"It couldn't and didn't want to be ridden or saddled up," said Greg Gage, founder of Therasage Equine Massage Certification School, formerly the Institute of Equine Therasage.

Gage worked on the horse's hip and stretched its hind leg muscles.

"After three to five sessions, I noticed a huge improvement," he said.

Over the years, Gage has worked on horses valued from $500 to $200,000. Some had minor problems, and others were so lame they couldn't tolerate any pressure on a bad leg.

Gage, 39, of Janesville didn't always work on horses.

Twenty years ago, he began a career in human massage, a profession he continues. Gage founded the Institute of Equine Therasage 13 years ago, taking his knowledge of human and animal massage and creating massage for horses.

It all came about after Gage's hunting dog got hit by a car and broke his front leg. Even though a surgeon used a plate and five screws to repair the injury, Gage was told his dog might have a limp and never be able to hunt again.

Not willing to accept this diagnosis, Gage started massaging his Weimaraner.

"He got better after three months and has no limp," Gage said.

Today, Gage owns, operates and is the instructor at his school—one of 20 such schools in the United States. His headquarters is the training barn at Clean Sweep Farm on North Serns Road.

Nearly 2,000 students from throughout the United States and Haiti have enrolled in his basic massage therapy class for horses. The $800, four-day class focuses on anatomy, trigger point therapy, massage sequences and strokes during what are sometimes 10-hour sessions. It includes homework, books, handouts and manuals.

"It is very mental and physical when you're massaging a 1,000-pound animal," Gage said.

"I teach how to use proper body mechanics with the whole body approach because it can be pretty taxing," he said.

Students who successfully complete the course are certified by Gage, who is licensed by the Wisconsin Educational Approval Board. Last year, Gage taught one class a month. His next class is scheduled for March.

When Gage is not teaching or performing massage therapy on people or animals, he sets up informational booths at horse fairs throughout the Midwest.

That's how Bonnie Dittmore, 46, of Juda learned about his school.

"I just really liked being able to talk to somebody before I registered for school. Greg was very knowledgeable, encouraging and eager to get me information I needed," she said.

Dittmer graduated from Gage's school in November 2007 and is a part-time horse massage therapist. She also is a certified canine massage therapist and is studying to be a human massage therapist.

She said studying with Gage was a great experience.

"I really like the way he taught all of us the techniques. He was very informative and took the time to help you if you were struggling," Dittmer said.

She was thrilled she didn't have to travel far, meaning she could go home every day after class.

Dittmore praised Gage's classroom setup.

"It's very nice the way he has it structured. It gives you a homey feeling, was very comforting in a great environment. It's a great school," she said.

The benefits of equine massage are similar to human massage, Gage said.

"It releases toxins, improves coordination and length of stride, speeds up healing of soft tissue injuries and can alleviate swelling," he said.

Gage said he's been involved in some type of massage therapy since he was 19.

"It's been my life," he said. "I've seen the benefits from human to dogs to horses."

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