Katie Luersman poses with her horse Tinley. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)
Katie Luersman poses with her horse Tinley. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)

DELPHOS — Licking their lips, putting their heads down and cocking their legs are all good signs from Katie Luersman’s clients; it means the horses are enjoying their massages.

Luersman, 20, of Delphos is an equine sports massage therapist.

“Just like humans get massages, horses can too,” Luersman said. “Horses can become sore from people riding them or tripping on a rock or laying down and rolling on something. A massage will help them not be sore just like it would humans.”

Luersman graduated from Delphos St. John’s High School in May 2013. By the end of June, she was enrolled at NE Indiana Equine Sports Massage and Rehab Facility in Decatur, Indiana.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with animals, especially horses. I have a passion for horses,” Luersman said. “Every girl has a phase where she wants a horse, I just never grew out of mine.”

When she had an experience with a horse that had behavioral problems, she learned that an equine sports massage therapist existed.

“The horse’s attitude completely changed after the massage,” she said.

Now Luersman is certified nationwide as an equine sports massage and rehab therapists.

Before each massage, she gives the horses an evaluation to see what may be causing the pain and where. She checks different pressure points and for signs from the horse to indicate pain, like pinning its ears back or kicking its legs.

“If a horse is in pain, there’s a reason,” Luersman said. “I can tell what’s wrong with it and see if a massage will help or if a chiropractor is needed.”

People who own horses need to watch for signs as well.

If the horse is doing something it did not do before, this could be caused by soreness which a massage would help fix. Behavioral issues, limping in its legs, bucking and biting could all indicate a horse has soreness.

After evaluating the horse, Luersman starts the massage from the front of the horse. She watches for signs of pain and relaxation from the horse.

“I like to see the attitude change to the horse being able to relax and enjoy it,” she said.

When horses put their heads down, lick their lips, chew or cock their legs, Luersman knows she has found the spot and the horse is relaxing. No matter what they do, what breed or size, a horse can benefit from a massage, Luersman said.

She even alters her mood to keep the horses at ease.

“A horse can sense energy,” Luersman said. “When I do a massage, I try to be as relaxed as possible so it can be relaxed too.”

Luersman is just beginning with her dream to work with horses. After a long, cold winter, she has recently started getting more clients.

“More people are becoming aware of horse massages and that it can help,” Luersman said.

She also has a lifelong dream of wanting to help disabled individuals through working with horses.

“I’ve always liked horses and then I started reading articles about how it has helped people with disabilities,” she said.

Her mom, Elaine Luersman, remembers her sharing an article about a boy who had never spoken. After interacting with horses, the boy spoke his first words.

“It’s been her dream for a long time to have a place for handicap people to come ride horses,” Elaine said.

Before starting on her dream to work with horses, Luersman had to convince her mom to allow her to get a horse. Elaine was leery from past experiences and how unpredicatable horses can be.

After getting her dad on board with getting one, Luersman got her first horse when she was 13.

“She’s very cautious when she’s around the horses and I knew I couldn’t stop her from her dream,” Elaine said.

So Luersman watches for the signs: pinning their ears back, putting their head down or licking their lips — the horses telling her what feels good and what doesn’t.