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A horsefly is mid-air, within inches of landing on the horse’s flank. The surface of his flank twitches just before the fly has a chance to land, warding it off in advance of being stung. This is how sensitive a horse is! He can feel everything within inches of his body. Whether this is a voluntary or involuntary response to the fly’s approach, it doesn’t matter, since it is purely information about how conscious and connected the horse is to the surface of his body and his immediate environment.
It is because of the extraordinary awareness of his body and surrounding “personal space,” the horse is highly responsive to the powerful, yet seemingly gentle, ancient eastern healing modalities. Acupuncture and Acupressure are based on the same principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The Chinese have found stone needles (Bian Shi) in tombs that are considered to be 5000 years old. Historians have noted that acupressure began at about the same time or before acupuncture.
Historically, these modalities are identical in their approach to healing. Understanding how to balance the many forms of vital energy that sustains and nourishes human or equine body is key to both disciplines. In TCM, energy balance must remain or be regained for the body to be healthy or create an environment for healing. When there is an imbalance in the flow of energy, called Chi (pronounced “Chee” and also seen as Qi), the horse may have either acute or chronic signs of ill health. Most experienced horse people know when their horse is “off.” Sometimes we can tell by looking at his coat, a dull look in his eye, an unwillingness to change leads readily, or just something we can’t put our finger on.
Professional acupressure or acupuncture practitioners use a number of methods to identify the underlying pattern that is causing the horse’s imbalance. With horses, we have to hone our observation skills, since they cannot tell us exactly how they feel, perform a comprehensive physical examination, while also gathering as much information about the horse from the current owner or trainer. Once the practitioner has gathered enough information to discern a pattern, he or she will be able to develop a treatment plan involving specific acupoints to either tonify (add energy), or sedate (reducing energy). For instance, if a horse is lethargic, his coat lacks luster and his eye appears dull, the TCM practitioner would perform a comprehensive examination. The practitioner would determine the best points to help release a blockage or stagnation of Chi, thus clearing the flow of vital energy and body fluids to allow the horse’s body to heal and regain his natural harmony and strength. Additionally, the treatment plan may include Chinese herbs, dietary recommendations, or exercise. The TCM practitioner takes a holistic approach to attaining and retaining harmony and balance in the horse’s body.
In acupressure and acupuncture acupoints, the specific points that are stimulated are the same points. These acupoints are located along the energy pathways, known as meridians and extraordinary vessels, which are accessible to manipulation by either touch or needles. Acupoints are categorized in relation to their functional effect on the body, again, the categorization and use of points is exactly the same in both healing arts.
The Distinction Between Acupressure and Acupuncture
The most obvious difference between the two disciplines is acupressurists rely on the use of our hands, finger, and elbows to stimulate specific acupoints on the horse. While acupuncturists use very thin needles that are quickly inserted into the skin at a particular acupoint, leaving the needle to perform the necessary clearing of an energy blockage or stagnation. Both techniques can work effectively, but only a veterinarian trained in TCM and specifically in acupuncture can perform an acupuncture treatment. Acupressure can be performed by horse companions which offers the added benefit of an energetic exchange between horse and human.
Acupressure is available and safe for all horse-people all the time. It does not require years of study in TCM to affect the health of your horse. We have seen lots of people perform an acupressure treatment, having just a basic knowledge of acupressure and points, with good results.
Last summer a friend of ours took a weeklong adventure trip into the back- country of Colorado. She and four of her friends had planned the trip down to the last meal and aspirin. The trip was exhilarating; they had all the gear they needed to weather daily light summer rain, cold nights in higher elevations, and all the horses’ conditioning was paying off.
On the fourth day out, mid-afternoon, the barometric pressure dropped drastically and a severe thunderstorm was moving in. All of the horses became edgy and anxious, but one horse was starting to show signs of colic. They were at least 35 miles from possible veterinary care. Our friend, who had taken acupressure courses, knew the emergency points for colic and anxiety. She immediately began to gently, yet firmly, apply pressure with her thumb on the specific points needed to resolve colic and anxiety conditions. After a few minutes, she felt the horse relax and began to hear sound from his abdomen – what a relief! The storm passed and they went on with their adventure.
Acupressure gives every horse owner or trainer an opportunity to participate in the health and overall well-being of the horse. Performing acupressure treatments can significantly increase your familiarity with your horse’s body while also enhancing your bond and energy exchange with the animal. Since acupressure in noninvasive there is no risk of creating infection or introducing any foreign material under the horse’s skin. With the use of needles there is a remote possibility of infection and, periodically, the horse’s natural muscle twitch reflex can dislodge the needle or it can break-off under the skin.
There are many good reasons to use both acupressure and acupuncture especially for chronic musculoskeletal conditions and diseases. A holistic veterinarian with an in-depth background in Chinese Medicine is a valuable resource for you to start your horse on the right treatment plan. You can perform acupressure treatments between visits from the holistic vet to support your horse’s ability to heal. The goal for all of us involved with animals is to offer optimal health through the best care we can give them.
Nancy Zidonis, Amy Snow are the authors of: Equine Acupressure: A Working Manual. Nancy and Amy have also co-authored: The Well-Connected Dog: A Guide To Canine Acupressure; and, Acu-Cat: A Guide to Feline Acupressure. They own Tallgrass Publishers, which offers Meridian Charts for horses, dogs, and cats, plusIntroducing Equine Acupressure, a 50-minute training video.