I was delighted to present a workshop on Tui-na at the Animal Bodyworkers Conference near Seattle in September, 2019. Any technique we practice carries our energy and intent, so I began by sharing where I am coming from when doing bodywork with horses. This is an expanded written version.
The foundation of my philosophy and approach to bodywork with horses has developed with time as many elements weave themselves together into a tapestry of coherent ideas and practices based on what I have found to be true.
> Horses and donkeys (and all animals) are sentient beings. They have thoughts and emotions as well as physical sensations. While their brains are different from humans, they are conscious and aware. I ask their permission to do bodywork with them and wait for their reply; I work with them (not on), and thank them when finished. Our culture regards animals, especially livestock, as property, so this creates a paradigm shift.
> When supported to return to balance, the innate wisdom of each body does the lion’s share of the healing.
> Paying attention to and working with the ‘higher self’ of the animal increases effectiveness. Each being has their own life purpose and timeline aligned with their higher self.
> “Healing” does not equal “fix” or “repair.” Healing can mean transformation, including the end of life in a particular body.
> Bodywork (vet care, chiropractic, farrier, training, etc.) is largely a human agenda that horses can learn to accept or enjoy. We feel good about ourselves when we believe our horse is well cared for and more comfortable in their body. Horses know they are fine the way they are. They accept discomfort and compensations without complaint unless they are asked to do things that are painful. When we include touch that gives them pleasure (scratching where they can’t reach, etc.), it helps them to accept and enjoy the bodywork or other treatment.
> Horses don’t care what techniques you know or what license you worked hard to earn. They care how it feels when you stand in their personal space, which we do every time we touch, groom, lead, ride, etc. The size of their bodies means their personal space is larger than ours, too.
> As prey animals, horses survive by tracking their environment at great distance with senses more acute than ours. They sense a predator walking nearby and know whether or not it is hunting. They pat us down each time we engage with them. They feel all of us, and know our energy, thoughts and feelings. They feel safer when our insides and our outsides match, aka when we are congruent. Being congruent means not pretending everything is okay if it’s not. Horses are forgiving in this arena, and acknowledgement is sufficient for authenticity. Horses live with their vulnerability, and can accept ours.
> Bodywork asks a flight animal—wired to run first, look later—to relax deeply, be even more vulnerable, and perhaps trust that another horse or person is keeping watch. The right person, timing, and environment make a difference in the horse’s relaxation. So does acknowledging their vulnerability and trust. Healing happens when our mammalian nervous systems are in the place of rest/digest/relax.
> Honoring individuality in both horse and human builds safety and connection. There is no “one size fits all” technique or approach, and “many roads lead to Rome.” What works one day may not another. What resonates with one person may not with someone else. This is why I incorporate several methods into my sessions.
> I believe in the two-way communication between a human hand connected to its body/mind/soul and an equine body/mind/soul. Our hands are naturally the highest technology healing instrument. Many people swear by their magnets, red lights, lasers, PEMF, etc. and have good results. We can work with these tools with love and healing intent, but it has not been my calling to use them.
> Each person has their own unique frequency. We are all different instruments in the orchestra. This gives us different ranges of perception, expression , strengths, abilities, etc. I encourage everyone, and work myself, to honor and nurture our own unique instrument, and believe in its value.
> “Less is more” is not just for architects! Our animal companions living in the present are relieved when we pause, breathe, step back, sigh, move slowly, talk softly. Our human companions might be relieved if we did more of that, too!