Horse Masseuse Comes to the Hampton Classic

We all love a wonderful spa treatment with its luxurious pampering – especially a good, deep massage to send all that soreness and tension packing. And Glory, an athletic young lady competing at the Hampton Classic, is no different.

Well, actually, Glory is a little bit different from the kind of customers you and I might see at the spa. Glory happens to be a pony. Her official show name is “All The Glory,” and she’s 12 years old and a little more than 12 hands high. Because she is talented enough to jump in such a major horse show, she gets sore like any other athlete. “Horses are very responsive to massage, and they are very sensitive,” said Linda Umla, who is one of the licensed masseuses working at the Hampton Classic this week. Like many others, Umla works on both people and horses.

Watching Glory get her rub-down, you might say “responsive” is a gargantuan understatement. At Umla’s approach, the little white mare is a bit wary. And why not? She’s just been unloaded from a van coming from Old Salem and been led to a strange metal stall in a tent with people and trucks and cars whizzing by over on the road. She has a new neighbor she’s frankly not crazy about – some nosy guy with a white blaze on his face who is always peeking at her over the stall bars. And then a strange lady steps into her little sanctuary. Glory backs off a bit. Umla simultaneously sizes up her client. She has never forgotten the horribly painful bite she got a few years ago that forced her to leave work for the day. “I’m all about my own safety first,” she said.

“Ears forward, that’s a good sign,” Umla says, as she steps back. She leans forward, putting her weight on the pony and presses her fingers into the long, muscular neck, starting at the top. Glory checks out Umla from the corner of her eye, but stands still. Ah, so this is what I came to Bridgehampton for, she’s thinking. Soon, her eyes are half-closed. “She’s really jamming on this,” Umla says, now going for the mane, and squiggling it back and forth.

When Umla gets to her shoulder, the pony’s eyes close. Up comes the front left leg, and Glory is slightly off-balance because she’s so incredibly relaxed. Has a horse fallen on Umla ever? She laughs. “Let me put it this way – not yet!”

Umla twists the hoof around, then gives a deep massage to the leg. When the masseuse gets to her stifle, Glory’s lips start to twitch. When her new best friend pauses to pose for a picture, Glory turns her head back to give a look that seems to say “Hey, no fair stopping!”

“I like them to pay attention to me,” Umla said, “Especially at the front end because I want to see how they respond.”

That way, Umla can figure out where the animal likes or needs a massage and how deep it can be. She can also gauge whether the horse will try to see what she tastes like or how far she would fly with a well-executed kick. “Then, I have to set some boundaries.”

Boundaries involve putting the horse’s halter on a lead line, making sure it can’t move its head. “But they’re more relaxed if they’re loose, and most of the time, that isn’t necessary.”

Umla also does horse acupuncture, which is a whole different area to explore. Sticking a needle into a horse is, unsurprisingly, not done lightly. “Some are very reactive” – meaning those teeth and hooves again.
“But horses have the same issues we people do, such as anger, worry, social issues and so forth, and a trained acupuncturist will have insight into the sources,” she said.

GET THE 2012 HAMPTON CLASSIC SCHEDULE HERE

Umla has worked on people and horses since the mid 1980s. Horses have been a part of her life since she rode in shows as a child, later became a mane and tail-braider and a groom. Her clients have shown all over the world – including Rebozo, who jumped in the London Olympics this summer. She can be reached at hrholiveru@aol.com.

Watch for Glory on Friday and Saturday in Small Pony Hunters. Riding her will be Sophie Gochman, 9, of North Salem. Good luck, Sophie and Glory!

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