Why Too Much Hot Air Can Burst The Bodywork Balloon

hot-air-featureExaggeration and overselling – it’s really nothing new.

Blowing a bit of hot air has always been a good way to attract attention and, hopefully, some cash in its wake.

Ever since the first alchemist claimed to be able to turn base metal into gold, practitioners, inventors and hawkers have been inflating their abilities in this way. Doing so earns them a high profile and can really make a practice take off.

balloon_horse-300x216Sometimes, literally. An early London balloonist, Charles Green, claimed that in May 1828, he had taken his riding horse on a flight with him. The idea took flight in the popular imagination, particularly with illustrators… until it was noticed that nobody had actually witnessed this incredible event. (In 1850, he ascended briefly with a small – and reluctant – pony. Not quite the same thing.)

A little hot air is fine. Too much hot air isn’t. Blow too much hot air into a metaphorical balloon – a grand, buoyant illusion of remarkable results – and it will burst.

And the more hot air that’s blown, the louder the bang that follows.

Over-inflating the equine bodywork balloon

Which brings me to bodywork for horses. Or, more specifically, to hands-on complementary therapies for horses.

For many horse owners, ‘body care’ for horses falls into just three categories: massage, chiropractic and all the other stuff. It’s very broad, that third category, as it contains not just the more recognized approaches, but every offbeat or sheer whacko method that anyone has ever thought to come up with.

But I think it’s quite understandable that this clumping together happens. For example, I’ve heard horse owners ask if Bowen is the same as Reiki. That’s a very OK question from someone who isn’t involved with therapies, but who has seen their horse responding deeply to a practitioner’s minimal hand movements.

balloon_yellow-225x300Now, I practice a couple of complementary approaches myself, so I’m obviously not against complementary practitioners. But what I am against is the excess hot air that’s spouted when it comes to promoting some people’s work.

The problem is that some therapists claim to be able to do so much more than they can possibly be able to do. And people who make over-inflated claims about their work, which simply cannot be borne out, can succeed in bringing doubt down around the rest of us.

Now, I’m used to having my kind of work questioned by people who aren’t into alternative stuff and never will be. That’s fine – there are enough types of bodywork out there to suit everyone.

The reason the hot-air blowing bugs me is that the ‘great undecided’, the owners who aren’t sure yet, who make up the watchers and listeners of forums and boards and Facebook and Twitter, may be influenced by the online scorn poured, sometimes rightfully, on the exaggerators.

Who’s blowing hot air, then?

I’m not going to name names, but certain bodywork people spout a lot of stuff about their approaches that ensures confusion reigns. It’s just one claim after another about what they can achieve.

Right now, I could point you to a website where someone who teaches an approach is claiming that their method can do everything that every other approach can do, and achieve the same outcomes as chiropractic besides. Eh? It’s almost embarrassing to read it.

balloon_smokeMaybe they have a lot of student places to sell.

But then maybe that’s being a bit harsh. (Maybe.) Although I’m sure there are people out there who are exaggerating benefits as a misguided sales technique, rather like the unfortunate Mr Green in 1828.

I imagine, though, that a lot of hot-air blowers really buy into what they’re saying. And I think that what they’re coming out with is a blend of received wisdom and an expression of their own amazement at the changes they see in the horses they’ve worked with.

They’re the would-be alchemists rather than the horse-flying balloonists of the bodywork world.

I don’t dispute their sincerity, but I do doubt their judgement. They’re blown away by the results they can achieve, but fail to notice all the results that they miss – and that makes me wonder about their horse assessment abilities.

To paraphrase the old Chinese saying: ‘they do not know what they do not know’.

Teamwork is essential

I believe that the dynamic forces affecting a horse’s body – rider imbalance, unhelpful riding, badly fitting tack, poor hoofcare, little-to-no dentistry, misjudged nutrition, the normal range of accidents that can befall a half-ton animal expressing itself in an open space – are so damaging and wide-ranging, that more than one approach is needed.

Individual bodywork practices will, of course, achieve some of the things that chiropractors or osteopaths can achieve, as a result of freeing up soft tissue tensions. But they won’t achieve all of the things.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of chiropractic being used as a first and only treatment option. But to my mind, a well-trained chiropractor or osteopath, with a gentle approach and a good understanding of the horse’s nature, is a very good person to work alongside in a team.

I’m very lucky, as I get to do so, with an open-minded and non-egotistical equine veterinary chiropractor. (Non-egotistical? Yes. He’s willing to admit that his work isn’t the beginning and end of physical support for the horse.)

The improvements in the horses speak for the effectiveness of a joint approach, especially when there’s a hoof trimmer, saddler or nutritionist involved too.

Teamwork is brilliant.

gold horseAnd so are diverse approaches. For when somebody makes inflated claims about being able to do everything, they’re usually missing something out. Something really important.

For what’s beautiful about complementary bodywork practices is that they can often achieve additional things that purely structural bodywork can’t – and those benefits can be quite amazing.

I’m talking about the subtle, the profound and the remarkable: the deeper layer of physical and systemic improvements, relief of traumatic stress, the vast array of mental and emotional improvements… There’s so much that’s beneficial that can and does happen.

There’s no need to over-inflate it. There just isn’t.

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Bodywork for Horses, Australia


  1. Good thoughts. I prefer teamwork and sincerity.

    • Thanks Liz. It comes down to integrity, really doesn’t it? Being honest about what can and can’t happen. There are so many ‘maybe’s’ in this work that we can’t possibly know every outcome.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree, but would further add remedial massage as a most important part of any holistic team effort for a speedy recovery for any horse. And where are all the real unbiased saddle fitters not aligned to some store or other?

    • Yes, massage too! I’ve focused on the complementary therapy side here, because it seems to bring out the wonder in people that leads to the overstatement. And also because it’s my area 🙂

  3. Great article! totally agree.

  4. I agree with your post and sympathise with your obvious frustration. I don’t think your post would upset anyone. If anything, it needs more detail and specifics. eg How can you tell if someone is overinflating what they can do? What is realistic when it comes to X, and is Person A saying they can do more than that? How do we know they can’t? Maybe they really think they can. Cheers, Lisel

    • Hi Lisel, yes, I do think people really believe that they can. I started to write a ‘how can you tell’ piece, but it took the post off on a tangent. Personally, I rely on my bodywork knowledge and general understanding of various complementary approaches. It’s hard to say more without going into specifics. However, I think the naive belief of being able to ‘fix all’ often happens in someone who has learned one modality and is totally wowed about it. Start learning more than one modality and more perspective is gained 🙂 Yes, I’ve been wowed by what I’ve learned in previous times! It’s a very big discussion, there’s a lot more I could say but this would be a very long comment…

  5. Victorine van Rossem says:

    Hi Jane

    The hot air balloon syndrome is noticeable everywhere, also here in the Netherlands. Looking through the fog of the most fantastic claims from bodyworkers for the real message can indeed be hard for the novice or uninformed horseowner, and I think Lisel may have a point that an explanation of how to look for a bodyworker with integrity may be helpful.
    Is your message hurtful? Only to those who feel it necessary to be hurt by it!
    Keep up the good work!
    Vicki van Rossem

    • Vicki, thanks for your comment.
      How to look for integrity? You can find it in the explanation a bodyworker gives you of what might happen as a result of their work. Words and expressions such as, “It’s possible that…” or “we could try this…” or “maybe…”. Or even “you could try this as well?” And what will that bodyworker do if their approach doesn’t work to resolve a problem? What do they say their goals are in working on a horse? And do they ever refer clients to anyone else?
      Believe me, writing this post is making me take a long hard look at myself as well…

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