In changing her career from high-stress critical care, trauma, and flight nursing throughout the United States, a Stevensville resident and horse enthusiast is focusing on equine massage.

Kari Schiffman with Valley Equine Massage offers sports massage therapy for horses.

“The flight nurse had just had enough,” Schiffman said. “I’ve seen so much trauma and this little horse is getting older.”

Schiffman has called the Bitterroot Valley her home-base since 2003. Her horse, Roxy, is 12, and has traveled all over the country with her. But even with good veterinary care, she started to have some problems.

“We were up here and she started showing signs of lameness and I took her to the vet, the farriers, and I wanted to get her into massage so we could release those muscles so we could see where it was coming from,” Schiffman said.

Working in the field of emergency and trauma, she knew the importance of timeliness and felt she couldn’t get a hold of local equine massage businesses quick enough. She decided she could learn the art and took an online study program with hands-on demonstrations.

“I started it for her,” she said, pointing to Roxy. “It felt good, it felt right, and she actually responded to it. We found her lameness issue and it’s all fixed. It was just one more modality.”

In her equine massage career, Schiffman keeps her appointments on a short-notice basis.

“We want to loosen up these muscles so we can see if that lameness is in that back leg,” she said. “I’m trying to work Saturdays and trying to have the ability to see horses in between. I don’t want to be scheduled so far in advance.”

Schiffman is a certified equine sports massage therapist.

“That is deep-tissue with a lot of trigger points,” she said. “Horses may indicate sore muscles, stiffness, discomfort, or muscle tightness by using shorter strides, back tightening, decreased flexibility or change in attitude.”

She uses compression, direct pressure, and cross-fiber frictions to open and treat muscles.

“These techniques reduce spasm, increase blood and lymphatic circulation and drainage, reduce muscle adhesions and increase oxygen to the muscle cell,” Schiffman said.

As in human massage, there are different strokes and intensities. In April, she is taking a course in Kalispell called the “Matterson Technique” – a lighter touch with longer strokes.

Schiffman uses sports massage technique and has been able to decrease her nursing hours to do more equine massage. She works as a nurse on her own schedule, signing up for shifts with hospitals as needed.

Her clients include horses that do barrel racing and roping – they are athletic, competitive, and performance driven. She also massages retired and rehabilitation horses.

“All horses benefit from massage at different levels,” Schiffman said. “Horses are really reactive - they’ll do tail swishing and kick out - when you hit a sore spot. Their response is in addition to my feeling the muscle.”

Schiffman said people have been really receptive. Veterinarians have been using her for referral, and hospital co-workers are encouraging.

“The physicians that I work for said ‘Go for it’ because you need something to de-stress and being a nurse you always want to take care of something,” Schiffman said. “It is great to network with people doing this massage and I’m looking forward to my upcoming class in Kalispell; the guy and his techniques are internationally known.”

Schiffman received her training through Equissage in Virginia, which was created in 1989 as one of the first equine massage therapy training programs worldwide.

“They are East Coast and have more race track horses and their riding is a bit different,” Schiffman said. “We get mountain trail horses, barrel racers and roping horses – we just have a different group here. They all get sore muscles and if you get their muscles stretched out they can get their extra bit of time on their score. We’ll see – there are no guarantees.”

Schiffman and Valley Equine Massage will travel from Florence to Sula, but get more work done when people bring their horses for treatments. She uses the Sapphire Arena just north of Corvallis and other easy to reach locations with good horse trailer parking.

Equine Massages take one and a half hours, cost $40 to $60, and there are monthly specials on the Valley Equine Massage Facebook page.

“It is really important for people to know that horse massage is not a substitute for proper veterinarian care,” Schiffman said. “I am looking toward winding down the stress of critical care flight and emergency nursing and changing the focus toward the horses that give so much stress relief therapy.”

Schiffman can be reached at 406/274-8853.

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