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Monday, 14 November 2011

Angela Hall Interview: "Every horse has a story to tell"

How does the Californian daughter of a musician end up as the North East’s queen of horse massage? Alison Goulding finds out. Photos by Corrina Atkinson.
CHRISTMAS in Singapore, clients in Russia and early mornings in the desert, working with a Sheikh’s prize horses ...
Who knew life as a horse masseuse could be so exotic? And who knew there was even such a profession?
If it seems a little far-fetched then bear in mind that many racehorses are worth big money and a growing number of horse-owners will go to any lengths to keep their four-legged friend happy – which is where Angela Hall comes in.
Angela, from Durham, launched the Equine Massage Academy in January and devotes her time to teaching students the fine art of equine massage. And despite the dire financial times – business is booming.

 Angela said: “I decided, recession or not, I was going to go for it and follow my heart.
“I’m teaching a lot of racing trainers who would otherwise have to bring someone like me in. Instead they can train with me and treat their own horses.”
Students have come from as far away as Singapore to learn the skill, and since January Angela has taught 150 horse owners the tricks of the trade on her one-day course.
Others study with her for a year – learning the ins and outs of anatomy, physiology and hands-on practice.
So what do the horses make of it?
Angela said: “Every horse has a story to tell. We ask so much of them and they give so generously. It is wonderful to be able to repay them – even if I only treat a horse once, for a couple of hours he’s known relaxation and care.
“I work with their minds and their pressure points to bring about release.
“It’s the way they relate to me and some of the gestures that they do during and after treatment – it really is as if they are saying thank you.
“I think a lot of owners have never seen anything like it before. 
“The satisfaction I get from seeing horses behave differently and move differently after I’ve treated them is immense.”
As well as teaching and practicing massage, Angela is now doing research into a theory she has about where horses store mental pain.
She said: “When we have problems we can talk to a therapist, but horses can’t do that. I think there’s a spot where they hold their mental blockages.
“I can help any horse – physically and psychologically.”
One of her first clients was her own horse, Seamus, a gentle-giant thoroughbred.
Angela said: “He came to me from Ireland where he had been heavily hunted. He was pretty desperate when I got him, he was behaving like a machine.
“I gave him two years’ rest and only rode him a few times. I gave him some TLC, massage, good food and just let him be a horse again.” 
Angela’s parents came from the North East but moved to America before she was born, so her first encounter with horses was on a ranch. Angela said: “My dad was very entrepreneurial and a jazz singer. He used to go to Deano’s Bar and he knew Dean Martin and Clint Eastwood.
“He was originally from Durham and became very ill when we were out there. He was given six months to live so my parents decided to return to the UK and my mum brought me up here when he died.
“Then, when I was 21, I moved to London and I couldn’t really pursue my passion for horses but I still always knew I wanted to work with animals.”
In London, Angela found a career as an estates facilities manager which took her to Amsterdam and Rome.
She said: “The job meant looking after the infrastructure of big buildings like airports and hospitals and how people function in them.
“It covered health and safety and all the support services like reception, cleaning and security.”
Her last job before she went full-time with equine massage was at Harperly Hall the National Policing Improvement Agency Forensic Centre.
She said: “I graduated in Equine Sports Massage seven years ago after training with Jim Masterson at the Institute for Complimentary Animal Therapies, but I was so carried away with work that I didn’t have the opportunity to put the brakes on and launch the business.”
But this year Angela decided it was now or never and started the business.
Like her old job, there’s still some interesting travel involved.
Angela said: “I was invited to work for a Sheikh in Abu Dharbi. They’d collect me at 4.30am from the hotel, drive me out into the desert and then I’d work on the horses until the trainer arrived
“It was absolutely amazing. They offered me a permanent position out there but my passion is here in the North East.
“I’ve since been offered work in Singapore over Christmas, but I’m not sure if I’ll go or not!”
Despite her huge workload, Angela is planning even more for the future. She said: “I’d like to have an equine therapy centre of excellence and take on horses that need surgery, rehabilitation or a new home.”
Her partner, Garreth Murrell, has founded a charity called Veterans At Ease for serving personnel and families handling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Angela believes that, in time, their work might cross paths.
She said: “Other ventures like Veterans At Ease have failed because the men cannot open up about what they’ve been through to someone who’s never experienced it themselves. But Garreth was in the military for 10 years so he understands what they’ve been through.
“One day I’d like to bring it all together and use horses as a therapy medium, but at the moment I’m just happy that my phone keeps ringing and I never know what it’s going to be – that’s really exciting.
“It’s a vocation. I was meant to do it, but the timing had to be right.”

Reproduced by kind permission from the Sunderland Echo. For horse portraits search for Corrina Atkinson on Facebook.

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