Six months ago I met equine manual therapist Louise Mauferon Vernet to collaborate with her while she treated and I photographed two very special boys for a client she has been working with for some time. Last week we met again for another collaboration; this time she was treating my horse 'H' (this was the only letter on his passport which had him listed as just a number), while I photographed her at work. His reactions were amazing, he so enjoyed it.
French born Louise is on the Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners, putting her right at the top of the profession. She studied equine, cranial and visceral osteopathy for five years in Brighton before setting out as a freelance therapist treating both horses and dogs.
When Louise and I met originally she was treating geldings Ben and Bo. What struck me then was their trust in her to help keep them comfortable and while Bo had his own agenda for much of the session, he became more and more relaxed as Louise work on him. And all the while, he was in a massive field of grass with several other horses, so had he wanted to 'stop' his session, there wasn't much we could have done!
What was different about this session was that Louise was treating my horse. I've owned him for a little over two years and we've formed quite a close relationship in that time. He was a completely blank canvas when I bought him newly arrived from Ireland, as a five year old. He really didn't know left from right, circle or square, let alone how to jump, his attitude to life in general is so far removed from my previous horse that I bought him on the spot and I haven't regretted it! Yes, he can be belligerent at times, refuses to trot if being led and very occasionally pulls rude faces, he loves people (especially those who might feed him) adores his little companion and is probably the most reliable horse on the road I know, so long as nothing moves in the hedgerows.
However, I know I ride lopsidedly, am very right side dominant and have become more and more nervous over the last 12 months, all if which make his life under saddle harder. So to compensate, I try to ensure that H doesn't suffer the inevitable consequences of my wonky riding, permanent hanging on to his mouth and making him do endless circles in a school of concrete - and asked Louise to come and treat him so I could document her in action.
I couldn't say there's much wrong with H just looking at him, but under the surface, I felt there were a few niggly things that he needed help with. Standing under the trees to try to keep out of the ferocious sun, Louise started her assessment and immediately picked up a few areas that she could focus on. I could tell quite quickly that H was, for the most part really enjoying what she was doing. The tight muscles across his lumber spine began to relax and you could see the blood flow under the skin - quite extraordinary viewing. As she moved from the tip of his nose to the bottom of his tail, each process made him relax a little more and he spent many moments 'asleep' only opening his eyes because I was taking photos, otherwise I expect he might have slept for the duration!
I hugely enjoyed watching Louise work the first time I saw her, but seeing her treat H, whose expressions and character I can read a whole lot better, made this a completely different experience. She spent a full 90 mins gently releasing tight muscles, straightening up misalignments and generally making him feel more comfortable in himself. After she left, he spent a very quiet afternoon, rather zoned out, and then had the weekend off. His first outing three days later was a gentle amble through the fields, concentrating on low head carriage and hind leg engagement. Next I put him to work, with a 20 minute schooling session. Nothing particularly strenuous, but he certainly felt better and more balanced, happier to self carry than be forced into an outline that before he'd found challenging.
It's so important to look after our four legged friends and while H doesn't have many pampering sessions, the one he has, he really benefits from. The time Louise spent with him was so worth it and hopefully my wonky riding won't impact too quickly!