RMSAAM Student Spotlight

RMSAAM student Bill O'Connell and Cinnamon Girl. (Photo: Bill O'Connell)
RMSAAM student Bill O’Connell and Cinnamon Girl. (Photo: Bill O’Connell)

by Bill O’Connell

Hello, my name is Bill O’Connell.  I live in Guffey, Colorado.  I’m very excited about starting a career in Equine Massage and bodywork.  I attended Level 1 Equine Massage in October, 2012.  I am enrolled in the March Level 2 Equine Massage class, 2013. I look forward to learning more and continuing my education for years to come.  Hopefully for a lifetime!  I’ve just turned fifty years old and this is an awesome way to be starting the second half of my life.

During my Level 1 case studies, I had the opportunity to perform massages on a BLM mustang.  Cinnamon Girl is a five-year- old mare.  She was rounded up by the BLM in 2010, just outside Reno, Nevada. She spent the next two years in a holding facility at the prison in Canon City, Colorado.  On September 17, 2012, Justin Dunn, a Colorado horse trainer and clinician, picked her up.  He had less than 120 days in which to train her.  They are entered in a competition called ‘Mustang Magic’ that will be held in Fort Worth, Texas January 24 -25, 2013.  There will be 20 competitors; horses and riders.  All the horses in the competition are mares.   The trainers will show what their horses have learned in just four months.  They will be judged and awards will be given.  On January 26th, the horses will be put up for adoption.  Trainers have been known to adopt the horse they have trained, as they develop very close bonds with them.

I did the first massage on Cinnamon Girl on October 24, 2012.  She had been in Justin’s care for only five and a half weeks.  She was undergoing a gentling, learning and training process with Justin.  Prior to this she had very little interaction with humans and had only been touched when she was freeze-branded and vaccinated. She had to learn to trust us humans.  Up to this point in her life, humans were something to fear and to run from, just like any other predator or scary thing.  This is the difference between a ‘wild’ or free-roaming mustang and a domestic horse.  Most domestic horses have been handled by humans since birth, or at least, during the first few months of their lives.  This is great imprinting, and helps the horse to trust and form a bond with humans almost immediately.  A mustang’s first experience with humans is to be chased, rounded up and corralled with other mustangs.  Then they are transported to a holding pen, where they wait to be adopted out by the BLM to the public.  It is a hard life for these horses and they are scared.  I believe massage could benefit these horses greatly during and after their gentling and training.

When I first started doing massage on Cinnamon Girl she had only been touched and handled by Justin for a few weeks.  She wasn’t quite sure at first, and I could feel her shaking, fearful of being touched like this by a human.  She relaxed rather quickly though, and seemed to enjoy her first massage.  She even yawned 8 or 9 times in a row, along with licking and chewing.  I was very happy to see that!  I continued to do massages on Cinnamon Girl through the month of November.  At times, she showed signs of being sensitive on her back and the crest of her neck became tight and sensitive to even light muscle-squeezing.  I’m sure that learning to carry a rider and the accelerated training, which can be tough not only physically, but also emotionally, and psychologically, is what was contributing to this.  I spoke with Justin several times about this, as he was concerned for her well-being.  He tried using a different saddle pad and that helped her back quite a bit.  Over time now, her neck is not as sensitive as it was earlier.  She has become very relaxed with me and I believe she enjoys our massage sessions together.

Since our first session it has been just the two of us, with no handler.  I’ve done our session in a small 30 x 30 foot square pen, or in a round pen.  During one session I removed her halter to allow her to decide whether she wanted to stand for the massage.  A few times during the session she moved away from me and walked around the pen, but then she came right back and stood beside me.  I continued the massage and she stood perfectly still again.  Now when I do a massage on her she will stand the entire 45 or 50 minutes with no handler.  She even fell asleep one day at the end of her massage.  I was happy to see her so relaxed.

I have enjoyed our sessions together very much and I feel that I have learned something new each time.  I believe every time we are around a horse they can teach us things about them and ourselves.  They teach us about patience, intention, understanding of each other, and our communication.  I believe Cinnamon Girl knew I wanted to help her feel better, both physically and emotionally.  I know the power of touch is very strong and I am so glad to have the opportunity and the privilege to learn continually and be a part of the exciting field of equine massage.  I love it and RMSAAM.  I am very grateful for this and the life I have being with horses.  I look forward to learning something new every day!

Today is January 22, 2013, and in less than 24 hours Justin will load Cinnamon Girl in the trailer and we will make the long haul to Fort Worth, Texas, for the Mustang Magic competition on the 24th and 25th.  On Saturday, January 26, Cinnamon Girl will go through the BLM auction process.  We will see if Justin brings her home or if she will go to a new guardian.  Either way it will be a very emotional time, as we have all been very close to her.


2 thoughts on “RMSAAM Student Spotlight

  1. What a beautiful and touching story! Best of luck to Bill and his new career.  What a kind, and sensitive man.  All the best for a long and happy life for Cinnamon Girl.  Bill must feel so fufilled  to know he has helped her on her journey. Thanks so much for posting and writing this.   Tina Marie  RMSAAM student – Canine Massage  


    1. We are excited to hear about the competition upon his return, and we are proud of Bill for his hard work during his case studies! Thank you for your kind words Tina! Stay tuned…


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