Movement therapy gives horses a competitive edge

  • Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 10:10 p.m.
    UPDATED: Saturday, February 2, 2013 9:42 a.m.
Staff photo by Ben Baugh
Melissa Del Tufo, the owner of Competitive Edge, Equine Movement Therapy, is seen with her horse, Jo’s Promise.
Staff photo by Ben Baugh Melissa Del Tufo, the owner of Competitive Edge, Equine Movement Therapy, is seen with her horse, Jo’s Promise.

It was the hope of Jo’s Promise’s owner that he might be able to live up to his name. However, the son of Grade 1 winner Purge’s promising future as a racehorse was somewhat doubtful after the gelding was diagnosed with congenital Lordosis. His swayback seemed to dismiss the idea of a career at the racetrack.

Aiken resident Melissa Del Tufo knew the horse from the time it was a foal, as it was owned by her boyfriend’s grandfather. The horseman observed Jo’s conformational issues; the gelding had the misfortune of having poor posture.

“He was very stuck, wasn’t fluid in his gait and held his back still, but that also went down to his hind end,” said Del Tufo, the owner of Competitive Edge, Equine Movement Therapy. “He wouldn’t reach under. He was a mess.”

Del Tufo would eventually meet a horseman who addressed physical issues with equine movement therapy.

“I recognized Jo’s problems before I had gone to school for body work,” said Del Tufo.

As fate would have it, rider and horse would cross paths at the racetrack in Bensalem, Pa., at Parx Racing. Del Tufo had been hired as an exercise rider and one of the horses in the trainer’s barn just happened to be a familiar face. Jo’s distinctive swayback made him stand out.

When it became apparent that Jo wasn’t going to make it as a racehorse, Del Tufo decided to accept a challenge with a great deal of unknowns.

“I’ve always had a special place for Thoroughbreds,” said Del Tufo. “I feel they have an amazing heart, are willing to please, and he is no different. I got him for free because of his locking stifle.”

The element of risk was one of the variables in the equation, and Del Tufo had a great many doubts as to whether or not she would be able to do anything with Jo, let alone ride him. As fate would have it, Del Tufo met another body worker.

“She showed me some things to do with him,” said Del Tufo. “I followed her around for a year, before going to school myself.”

It’s Del Tufo’s responsibility as an equine movement therapist to help the horse become more efficient at its job, and it’s through the therapy sessions that she’s been able to make a difference.

“The basic idea that I learned at school was that a huge movement of energy starts at the center of gravity and travels up the spine,” said Del Tufo. “It’s one continuous flow of energy. If there’s a blockage of that energy flow, it’s my job to remove that blockage.”

Del Tufo saw not only the transformation in Jo, but in more than a dozen horses, she said.

The horseman suspected Jo’s issues were attributed to the Lordosis. It takes several sessions for the equine movement therapy to be effective, said Del Tufo.

“I do a lot of articulation of each joint from the stifle, to the hock, all the way down to the ankle joint,” said Del Tufo.

Jo began to improve, and there was a marked difference in his posture despite the Lordosis, said Del Tufo.

“Once I work on him a little bit, take him into the round pen, do a lot of down transitions, he’s a completely different horse,” said Del Tufo.

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