He's no Dr. Dolittle, but Charles Garvey talks to horses, and they let him know how they're feeling. They tell him they wish more people would take the time to listen to them.
"I'm not an animal psychic, but we communicate through mental pictures they create to tell me where they hurt," Garvey said. "I also visualize the horse covered in white light. Wherever I see a dark spiral entering the body is where I go to work."
Four-legged clients are less talkative than humans, but the Lutz massage therapist has made dogs stop limping and cats more loving.
House calls to treat horses, dogs and cats in acute or chronic pain make up 25 percent of Garvey's practice. "And one time I did a turkey vulture on the side of U.S. 41," he said.
People fill the rest of Garvey's appointment book. Common ailments are migraines, back pain, whiplash and carpal tunnel. "The first goal is always to get them off pain meds," he said.
Garvey practices Quantum Touch, a light touch form of energy healing, and Structural Energetic Therapy, which works in three dimensions — physical, emotional and energetic.
As a structural energetic therapist, "I manipulate soft tissues to unwind cord distortion and re- sculpt the skeletal structure," Garvey said. "It's not chiropractic. We work on muscles, not bones."
Garvey donates his massage services weekly at Quantum Leap Farm in Odessa, where Edie Dopking offers recreational and therapeutic riding for people with mental and physical disabilities.
"Therapy horses need to be calm, content and happy, certainly not tense and fiery," Dopking said. "Charles is very good at detecting their sore spots. He will put his hands on a tweaked or arthritic leg and voila, 24 hours later, the swelling is gone."
A young horse named Doc was being socialized with the herd "when he got kicked in the wing of the scapula, the shoulder blade, by an alpha horse," Dopking recalled. "Charles did his energy thing and Doc was almost immediately better."
Animal massage has been around for centuries, especially for military steeds and racehorses.
"Anybody can rub down a horse, but you need to know what to look for," said Garvey, 62. "Knotted-up muscles prevent freedom of motion. If they are not released, restrictions will spread to other muscle groups, making the horse lame."
Bites, kicks and scratches would be expected, but Garvey says that almost never happens. Along with anatomy and physiology, the graduate of Chamberlain High and the University of South Florida has studied animal behavior and stress point therapy. Before enrolling in the Suncoast School of Massage, he spent the first 25 years of his career teaching special-education classes in private facilities, including Charter psychiatric hospitals and two local prisons.
His own experience living with debilitating pain in his left arm led him to Don McCann, who developed Structural Energetic Therapy in 1977. Immediate relief made him a believer, and eventually, a student of McCann's. Garvey's wife, Laurie, and their three cats were willing recipients of the learning process.
McCann later trained Garvey in two other specific therapies: Emotional Energy Release, which is deep breathing to "clear out emotional garbage" blocking the energy to function normally, and Frontal Occipital Decompression, which he says he has seen reverse dementia, depression and double vision and help autistic children.
Garvey now works out of McCann's office and is one his few students specializing in animals.
"He wouldn't be here if he wasn't one of the best," McCann said.
On average, one to five sessions get results for pets, at 45 minutes to an hour, starting at $30 for small dogs, $40 for cats and $70 for horses. Humans pay $120 per 90-minute session.
Success stories — canine, feline and human — abound.
Last Thanksgiving, a 17-year-old pedestrian, thrown 30 feet when hit by a car, came to see Garvey, Her rib cage was severely tilted to the right and doctors wanted to put rods in her back to straighten it out.
One session, said Garvey, "and she stood up crying, 'Oh, my God, I look normal.' "
An 11-year-old black Lab could barely stand after competing in fly ball. Two sessions of gentle cranial manipulation, followed by musculoskeletal spine and rear leg massaging, enabled him to stand without pain. "He even shaved a second off his race," Garvey said.