Myofascial release therapist practices equine healing arts07/05/2022 02:41PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Rory, a 19-year-old Irish Sport horse, occupies the far end stall of a stable on a Chadds Ford farm, and until he received a visit from his equine therapist on a recent Thursday afternoon, he had spent a portion of his day flirting with Pepper, the year-old filly one stall over. As barn swallows swoop and soar around the barn, the therapist slowly runs her hands over the shiny brown mane of the former show horse’s chest, its hindquarters, its flank, its ribs and its throatlatch. It is a session of subtle signals; at first, the patient is tentative, but over time, he surrenders to his therapist’s soothing voice. In the stillness of what happens when mutual trust between patient and therapist is achieved, the therapist leans tight into the horse’s face, closes her eyes and listens.
“I always ask permission of the horse to come into their space,” said Kennett Square-based Myofascial Release Therapist Erin Bobo, B.S., L.M.T., who has been healing both people and horses for the past 23 years. “Horses are used to people coming into their spaces with an agenda – whether it’s to clean the stall or a vet coming for an appointment. I take a different energy and ask for permission from them.
“I am there to keep them safe and I want them to keep me safe, which creates an energetic exchange that is one of respect, which allows me to enter that space and become helpful to them. There is something that happens to their body language that tells me that they know that I am extremely aware of them. The truth is then established and they reveal themselves on a whole other level about what they need.”
For Bobo, her career as a myofascial therapist is in many ways the result of a dovetailing kaleidoscope of moments, transformation and healing that began when she was nine years old, riding her first horses at Pony Island Stable in Kennett Square. From the start, the barn, the stables and the riding circle became for the young rider a sanctuary, a home-away-from home.
Suddenly and without warning, however, Bobo’s idyllic childhood was brought to an abrupt and painful end. When she was a senior at Kennett High School, her beloved horse Jammer was killed at Pony Island Stable as a result of a suspected attack by a wild animal. Soon after, she suffered multiple injuries from a severe car accident. Her head hit the windshield. Her knees smashed into the dashboard. She dislocated several bones.
As she entered Lynchburg College to study Biology with the intention to go to vet school, Bobo’s pain – both physical and emotional – had become an albatross that was just beginning to take up a lifetime residence.
“That started me on my long journey on understanding the mind-body connection,” she said. “I had all of this emotion that I was stuffing down and it all had to do with this profound grief experience and debilitating pain.”
For the next six years, Bobo lived in a cocoon of pain, pushed along by a medical philosophy that focused on “fixing” and not “healing.”
‘The big picture of my pain’
At 24, Bobo had graduated from college and was living and working in Atlanta, where she suffered a second car accident. One holiday, she returned home to visit her family, and on the advice of her mother Linda Brackin, made an appointment with Tom Taylor, a myofascial therapy expert in Chester County, who helped treat her mother’s fibromyalgia and Lyme Disease.
Generally defined, myofascial release therapy addresses the trauma and holding patterns that are developed over a lifetime. It is a hands-on technique focused on a sustained stretch into the system that communicates with everything in the body – its connective tissue (fascia) – in order to release pain and imbalance over the long term.
At first, Bobo was skeptical, and had resigned herself to a life of medication, prescriptions and doctors visits.
“I was in a dark place and had pretty much given up and resigned to spending the rest of my life in pain,” she said, “but as I began exploring myofascial release with Tom, it became really clear that my body was responding to this therapy, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that I learned that my back was just a symptom and held the ‘big picture,’ which was the pain I had been holding for years, and on top of that the anger of what I was not able to do.
“Everyone else was simply working on my back, but myofascial therapy taught me what is needed for true and long-term healing.”
Eventually, the plan to enter veterinary school detoured. While still living in Atlanta and inspired by the work done by myofascial release therapy founder John Barnes, Bobo began taking classes taught by Barnes – as well as equine therapy classes, which were taught by Barnes’ son, Mark. After completing her initial level of education in 1998, she established her first practice in Atlanta as a licensed massage therapist and equine sports massage therapist specializing in myofascial release.
“My plan for the beginning was that I would help horses with the same work that helped me,” she said. “As part of practice, I also became passionate about teaching riders about how the imbalances found in their bodies are reflected in the imbalances found in their horse’s bodies.”
Since moving back to Chester County in 2002, Bobo has intensified and expanded her education and skills in the healing arts as the owner of Hands on Therapy – for both two- and four-legged patients. In her sessions with people, Bobo focuses on empowering her clients to gain a deeper sense of body awareness to achieve long-lasting pain relief and wellness. In her work with horses, she is often called upon by her clients to address several issues.
“They are noticing something when they ride the horse that is affecting the horse’s performance, such as movement, posture and structure indicating signs of discomfort, pain or imbalance,” she said. “They can also show signs of behavioral issues that highlight that something is amiss.”
Bobo said that whether she is working on people or horses, the most crucial component in her toolkit is the ability to listen.
“It is about tuning in, looking and watching them show you the roadmap, and following it,” she said. “Healing is not an event that has a logical conclusion. To use an overused term, it’s a journey or a process. Healing -- whether we are four or two legged -- is something we have to continue to show up for.”
‘They have taught me to trust what I feel’
When she was a child at Pony Island Stable, Bobo spoke with the horses she rode. It was the start of a conversation that has never ended.
“Horses have taught me everything that is important,” she said. “They have taught me about the power of listening. They have taught me that I am a nurturer. They have taught me about compassion. They have taught me about trusting my intuition. They have taught me about honoring their power and their wisdom.
“In the experience of them teaching me, they have also taught me about my wisdom and my power. It was imperative, because of my connection with animals, for horses to be my primary teaches as I stepped into this commitment to be a therapist. Though them, they have taught me to trust what I feel.”
To learn more about Erin Bobo and Hands On Therapy, visit www.erinbobo.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].