Horses spend most of their lives jarring their joints and muscles as they run, jump and otherwise cavort on a mostly hard, dusty surface. That's where the magic fingers of a horse masseuse, otherwise known as an Equine Massage Therapist (EMT), come in. EMTs provide the instrument through which many equine musculo-skeletal problems are banished. All that’s required is a related education, skill and, of course, the desire to bring health and comfort to these animals.
What You Can Earn
The average salary for a horse masseuse varies, depending on level of education, experience, the services one can offer and location. Most EMTs are self-employed and work with horse facilities or individuals on a contractual basis. They can charge anywhere from $50 to $100 or higher per session, which typically lasts 45 minutes to one hour. Salaries can increase with specific treatments, or if a job can be found working under a retainer, receiving payment weekly or monthly. Rates can be based on what animal caretakers, veterinary technologists and technicians earn, perhaps increasing fee amounts to compensate for the level of expertise in massage therapy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average annual wage for caretakers, technologists and technicians between $19,550 and $27,710 in 2010. If sticking strictly to equine massage, working 20 hours per week at $100 per hour, the annual salary would amount to $24,000.
What You'll Do
In your job as an EMT, you will literally affect every horse you touch, adding to the approximately 7 million horses across the U.S. that, as of this writing, benefit from people in this profession. But what does an equine massage therapist actually do? You’ll first analyze a horse’s condition and then provide treatments based on the specific problem. You'll apply specific therapeutic techniques to promote circulation, relieve tension, improve muscle tone and relax muscle spasms; much like massage therapists do for people, except with horses, bigger muscles equal bigger problems. You might be asked to exercise the horse or work with veterinarians to diagnose illnesses or injuries.
Your job as an equine massage therapist won’t be a clean one. Your work will mostly be outdoors, in stables, rescue shelters or veterinary clinics. You may be called to work at racetracks or rodeos, or anywhere horses are engaged in physically demanding activities. You might be “on call,” required at times to work nights, weekends and holidays. You could experience situations where you will be physically or emotionally taxed, like assisting a horse in a lot of pain who can’t stand. If you've been exclusively retained by a ranch or horse barn, you might have a regular schedule because of your constant familiarity with specific horses as you work to get them in peak condition.
The field of equine massage therapy is relatively new, and it’s still in the process of being regulated. You can earn voluntary certification offered through the International Federation of Equine Massage Therapists. Your EMT training will generally focus on massage techniques and coursework in equine science, including health and injury prevention. You can locate schools offering certification in the field -- some have agreements with colleges to allow the transferring of credits toward a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Your training will include rehabilitative science, stable management, and physiology, including a thorough education in the equine muscular system. Your education will teach you the fascinating fundamentals of non-verbal communication with horses, sometimes referred to as "horse whispering." Your on-site training will be in conjunction with owners, trainers and vets.
Equine massage therapists are gaining in demand because horse owners are beginning to notice the benefits of this type of therapy. Owners have seen the adverse effects on horses from surgery and constant drug use and are seeking alternative, non-invasive approaches to the health problems experienced by their animals. If EMT work is included as part of a job as a veterinary technologist, you can expect a 23 percent growth in employment opportunities between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You may not become rich as an equine massage therapist, but you'll feel good knowing you’re in a growing field where, for many years to come, you'll have a positive hands-on influence on the health of horses.
- Education Portal: Horse Massage Therapist: Salaries, Job Duties and Career Outlook
- United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Animal Care an Service Workers
- United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Veterinary Technologists and Technicians
- Equine Sports Massage: Foundation Training
- MassageTherapy.com: No Horsing Around: Equine Massage is Big Business
Michelle Reynolds has been writing about business, careers and art since 1993. She was the publisher of a newsletter, “Working Parents Monthly," as well as a graphic design guidebook. Reynolds also served as human-resources director at a resort/spa for eight years. She is an artist and promotes the arts and other artists through ElegantArtisan.com, a website she developed and maintains.