HORSES are lining up to get pampered by equine massage specialists.
At least eight masseurs have now turned professional and are offering their services in paddocks the length and breadth of Scotland.
For around 50 an hour, top race horses and retired ponies alike can have treatment for the knots in their backs and stiff joints in legs.
Even the British Equine Veterinary Association has given conditional backing to horse massage, saying the technique may help while pointing out there is currently no scientific evidence to support it.
Niall Morrison is among those working in Scotland’s newest – and, some would say, oddest – industry.
The 57-year-old runs his business, Massage for Mobility, from his home near Duns, in the Scottish Borders.
Morrison is not afraid to compare his patients to top athletes such as Usain Bolt. But he claims that even horses that do not race can benefit from regular massages.
“I originally started working on humans but then I learned a technique for fixing backs and began to apply it to horses,’ he said.
“Horses had never been part of my life until I started working on them, but the relationship and workings of the muscles and skeleton of a horse are fundamentally the same as humans.
“It’s the same knots I’m looking for that you get in your necks or shoulders. Any problems humans can get, so can horses. “
“But the horse isn’t just a back, I wanted to do more, so I looked in to the full body massage.
“Horses are athletes in the same way that humans are, but where a human sportsman will have a full entourage of people looking after them, the horse has just his vet – who will of course do a top-class job.
“The owner may feel that the problem in is a specific area, but I often pick up issues far removed from where they think the problem is. “
Morrison has worked on horses for the equestrian competitor and four-time Olympic silver medalist Ian Stark.
Stark said that he saw a huge change in his horse Ivan after Morrison had worked on him.
“In just a few sessions the change in his whole appearance was remarkable. He was more relaxed and obviously more comfortable. His paces have improved and so has his performance. “
“I am greatly in favour of massages for all types of horse, having seen first-hand the many and varied benefits it offers. “
But Mr Morrison added that it is not only competitors that will benefit, as it can have an effect on all types of horses including injured, traumatised and retired animals.
Horse masseurs are also working in Perth, Fife, Inverness, Aberdeenshire, Arygll, Glasgow and the Borders.
Like Morrison, they claim horses benefit from regular treatment and insist that injured, traumatised and retired animals can all be helped.
Jocelyn Danby, 35, is a veterinary nurse at Kessock Equine Vets, Inverness, and trained as a horse masseur last year.
“As a nurse I wanted to broaden my skills a bit and I wanted to do more for the horses.
“I’m also a riding instructor and saddler so it ties in quite well.
“I find it very useful in my job as both an equine vet nurse and as a saddler because I’m so in tune with the bones in the animal’s back.
“It is by no means a cure for anything, and not an alternative to a vet, but it can ease the strain which can go hand-in-hand with medical treatment.
“I’ve had some referrals from vets I work with at the practice and the results have always been very positive. “
Henry Tremaine, a spokesman for the British Equine Veterinary Association, said:
“Equine vets frequently collaborate with physical therapists’to assist with convalescence, rehabilitation and conditioning of horses to compliment the veterinary treatment.
“It is highly probable that like human athletes, horses can benefit from some techniques for physical complimentary therapy. “
But he added:
“Generally, veterinarians are much more comfortable referring to people that have undergone a rigorous science-based training, based on techniques with some evidence to support them.
“Massage techniques are non-invasive and are therefore unlikely to do any harm – which is very important to veterinarians
“but in many situations they lack credibility in the absence of any scientifically meritable proof of their effectiveness. “