frightened horse

I was at a barn giving a horse bodywork recently, when we heard the sound of a horse struggling. “Elmer” was on the treadmill and had gotten one of his back legs stuck over the rear bar.

Once he was freed from the machine that was trying to eat him, he was okay except for a tender hock, and lots of adrenaline. Most days, that’s not too big a deal, but he was leaving for a show in 2 hours and had a 3 hour trailer ride ahead of him: he is the barn owner/trainer’s competition horse, a warmblood over 17 hands high.

On the lunge, he was a little off. I offered to work with him, and with relief, his owner agreed. I would not work directly on his tender tissue, but I explained that Reiki could help because it used no pressure.

When I introduced myself to Elmer half an hour later, his hock had been iced, but he was still pretty revved up. I understood that from his perspective, something had caught his leg and he couldn’t get away. His flight response was still engaged.

As I stood beside him with a hand on his croup and his withers offering Reiki, he began licking and chewing immediately. His head dropped as he softened. I told him that I knew he’d gotten really scared when the machine caught his leg, but he was okay now. More licking and chewing, more softening, big sigh.

I could feel his fear resurfacing in waves – his head would pop up and toss, and then he’d soften again. I held space for him to finish running away from the scary machine (internally not literally), and then helped him to return completely into his big chestnut body. We mammals often dissociate when panicked: not safe here, better scram! Just like in the cartoons.

Elmer and I had this dialog for about 45 minutes while he continued to release with huge yawns, sighs, licking and chewing. I could feel his energy settle and return to normal. When he passed gas and had loud gut sounds, I knew he had relaxed and was in his parasympathetic nervous system – the rest and digest and relax counterpoint to fight or flight (sympathetic).

I gave him a little bodywork to support his hip and leg connected to the hock, and to release endorphins, but my primary aim was to help the big guy settle enough that his body could fully use its resources to heal the ouchy hock. This meant making sure he was taking a trailer ride and starting out at a show from a good place, not one of stress, fear, and being all revved up. Because horses process through movement, I also suggested that he be walked before they left.

At the very end, I put my hands lightly over his bruised hock. He received the Reiki for a few minutes at a time, and then lifted his leg away. We repeated this a handful of times until I realized that he was done, and that the greatest help I could give him was helping his body to settle after the incident, because then the  body had all its resources available to heal the hock.

As we watched him walk and trot afterwards, we were pleased to see that he was using his hock normally. Elmer was reported to be “good” the next day and entered in his first class at the show for the following day. Go Elmer!

I just love how the natural wisdom of the body knows just how to heal itself when given support.

Photo purchased from iStock