Equine massage therapist Emer McNamee of EquiFlexx Therapy, and equine coach Emma McCauley of Sparrow Equestrian collaborate as High Voltage Equine and are out to challenge equestrian poor practice in a new six-part web series with HorsePay TV.
Helen Sharp (HS): You are both qualified and insured practitioners, how do you feel your areas of expertise are received in Ireland?
Emer McNamee (EMN): Having worked as a show jumping groom, I have seen a massive difference in the attitudes towards equine physical therapy in Europe versus Ireland. In Ireland, I think we are a bit backwards. Many people are sceptical, but I think this is just from a lack of understanding of the work I do and the benefits of massage therapy. I think this stems from equine physical therapy being poorly regulated in Ireland. There are many people that have been allowed to slip through the net over the years, that may not be fully qualified or their qualifications are out of date.
Emma McCauley (EMC): The customer doesn’t always understand the value or differences in someone who is qualified and insured. What is perceived as good coaching is often jumping big, really fast with quick-fixes and over-bitting so that there are minimal issues in the ring, rather than working hard to achieve a result over a period of time. Thirty years ago horses competed to top-level with minimal interference and were ridden in snaffles and cavesson noseband – if you wanted something you had to work hard to achieve it.
HS: Can you give me a common myth that needs to be debunked?
EMN: I hear a lot of ‘I don’t do much with my horse, hacking and the odd training show, my horse doesn’t need massage therapy’. Every horse needs some form of physical therapy. Whether they are a riding school pony, a riding club horse, four-star eventer or a graded-winning chaser. They all get muscle soreness and stiffness. In my experience the less fit horses, that are ridden two or three times per week, feel just as much muscle soreness as a fit show jumper in full-work.
EMC: That you need to be competing at a certain level in order to be a good rider and you must be jumping big or doing a high level test. Just because you compete at a certain level, doesn’t mean you are in any way a good rider. You can’t run until you can walk. Patience, commitment and good guidance from a qualified and insured coach will always bring confidence and as a result you can achieve your goals.
HS: What inspired you to collaborate with Michael O’Flynn and Shane McCarthy of HorsePay who say their mission is to ‘change the equine industry forever’?
EMC: After a 30 minute conversation I could see that HorsePay were really going to be the catalyst for us bringing best practice back to the industry simply by giving us a platform to do it. Michael and Shane understand the frustrations we have on daily basis with riders and horses and wanted to be a part of that change, so offered us our web series.
EMN: I had so many ideas of how to expand my audience and brand, but I didn’t know how to put them into action and human nature meant I had limiting beliefs. The HorsePay lads were so excited about our collaboration from the very start and saw the potential that Emma and I had.
HS: Tell me something you have seen in the professional realm that would shock me.
EMC: Cruel treatment of horses. The attitude of ‘ah sure we’ve always done this’ or ‘Joe Soap down the road who jumps Grand Prix trains all his horses that way’ needs to stop. All horses want to do is be part of our herd and work with us, protect us and build a partnership. Coaches giving false hope to their clients and progressing them too fast through the basics is another shocker!
EMN: I think it’s crazy that in 2021 there is no governing body or regulatory board for equine practitioners in Ireland. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can watch a couple of YouTube videos on equine massage therapy and go out and charge people for the service without any repercussions. In Ireland, we produce the best racehorses, showjumpers, vets, riders, jockeys and trainers in the world. Equine therapy practitioners should be no different.
HS: What is the secret to happy healthy horses?
EMC: Building partnerships, not war! One of the methods I use with horses is the reward technique – just like humans horses liked to be paid for their work. The other training tip is ground work and factoring that into your weekly routine. Doesn’t need to be long, doesn’t need any gadgets, just time and patience and it can be done loose or on the lunge. Third thing is not overworking the horse and showing variety in work so that they are excited and looking forward to working. And lastly ensuring that their equine ethogram is satisfied - food, friends and freedom!
EMN: Keep it simple. Let horses be horses! There’s no getting away from the fact that for some people it’s a hobby, but for some it’s a business. So we need to manage the horses as best we can. In my experience it’s the horses who are mollycoddled and bubble-wrapped the most who are the ones who seem to have the issues. Everything in moderation.
HS: Who do you admire in professional the realm?
EMC: Francis Connors. I just can’t not see him ride at shows and I get all my clients to watch him online when we are talking about position and empathy in the saddle. Also my own trainer Taylor Vard who I want to be as good as some day.
EMN: Leanne Breen is someone I admire greatly. She trains at her home yard in Warrenpoint. Leanne’s energy and hunger for success is what this game is all about. It’s easy to admire the ‘big guns’ in racing, but Aidan O’Brien is someone I really admire as a horseman and as a businessman.
HS: Why-oh-why horses?
EMC: When I’m around horses my mind is still. I’ve a lot to thank horses for and they have saved me more times and in more ways than humanly possible. Everyday I’m learning more about these lovable, portable money eaters, but I wouldn’t change anything!
EMN: I ask myself the same question about 50 times a day! Honestly? I don’t want to do anything else. It’s in my blood, it’s my passion, it’s part of me. I do not feel complete when I am not around horses.