BY TYLER BUI
Sonja Boorman has created the ideal equine wellness and retirement center. Combining her love for horses and science, she has developed Timberwagon Farm and Balanced Equine Bodyworks—two businesses with a mission to bring the highest level of comfort and relief for horses.
Boorman grew up as a working student in North Carolina, exchanging her hard work for riding opportunities. At the time, she envisaged a career with horses, but ultimately got pulled into a more traditional career. After graduating from college, graduate school, and ultimately beginning her life as an adult, Boorman reconnected with the horse industry after her daughter began riding.
“After we bought my daughter a pony I finally started riding again, initially at a small local barn and then moving to a more competitive show barn where we got to see the top of the sport and how these show horses are managed,” says Boorman.
“My husband and I always had the idea that we would retire on some land and build a farm, so around 15 years ago, we bought this chunk of land which is now Timberwagon Farm in North Carolina. Ultimately, we accelerated our business plan by about five years when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We’re getting back to doing heart work—work that feels good versus my former corporate job that comes with lots of pressure and stress with it. ”
The farm is set on 27 acres and features a brand new stable, fit with 12×12 matted stalls, a tack room, and a washroom. They have acres of pastures cultivated for diverse forage grasses, and their own personal home is only 100 steps away from the barn, ensuring that their client’s horses will always be cared for under a watchful eye.
“Timberwagon Farm is a wellness and retirement facility. It’s an incredibly peaceful location, and it’s only 45 minutes from the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine,” says Boorman.
“I wanted horse owners to have a place where their horse could recuperate and also have the confidence that someone caring is going to really focus on their horse. We’re a small farm with a limited capacity, so it’s really boutique-focused care with one-on-one attention for the horses so they can get exactly what they need. Coming from the experience with my daughter’s horse and seeing that these horses undergo so much pressure, I came to understand that they’re athletes and they get injured sometimes.”
Each horse at Timberwagon Farm has a plan customized to their needs and personality—while some horses may enjoy more turnout, others may need more enrichment and other forms of exercise.
“I want the horses to be cared for at the highest level possible so their mental and physical health is fully supported,” she says. “That’s in conjunction with whatever the prescribed program is from their veterinarians, whether it’s stall rest or hand walking or 24/7 pasture turnout and then integrated program into that is my own view of the observed benefit of bodywork. Horses that are laid up will build up tension because their physiology is designed to be moving. Integrating a weekly massage into the routine for a horse on stall rest can really make him feel much more comfortable and loose.”
She continues, “For example, I have one mare now who is on prescribed stall rest. However, to support her mental health and well-being I take her for a daily hand graze. She gets regular targeted MagnaWave and cold laser therapy for her injury, as well as weekly relaxation massage. She arrived really stressed out, very grouchy about being cooped up. Now she has settled into this peaceful routine and seems quite content.”
The Bodywork Difference
Boorman has always been interested in equine bodywork, and over the years she started to see more types of therapy emerge on the show circuit—which led her to begin taking classes and getting her certification for equine massage therapy. Today, Boorman now has several years of experience, working with around 20 barns and has grown her business to now offer a wide range of equine therapy treatments.
“I’m a scientist by training—I have a Doctorage degree in geochemistry, and I’m very interested in the science behind how equine musculature works, how toxins build up in the muscles, how to relieve the pressure, and how interconnected the whole “soft tissue” system is with horses,” says Boorman. “It’s incredibly emotionally and intellectually fulfilling for me to spend all this time working on horses.”
“When I think about a horse in work, they are athletes, and we’re asking them to do more than they would do in nature,” she adds. “Horses are such amazing creatures and so uniquely suited to partner with us, but almost every horse I’ve worked on carries the tension of what we’re asking them to do. When we resolve that tension, we can really increase their comfort and their ability to perform. I think people underestimate the importance of bodywork and allowing the horse to move in an unrestricted way to do the things we ask of them comfortably. If you take that philosophy and broaden it to a horse that has sustained a soft tissue injury a holistic and integrated approach can really support their recovery and recuperation.”
The core of Balanced Equine Bodyworks is massage therapy–from relaxation therapy to deep trigger point massage, Boorman works to release tension and toxins from the muscles.
From myofascial release, to cranialsacral therapy, to myomanipulative massage, there are all kinds of massage techniques that can be useful to the horse. “As with humans, some horses prefer gentle touch, some horses prefer a firm touch. It’s through watching the horse’s response when I’m doing the actual massage that I judge and move forward as I work through their body, I identify some specific areas of tension or restriction. As I identify those areas of tension, I select different additional tools or techniques that may be beneficial,” says Boorman.
“For example, multispectral cold laser therapy has a variety of benefits for different kinds of issues and it’s FDA approved for use in humans for a variety of soft tissue injuries. There’s a very large body of research and professional associations that support and bring education and references to the use of the laser.”
Another popular wellness modality that Boorman uses regularly is the MagnaWave PEMF.
“MagnaWave can enhance equine performance, and support health maintenance and recovery. PEMF has beneficial effects in alleviating equine tendon and ligament injuries, sore muscles and joints, along other concerns by PEMF encouraging the body to recovery naturally. The MagnaWave is a high-powered PEMF machine that promotes cellular exercise, which increases circulation, blood oxygenation, and helps the body recover naturally, while reducing inflammation, and, relieving pain” she says. “I have targeted approaches I use for supporting the body’s natural recovery process for known injuries – but it is also lovely for general muscle soreness and supporting relaxation.”
As Boorman continues to expand her businesses, she remains focused on her goal to provide the most personalized, therapeutic care for her clients. Living on the property, she is able to provide the 24/7 care that some horses may require and put the minds of her clients at ease.
“The first thing I want clients to know is that your horse is going to be safe. The second thing I want you to know is that I’m going to care for your horse and love your horse like you would—I can provide a visual update every day so you can see how he’s doing and have visual confidence that everything is going well. I will give your horse special scratches and kisses and all the attention you would. Thirdly, if you have a veterinarian involved, I will work closely with your vet to make sure that we’re sticking with the best plan. I will be your horse’s parent and advocate. I’m passionate about wanting the horses to be comfortable, happy, and secure.”
*This story was originally published in the July 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!