In November Trafalgar Square Books had the chance to catch up with Jim Masterson, creator of the Masterson Method, an innovative form of bodywork that relaxes the horse’s body and relieves his muscles, connective tissue, and structure of deep stress and pain. We found out a little more about his method developed, plus discovered he likes beer and Mark Twain…not necessarily in that order.
TSB: You began your foray into equine massage and bodywork while working for a hunter-jumper trainer. How did that “jump” from one interest to another evolve?
JM: I remember two specific events that inspired me to do this kind of work during a time when I was hauling and grooming horses for a hunter-jumper show barn. Up to that point I never had any interest in any kind of bodywork.
The first inspiration was an old horse chiropractor from New Zealand who’d been working on horses for 40 years—he’d learned from another old horse chiropractor in New Zealand who’d been doing it for 40 years. (The genealogy is lost from there.) This guy used some pretty forceful techniques, but he got amazing results. He also paid very close attention to the horse’s responses, and would step back after each adjustment to see “what the horse had to say.” I learned to watch the horse from watching him, as well as a couple of other key things that later would make a big difference in improving performance in the horse.
The second was at a hunter-jumper show in Estes Park, Colorado. I watched two ladies who had been hired to work on our horses start their treatment by running their hands very lightly over the bladder meridian to relax the horse. I noticed that the horse’s lip would twitch or eye would blink in response as their hand passed lightly over certain spots. I realized that the horse’s body was giving visual responses to something the hand was doing. I also realized, when I experimented with this, that when I got a blink or a twitch, if I stopped and kept my hand or finger very lightly over that spot, eventually I would get more and larger responses—such as changes in breathing or licking and chewing—and that eventually the horse would start yawning and showing the same responses that the New Zealand horseman recognized as indicating a successful adjustment. I learned that if I stayed light enough and long enough on that spot, and did basically nothing, the horse’s body would release tension on its own. A perfect technique for someone like me—naturally lazy and with no prior training!
By following the horse’s responses I gradually learned to use movement to get the horse to release tension in key junctions of the body that most affect performance, using both visual and palpable responses to touch. This led to a method that is both visually and palpably appealing to horse owners, and which, after quite a few years working on horses on the hunter-jumper circuit, led to teaching seminars and courses to horse owners and therapists.
TSB: You travel internationally and pretty constantly. Where has your work with the Masterson Method brought you—that is, which countries have you enjoyed and what have you liked most about them?
JM: Who has been to Italy who can say that they didn’t like Italy? I’ve done a few seminars there. My wife usually doesn’t feel the need to come along on these trips, but for some reason each time I go to Italy, she feels I need help.
I’ve been going to England and Ireland a couple of times a year for the past few years. Other than the language problem it’s great. I have a brother married to an English woman, and a nephew there, too, so I get to practice my English with them from time to time.
The English and Irish are great with horses. They have a military and hunting history and tradition with horses that is an interesting contrast to our Western working tradition. But a horse is a horse, and horses and horse care are very important to them. I enjoy my trips there.
The Pan Am Endurance Championships were in Chile this year, on the coast near a town called Santo Domingo. I was surprised to find it was more like the coast of California than what you would think of as South America. I hope to get to Argentina and Uruguay soon—they are big horse countries where interest in my type of work is growing.
I’m looking forward to going back to Australia, except for the commute.
TSB: Your driving horse Annabelle appears at the end of your book BEYOND HORSE MASSAGE, and you allude to the fact that she, along with your local pub, have been instrumental in the development of the book and now the DVD. Tell us about this horse of yours—how did you meet? How long have you pursued driving as an activity?
JM: I have two Morgans who were given to me as youngsters by an interesting woman here in Iowa who grew up Amish. They’re brother and sister, and I trail ride and drive them both. Jeremiah’s not much of an urbanite (come to think of it, no one in Iowa is) and prefers to stay out of town, but Annabelle will take me into town for a cup of coffee with my buddies at the Amoco station, and occasionally to a local restaurant with a very nice bar and a tree out front—for a beer and a flake or two. I try to limit her to three (flakes), as she sometimes has to drive home. This came in handy during the book as the stress of meeting multiple deadlines grew.
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?
JM: Any horse would do, but I’d have to have a Morgan if I had a choice. They’re very sensible, good, all-around horses, especially mine. Of course I’d have to take both, and Annabelle for sure if it was more than a mile to the nearest pub.
As for a book, when I like to escape I’ll read Lonesome Dove, or Little Big Man by Thomas Berg. If I were on a desert island it would probably take more than that to really escape, but I think Jeremiah and Annabelle would appreciate either of those stories if I were reading out loud.
TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?
JM: I have to go look… Looks like there’s milk for the am, and beer for the pm.
There’s also a lot of other stuff as I like to cook and do most of the cooking around here. Might explain why I need two Morgans to pull me around. If Conley cooked I could get by with a pony, or maybe a Standardbred.
TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
JM: Oh, I don’t know. I’m not that much of a philosopher. There are a lot of things that can make you happy. Of course, just being with your horse is near the top of the list.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on (or driving) a horse.
JM: That’s probably a question that just about anyone who rides horses can easily remember. It’s kind of like a touchstone; I remember it often without prompting. When I was in first grade I remember sitting in the saddle in front of my older brother on our big paint Duke (pronounced “Duque’” as it would in Spanish) riding down a trail where we lived in Topanga Canyon. I remember looking down at his neck, and at the big shoulders moving back and forth, and hearing the creak of the saddle with each step. It always felt safe sitting in front of my brother on Duque’. I didn’t know at the time how whacky he was out from under the saddle—the horse, I mean.
JM: I don’t know if I can remember the first time, maybe just some of the highlights of later times. Going bareback as a kid can always provide plenty of memories of falling or getting bucked off, especially when cactus is involved. And then you have to distinguish between unintentional, and intentional…
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?
JM: I have an old friend who I’ve known since before I left home. He’s older than me and was kind of a mentor to me as a young man out in the world. He has a different perspective on life, and shows you how going a little “outside the box” so,” explaining that if you had five minutes left to live, you’d want to spend it chatting with this friend because you’d leave feeling that everything is going to be alright. We might cross paths after ten years, and we’ll be friends just as if we’d had coffee together at the North Star Cafe yesterday.
This may seem a long answer to a simple question but it’s hard to put into one word. And since I looked ahead to the next question and saw that the answer would be about the same for both I thought I could give a longer answer.
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?
JM: Loyalty, and timelessness. Of course the second is simply a quality of the horse. (Hey, that wasn’t so difficult.)
TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?
JM: I’d like to train and learn to ride the horse at liberty—no reins, no saddle. It will also save a lot of money on tack.
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?
JM: With wine.
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?
JM: No time limit.
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?
JM: Mark Twain. But I’d like to have a conversation with more than one.
TSB: What is your motto?
JM: I’d have to make one up.