Stellar Equine Sports Massage provides tension relief to horses

Casey Daugherty, a 2006 Park Rapids Area High School graduate, was raised around horses and she says this upbringing has helped her develop what she calls a "horse sense."...

Coury visibly relaxes and shuts his eyes as Casey Daugherty massages his crest. (Nicole Vik/Enterprise)
Coury visibly relaxes and shuts his eyes as Casey Daugherty massages his crest. (Nicole Vik/Enterprise)

Casey Daugherty, a 2006 Park Rapids Area High School graduate, was raised around horses and she says this upbringing has helped her develop what she calls a "horse sense."

"Horses are incredible creatures," she said.

Her love of horses is what drove her to seek out a career that allows her to work with the animals.

Originally, she wanted to do chiropractic work on horses and her advisor informed her that if she did, she would be looking at going to vet school. Daugherty decided that was not the path she wanted to pursue and shifted her direction.

She earned a degree from Colby Community College in Kansas in Equine Science and began working with trainers to continue to learn all she could. In 2014, she received a certification in equine sports massage through Armstrong Equine Massage Therapy and began her own business, Stellar Equine Sports Massage.


"Animal massage isn't regulated anywhere in the U.S.," Daugherty said. Having been certified has helped her business to become more reputable and learning proper technique is pivotal to the horse's health, she added.

According to Daugherty, the profession of equine massage originated on the race track. She began her career originally hoping to get a license at Canterbury Park in Shakopee to work on race horses, but the only professions able to obtain licensure at the track are vets, farriers, trainers or grooms. Now, she travels all over the Midwest to varying show barns to work on the animals.

The benefits of equine massage are vastly appreciated among performance horses. The purpose is to increase circulation, relax muscle spasms, relieve tension, enhance muscle tone and increase a horse's range of motion.

"People are starting to understand the benefit of it," Daugherty said. "These horses get so sore and nobody even knows about it."

Daugherty will be sponsoring Tiffany Deitchler, a Park Rapids rider and trainer, and her Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) horse, Undaunted Courage, aka "Coury," as they train for the Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park this coming fall.
The RRP focuses on building second careers and/or homes for retired racehorses. Many times these horses still have potential in different show pens and disciplines.

Before the upcoming show, Daugherty will be working with Deitchler and Coury to ensure he is in the best physical condition.
Daugherty began her first session with Coury by asking Deitchler about the horse's behavior, while feeling for spots of tension and watching his reactions to her touch.

The first time she works with a horse, it is generally very confused and slightly apprehensive to the massage.

"It's essentially about tricking the nervous system to get their muscles to relax; horses' muscles are always tense because they are always ready to go," Daugherty said about massaging the horse's' poll, which is located behind the ears. "So when you can trick the nervous system to relax the muscles automatically relieve their tension."


"They are always holding the weight of their head, so when they relax and drop their head it releases all of the weight and tension they're holding," she added.

Head shaking, long blinks and yawning are the signs she looks for during a session.

"Horses are so transparent, you can see anything that's going on with them," she said about being able to read a horse's reactions to the massage.

Since beginning her career in massage, Daugherty has expanded her services to include essential oil therapy, for the horses that she has difficulty getting to calm down. She will also begin acupressure and kinesiology taping as well.

Daugherty began pursuing a degree in Therapeutic Massage from Northwestern Health Sciences University in January in order to provide services to not only the horses but their riders as well.

"The only reason I ever considered going to school to work on people is because every time I'm at a horse show I'm asked if I work on people," she said about her decision to expand her area of expertise. "I was turning away money."

"Now that I've been working on people, they don't tell you anything. They lay like a corpse on the table," she said jokingly, stating that horses give her far more feedback.

In January, Daugherty was named Therapist of the Month by Armstrong Equine and Canine Massage Therapy.


Daugherty says the horse sense she developed early on has proven to be absolutely crucial to her profession, making it easier for her to read their behaviors and reactions, which is essential for her to be effective in her profession.

"Somebody's feeling good," Daugherty said after their session together, when Coury was back in his stall where he pranced around shaking his head, undeniably feeling some relief.

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