Astoria resident Jessamyn Grace West uses her expertise in massage to boost the physical performance of professional athletes.

But she wouldn't know the first thing about treating two-legged baseball, basketball and football players. Her specialty is four-legged runners, jumpers and barrel racers.

As a certified equine massage practitioner, West focuses exclusively on horses.

For horses employed full-time in repetitive, physical work, she said, massage delivers a lot of benefits to the animals and their owners.

"The more stress we put on the same part of a horse's body, the more likely stress patterns will result," she said.

At the basic level, equine massage helps maintain the physical performance of a workhorse or a lesson horse. At a more advanced level, it can help enhance performance among racehorses and athletes.

That's the kind of work West does most often - massage and body work for professional racehorses and show horses.

"In all those kinds of disciplines, the goal is to improve performance, increase joint flexibility, improve inspiration, respiration, muscle tone and flexibility," she said.

West has certain techniques she uses before competitions to warm the horses up, and others she uses to cool them down, stabilize their vitals and flush out toxins.

The techniques she employs depend on the goals of the horses' owners.

"Maybe they want them to jump higher, run a little faster, or transition to a new sport," she said. "In each sport, they have different parts of the body they use."

West is certified to practice massage up to level three, which allows her to treat and rehabilitate injuries, illness and trauma.

"It's almost like physical therapy," she said.

West, 32, earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology from Portland State University and worked for 10 years as an anthropologist, traveling to Mexico, West Africa and Turkey to study traditional religions and spiritual leaders.

When she came back to Portland, she decided she wanted a change of pace.

"I sat down and asked myself, 'What do I enjoy doing?'" she said. "I grew up with horses, and if they're not in my life, I feel like something is missing."

West started taking riding lessons at age 8 near Vancouver, Wash., and later worked as a riding instructor.

Four years ago, she got certified to practice holistic horse massage at the Northwest School of Animal Massage in Fall City, Wash., where she learned a lot about horse anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and kinesiology.

After getting certified, she was seeking an inspiring place to live, so she moved to Astoria 21/2 years ago.

To do her work, she travels quite a bit. She spends part of the year in Hawaii, and lots of time south of Portland and in Northern California.

When she's not working, she enjoys practicing yoga, belly dancing and photography in Astoria. She volunteers equine massage services to help abused and neglected horses.

West said people often ask her how horses tell her what kind of treatment they need. She said it's not hard to figure it out.

"I'm constantly paying attention to the way they communicate," she said. "They have excellent communication through posture, facial expressions, breathing - you can tell a lot by their eyes, their nostrils. As long as you're paying attention, you can learn what it is they're telling you."

In response to another frequently asked question, she says she really doesn't have to push or pull very hard on the horse's muscles to do massage work.

"They're more sensitive than humans," she said. "I wouldn't know the first thing to do with a human body."

She prefers to treat horses in unconfined areas, where they can feel more at ease, and she can focus entirely on them.

"When I'm doing massage and body work on a horse, that's it," she said. "There's no place I'd rather be."

- Cassandra Profita

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