep, but she didn’t. Horse can’t see their feet when their heads are up and focuses ahead and I have no doubt that Cassie did her best to avoid me, despite her panic. Cassie couldn’t help who she was — so I didn’t blame her.

After that, I told Chis I’d need to do Cassie’s massages outside in a small paddock with no grass. Chris was good with that plan. Everything went great after that. To be honest, I wish we’d done that right from the start!

A couple more years went by and Cassie started really showing her age. She started loosing muscle mass and I noticed her joints were getting stiffer when I did her stretching. The stiffness was especially noticeable in her left front “knee” joint (the carpal joint) and the joint was a little swollen at times. I mentioned this to Chris so she was aware. Chris talked to the vet and got Cassie started on medication to help her joints and reduce her pain.

The last time I saw Cassie, I found her in her paddock standing with her left foreleg in an awkward position — in front of her body and off to the side. She couldn’t put weight on it and her left “knee” was very hot and swollen. Cassie was hanging her head and looked miserable — I knew she was really hurting.

I knelt next to her and gave her Reiki/healing energy for her left knee for about 20 minutes. After about 15 minutes, Cassie started to ease her leg back to a normal position and then was able to put weight on it. I did Cassie’s massage, stopping frequently to give her left knee — and the rest of her body — more Reiki/healing energy. When I finished, Cassie looked much more comfortable and happy. She was able to walk around her paddock almost normally.

I was really concerned that Cassie was getting close to her time to cross to Spirit. Spooky as Cassie was, she could have easily hurt herself if she tried to run if her left knee couldn’t support her. Before I left, I told Cassie how much I loved her and how grateful I was to know her. She laid her head on my chest and we stood quietly together for a while, tears running down my face. Then I said good-bye to Cassie.

When I massaged horses, I always left a written report to let clients know what I found/what I did. As usual, I left a massage report for Chris, but I was so concerned about Cassie that I called Chris to let her know how Cassie looked when I found her. I told her that I hoped that the massage/energy work would help keep Cassie comfortable for a while, but I encouraged her to keep an eye on Cassie . . . Chris told me she appreciated my concern and said she would watch Cassie closely.

Three weeks later, Chris called to tell me that Cassie had crossed to Spirit that morning. She said Cassie was able to stand/walk normally for 2 weeks after her massage/energy work. Sadly, the third week Cassie pain increased significantly and she again couldn’t put weight on her left foreleg. Chris and the vet decided that the best thing for Cassie was to help her cross to Spirit.

I am grateful to have known Cassie and grateful that I was able to give her comfort and support in her later life. Cassie is one of the many horses I worked with in my 15 years as an equine massage therapist who will always be special to me.


“When I tell people that my horse gets massage, they always ask me if Sky is any good at equine massage. I tell them that she is fantastic — she is the best. But there is one big problem . . . after your horse’s second massage, your horse is going to love Sky more than she loves you! If you can live with that, Sky is the only equine massage therapist I’d recommend!”
— Chris, NJ