Columbia Basin Herald

ColumbiaBasinHerald_MediaSoap Lake home to equine massage college

SOAP LAKE – Karri Russell has dreams of becoming an equine sports therapist – a goal she’s well on her way to achieving thanks to a brand-new program that’s been established in Soap Lake.

Russell is part of the inaugural class of Langley Equine Studies’ new Equine Massage Practitioner Certification Program. Langley is the only state-licensed vocational college of its kind in eastern Washington, and one of only two in the entire state.

To practice animal massage legally in Washington, individuals must complete either 100 or 300 hours of training in large animal massage from a state approved school before applying for certification through the state Department of Health’s Board of Massage. How many hours of training someone must complete depends on if they are already licensed through the board to practice human massage.

Russell, who is not a licensed human practitioner, is enrolled in the school’s 300-hour course which is roughly an eight-month program. She said she was drawn to the program because massage plays a large role in general equine sports therapy – something she’s known for a long time.

Russell has had horses since she was a young girl. She said one of her horses in particular needed a lot of massage work over the years.

“Horses are not like people; they can’t tell you what hurts or what feels good,” she said. “But they have their own way of communicating and you can see them get that release from massage.”

She said seeing how her horse benefitted from massage therapy is what sparked her interest in the field.

“It’s so rewarding to know that without my help they’re going to still be in pain,” said Russell.

Last year, Russell was considering going to an equine therapy school in Colorado, when she saw a Facebook post about the Langley program.

“I thought this school is much closer, and it would be a great stepping stone for me,” she said. “I plan to continue my education but this seemed like something I should do first.”

So Russell signed up for the program and started classes last fall.

Instructor Mary Lou Langley said it was with students like Russell in mind that she first came up with the idea for starting a licensed equine massage school.

Langley has both a private human and equine massage practice in Soap Lake. She’s been a certified equine massage therapist for more than 10 years.

She obtained her state license for humans in 2011.

Langley said she’s offered equine massage clinics in the past, but wanted to do something to help those who were looking to go beyond just helping their own animals.

“Under state law, not just anyone can go out and practice,” she said. “I wanted to help people turn massage into their vocation, and give them the opportunity to do that locally.”

Langley spent the past two years working with the Board of Massage and the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board to get the school up and running. When she wasn’t coming up with a curriculum, she was busy building the school.

The campus is sprawled out across 20 acres and includes a riding arena, a classroom and lecture hall and an indoor barn for hands-on training.

“It was a huge undertaking and I didn’t even think we would be up and running until next fall,” said Langley. “But one thing my husband told me was that if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

So she stuck with it, she said, and it eventually paid off. The program got approval in September, and classes began almost as soon as they got that green light, said Langley.

Langley said students can either attend classes on campus or go through the program from their home. However, long-distance and online students must make arrangements to be on campus for about a week to complete the hands-on training portion of the course before graduation, she said.

On-campus students attend classes once a week, and do hands-on work one Saturday a month. Langley said she set it up that way so students could still do the program even if they had jobs or families to care for.

And while the equine massage certification program is the main focus, Langley Equine Studies also offers other self-enrichment courses such as rodeo queen preparation, equitation and equine business management.

Langley said she hopes to grow the school’s courses over the next few years.

By Tiffany Sukola, Columbia Basin Herald staff writer