Tips From Equine Massage Expert Bonnie Kiefer


Bonnie Kiefer remembers her first time on a pony, even though she was only 2 years old. It was a pony ride at a carnival, and she recalls what the pony looked like, the smell of the saddle, everything. She began riding regularly at age 6 and attended her first show at age 8. By then, her family had moved from Michigan to the Coconut Creek area of South Florida, and riding and showing hunters and jumpers became her life.

She worked showing Quarter Horses and as a Thoroughbred groom and exercise rider at the track while schooling and showing horses for her own clients. She rode young Grand Prix jumpers, acquired some dressage training, and rode cutting and reining horses in Florida and Georgia.

Bonnie currently offers riding lessons, horse training, show coaching and horse evaluations. One vocation that gives her great satisfaction is equine massage therapy. Certified three years ago, she has studied the methods of such highly respected massage therapists as Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, Susan-Smith Massie and Jim Masterson.

She believes that her extensive experience affords her a greater understanding of the horse as a whole. She coordinates with trainers, veterinarians, chiropractors and other equine service providers to ensure the best outcome for each horse.

“I am so passionate about this,” Bonnie said. “When I do a massage, I find out as much as I can about each horse, its background, problems, the full circumference of each horse’s life, not just the riding discipline. After each session, I send the owner a complete report. I consult with the owner over the phone before the first session, poking and prying to find out what’s going on. It’s my firm belief that all horse problems are mainly due to human error. Horses are at the mercy of their owners, handlers and the environment chosen for them. Hence, it’s our responsibility to insure their safety, comfort, happiness, health and mental wellness. I work with owners to come up with solutions.”

Sometimes, there are complex or hidden reasons for a horse’s behavior, she said.

“Something owners should consider is allowing horses to have as much turnout as possible, which might necessitate a change in stabling arrangements,” Bonnie said. “If a horse needs to be stalled, I suggest a stall with an attached individual paddock, so the horse can move around and choose whether to be indoors or out. Ill-fitting tack is another major source of problems, as is the wrong bit. Nutrition also plays a big part in how a horse feels and performs, including supplements and treats. Some horses are prone to ulcers. Too rich a diet can harm hooves. Horses are big, but they’re delicate. The least little thing can imbalance them, and one problem can quickly multiply to many, and then show up as behavioral vices like weaving, kicking or cribbing. Even girthing a horse too tightly or quickly, or using the wrong type of grooming implement, can cause problems.”

Bonnie offers a first-time evaluation and massage for free, so owners can see what she does and decide whether to continue. She recommends one massage a week for the first month, then as needed after that. I decided to take her up on the offer and had her come out to work on one of my mares. I found her to be professional and knowledgeable. Because of the prior phone interview, she knew my horse’s full background before she started, then worked on the mare from head to tail. During the massage, she discussed her observations and offered suggestions. She also offered a complimentary tack fitting.

There was noticeable improvement in my horse’s flexibility by the end, and the mare looked relaxed and happy. Bonnie demonstrated some exercises that I could do each day. I had Bonnie out a second time, and the mare did even better. After each session, she e-mailed me a detailed report outlining her observations and included helpful suggestions toward my horse’s muscle recovery and/or sustained health. She encouraged me contact her any time with any questions.

“Try not to think of me as just a massage therapist,” Bonnie said. “I go above and beyond what you would normally expect, because I believe in incorporating all aspects of your horse’s life into my equation as it pertains to healthy muscle, great overall body function, desired behavior, optimum performance and the horse’s overall well-being. I offer collaborative, helpful advice and problem-solving suggestions about your horse’s daily program, hoping you’re open-minded, as these may be sensitive discussions regarding possible changes in feeding, routine, exercise or riding/training techniques. Be assured that I do so only when absolutely necessary. My intention is never to step on anyone’s toes, but in full support of what I believe will help your horse. I base my results and observations from acquired knowledge and my own personal experience working with horses over 40 years.”

For more information, or to schedule your free equine massage, call (407) 538-1942 or visit