N.D. student prepares for career in equine massage

FARGO -- "I've always been interested in the rehabilitation of horses," Megan Vikesland said as she patiently runs her hands and fingers over the neck area of Faren, an Appaloosa.

Megan Vikesland
Megan Vikesland laughs as she tickles Faren's nose and under the chin at Sterling Rose Stables in Fargo. (AP Photo/The Forum, Dave Wallis)

FARGO -- "I've always been interested in the rehabilitation of horses," Megan Vikesland said as she patiently runs her hands and fingers over the neck area of Faren, an Appaloosa.

Faren stood quietly in a work area at the Sterling Rose Stables south of Fargo as Vikesland applies therapeutic techniques to relax and enhance muscle tone and increase range of motion.

"The first thing I do is palpitate the entire horse just so he gets to know me, and I can feel where his muscles and tight spots are and see if he's sore."

"If he's sore, he'll shiver. He'll pin his ears back," said Vikesland, adding that some horses will react when she first touches them, but most relax quickly because it feels good.

In the wild, she said, horses nibble each other to clean each other, so touch is part of their social interaction.


A full-body massage takes about an hour, and Vikesland will concentrate on a certain area if the horse has a problem in that spot.

Although massages can be demanding on her fingers and hands, Vikesland can do up to five horses a day.

"My muscles have been built up," Vikesland said.

During her senior year of high school at West Central Area High School in Barrett, Minn., Vikesland completed all of the credits she needed for graduation early, so she was allowed to take extra courses.

She wound up enrolling in a massage course at Northwest School of Animal Massage out of Redmond, Wash.

She did months of book study before flying to Redmond for a week of intensive hands-on work.

According to Northwest School of Animal Massage, there are an estimated 250,000 licensed massage therapists in the U.S. It's a practice that appears to be growing as the school expects a significant increase in therapists this year.

Now a sophomore at North Dakota State University, Vikesland is majoring in equine science. Her classes include anatomy, riding, therapeutic riding and equine nutrition. "Horses are pretty much my life," chuckled Vikesland, who has five horses of her own.


Vikesland works often with Dr. Kathy Seifert, a chiropractor and acupuncturist based out of Lake Region Veterinary Center in Elbow Lake, Minn.

"If the horse is out of whack and gets a chiropractic appointment, then I'll do a massage to help release the muscles," said Vikesland, who is licensed and works through her business, Stonybrook Equine.

Vikesland said she has regular clients who get massages for their horses about once every three weeks.

"Equine massage is coming around. There's a lot of people who don't believe in it, and there's some that are very hard-core believers," she said. "The people that have seen it work really believe in it."

"You can really tell the difference," says Bryan Domier of Portland, N.D., a client of Vikesland, who works on several of his horses. "When you work the horses all the time, they get sore and tired, just like humans," Domier said.

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