Despite the increasing popularity of chiropractic and massage for horses, I still experience a lot of pushbacks around alternative and complementary therapies for horses. Many still consider them “woo-woo” or “quacky” and people say there isn’t any “science” to back these integrative modalities. I always have to chuckle to myself because I’m quite certain these people aren’t subscribed to The Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine or are a member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), which publishes the only peer-reviewed scientific journal focusing exclusively on integrative veterinary medicine. In addition, the Association also holds an annual conference that is the leading source of post-graduate integrative veterinary medical continuing education worldwide–sounds credible to me!Emerging complementary therapies (such as acupressure, energy medicine, color therapy, chakra balancing, and herbal therapy–to name a few) have brought awareness to the need for more education, research, and enhanced training in these alternative fields of equine health and healing. In addition to the need for education and training, equine practitioners are bombarded with information from the owner, lay and scientific literature, along with public opinions on philosophies of healing. My intention for this article is to shed some light on Traditional Chinese Medicine (many think of this as acupuncture, but it’s so much more!) so you can make an informed decision about complementary approaches to your horse’s health and wellness.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient healing system that originated in China over 5,000 years ago and has changed little over the centuries. TCM perceives the body as a self-controlled system. This system is connected by a network of meridians that exist throughout the body–blood and vital energy flow also contributes to this network system. TCM looks at how the body works, what causes illness, and how to fix the imbalances that cause the illness.
The basic concept of TCM is that a vital force, called life force energy or Chi, runs through the body. TCM focuses on how Chi flows throughout the body’s meridian system. It determines where the pattern of Chi is disrupted, blocked, or flowing in the body–any imbalance in Chi can cause disease and illness. Utilizing the concepts of yin/yang, the five element theories, and the eight principles of TCM, Chinese herbs, acupressure, and acupuncture are used as the main modalities for balancing Chi.
The meridian system and its associated acupoints are one of several systems of the body that transform and regulate the subtle energetic aspects of the body within its physical structure. Meaning, the meridian system is part of the energetic anatomy that strongly impacts the physical anatomy. Acupressure or acupuncture has powerful effects on restoring strength and mobility, eliminating pain, and increasing vitality. By creating balance in the vital flow of Chi, the central aspect of healing can happen. When I identify where the energy is blocked in a horse, the imbalance correlates with dysfunction, lameness, and illnesses. Once these imbalances are located in the horse’s body, then I can determine how to support the horse’s system and that’s when we start creating health.Chinese medical texts dating back to the 1600s include the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine by Huang Di Nei Jing, which described the locations of acupoints and the channels or meridians on which acupoints are often placed, along with general guidelines for treatment. One early author stated that the practitioner must focus on myriad historical and clinical factors in recognition that “healing comes from within.” Researchers have been standardizing the previously diverse therapy approaches to explain the mechanisms behind acupuncture stimulation and the observed healing. Acupoints, which were previously thought to represent arbitrary anatomic landmarks, indicate larger concentrations of neurovascular components, including mast cells, the proprioceptor Golgi tendon apparatus, and free nerve endings. These findings have been complicated by extrapolation of the human acupoint system (which typically recognizes more than 300 acupoints) to horses, for which Yuan Heng Liaoma Ji described 159 acupoints in the year 1608. In addition, some veterinary acupoints have recently been refined to reflect the neurovascular components, and the use of these acupoints should be encouraged to mold traditional acupuncture into a modern, informed, and physiologically sound treatment modality.
TCM is one of the first alternative therapies to receive widespread recognition in the United States and is very different from the standard western allopathic health approach that treats symptoms and diseases using pharmaceuticals and/or surgery. Justin Shmalberg, DVM, and Huisheng Xie, DVM (2011) stated key facts in Chinese medicine for horses:
Phenomenological research into acupuncture has largely focused on widespread recognition of its perceived benefits in reducing pain, however, I look at it from an integrative, whole-health approach. I want to keep my horses happy, healthy, and sound well into their senior years, so why wouldn't I do what I can to support their bodies physically, emotionally, and energetically?
One of the main things I do to support and balance my horses is through ting-point therapy. It’s simple and doesn’t take long to do AND you can do it yourself! You don’t need to hire a professional to do it for you. The Chinese have a saying, “Would you rather drink from a running brook or a stagnant pond?” The medicine man wouldn’t get paid until the person was healthy and could go back to work. Don’t put your horse back to work until his or her Chi is flowing like a running brook.
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