California Riding Magazine • September, 2009

Pioneer in Equine Body Work is
thriving in climate of growing interest.

Equinology Inc® founder Debranne Pattillo had no idea the path she was setting herself on when she allowed herself to “be drug to” a Linda Tellington Jones clinic back in the mid-80s. She was an amateur rider at the time, working with a few turnaround horses to support her hobby. “I’d never imagined you could communicate with a horse as Linda did,” recalls Pattillo of the TTouch® practitioner.

In the intervening years, several generous horsemen and veterinarians helped Pattillo build her knowledge, skills and, most of all, her conviction that communication and the power of the human touch were essential to equine well being and performance. Since forming the equine body work school Equinology 15 years ago, Pattillo has assumed the role of teacher and advocate for the myriad benefits of equine body work.

With its home office in Mendocino County’s Gualala, Equinology offers courses throughout the United States and in Canada, England, Australia and South Africa. The classes available in other countries are all taught by instructors Pattillo trained herself for the foundation Equine Body Worker® Certification Course, and she regularly teaches courses in all levels in the States. Four levels of equine massage foundation classes are offered and each builds on the knowledge of its preceding class. Instructors of the remaining courses are all household names: Dr. Hilary Clayton, Dr. Kerry Ridgway, Dr. Dave Marlin and Dr. Deb Bennett.

Many horse people first get familiar with the Equinology program through Pattillo’s famous painted horse demonstrations at expos. Muscular and skeletal anatomy are filled in with wet chalk and poster paint on a living horse, creating an effective and accessible educational visual. The painted horse continues to be used as the teaching tool it was developed to be, and it has helped equine body work be better understood by the general horse owning public.
The results of bodywork are the modality’s biggest selling point. “The equine health care industry continues to grow and is accepted more readily now, especially by people who use bodywork for themselves,” observes Pattillo. “Owners have experienced the effect firsthand
and include their family and pets in a wellness program.”

Part of Equinology’s popularity is a result of the equine community’s embrace of the idea that equine health care is a team effort, Pattillo continues. “Individuals specializing in their areas of expertise are sought after. Horses, like people, respond differently to various approaches. Where one horse receives sport massage well, another may prefer myofascial release techniques or craniosacral techniques.”

There is an increasing commitment to research that supports anecdotal success stories. “We have the ability to collect data and these techniques are beginning to be studied more for empirical data,” the Equinology founder explains. “Anecdotal evidence is abundant from owners and riders who agree that their horse’s performance improves after body work sessions. Professional groups such as the International Equine Body Worker Association are seeking and promoting research to validate massage and other like modalities.”

“More schools are also taking the responsibility to test their graduates and require case studies before issuing certificates as well as pushing for continuing education,” Pattillo continues. “You never can stop the learning process.” She speaks from experience on that point: in addition to teaching courses, Pattillo makes a point of taking at least four courses, seminars or workshops every year.

A Gratifying Path

California Riding Magazine correspondent Nan Meek’s interest in Equinology emerged in a typical way. An amateur dressage rider and competitor who lives in the Bay Area’s Half Moon Bay, Meek had hired Equinology certified body workers to good effect for her Lipizzaner partner. “I checked out as many body work schools as I could find,” Meek explains. “From the vets I talked to and my own independent investigation it was clear that Equinology was the best school with the most rigorous education program.”

She now speaks from the experience of having recently completed the hands-on and classroom portion of Equine Body Worker® Certification 101, under Pattillo’s instruction. The next step is an “externship” spent working on several horses over several sessions in order to evaluate the effect of the body work by detecting changes in the horse’s body, attitude and performance. At presstime, Meek was working on case reports, including videos of her work with subjects, to submit as the final step in earning Equinology certification. The aim of Equinology’s multi-step certification program is “not to pass or fail students, but to become proficient enough to earn certification,” Meek explains. “If you don’t pass one part of the externship, you can retake it.”

As a dressage enthusiast, Meek is especially interested in quality of the horse’s movement. “I’ve worked on some horses five or six times now during the externship,” Meek notes. “The more you get to know a horse, the more you recognize what’s changed, and how the work you’ve done has affected his muscling. You see how the horse is using his strides or his willingness to do a certain movement and you begin to see how everything is so interconnected.”

It’s a path on which every bit of knowledge gained about horse behavior augments the body worker’s ability to help horses in their care, Meek comments.

In that observation, Meek shares common ground with Pattillo. “Unlocking some of the secrets horses silently shouldered throughout their lives is still my main motivation,” Pattillo explains. “So many times, behavioral problems can be directly linked to pain. (Yes, there are times when the problems are management issues, including vices, human egos and mismatched partnerships.) However, owners need to learn how to communicate better with their horses through touch. Learning this enables them to notice a subtle issue before it becomes a full-blown injury. 

“Simple things like texture, temperature and tension can be assessed even by the beginning body worker and the owner,” Pattillo concludes. “Other times, just convincing the owner to talk with their veterinarian by giving them better questions to ask is reward enough.”

For more information on Equinology courses or finding an Equinology certified Equine Body Worker® in your area, visit or call 707-884-9963.