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Acupuncture Treatments for Your Horse and Other Animals

Acupuncture has slowly been gaining in popularity with horse owners and veterinarians since its introduction in the 1970s. It is a standard treatment worldwide today for helping athletes, both human and equine; maintain top physical condition and performance. But the practice is not without controversy.
Acupuncture treatments consist of the careful placement of sterile needles at certain points on the body. These points are determined by the body’s flow of energy, which was discovered by the ancient Tibetans and Chinese. They called it Qi, which is pronounced “chee.”

While these ancient healers did not understand energy as electricity, and did not know that most bodily functions are indeed caused by small negative or positive charges, their concept of energy flow is a good one. When

the current is allowed to flow normally, the body works well. However, blockages in the current cause problems such as pain, weakness, loss of muscle tone, or tumors.

According to the Chinese, every organ has its own function and its own corresponding Qi. These functions might sound a little odd to Westerners. One example is the spleen, which in the Chinese tradition is thought to digest food and keep everything in its proper place. For example, it keeps the blood flowing in the veins, the saliva in the mouth, etc. Today, veterinarians can tell you that the spleen’s function is to regulate the blood and lymph, but few know that it is also what prevents uterine prolapse in a foaling mare.

When acupuncture points are stimulated, the body releases different chemicals according to the placement of the needles. If, for example, acupuncture is performed on an anxious horse, endorphins can be released that will help it to relax. Another example is a horse that is not running properly due to shoulder pain. Correctly placed acupuncture needles can help to release the blocked energy, as well as releasing painkilling hormones such as enkephlins and metenkephlins in the central nervous system. These hormones not only ease the horse’s pain, they also promote healing of the joint by reducing swelling and inflammation.

Before an examination by an acupuncturist, he or she might wish to speak with your regular veterinarian or may perform a regular Western examination himself. This gives both you and the acupuncturist the most complete information available about the horse’s condition. Then the acupuncturist will ask you to describe the horse’s symptoms, its normal daily routine—such as the amount of time spent in the stall or pasture—the horse’s social standing in the herd, and whether the horse seems to prefer heat or cold. Then he or she may look at the tongue, take the horse’s pulse in several locations over the body, and examine the meridians. These are the channels through which the Qi is said to flow.

No one is positive that horses have meridians, although it is accepted that humans do. However, research indicates that horses do indeed have these channels for Qi. These meridians make it possible for a tender area to receive treatment without the acupuncturist actually having to put needles into the injured or sore area.

Examining the meridians involves finding the areas which are tender and evaluate how these areas relate to the horse’s injury or ailment. This information, combined with the veterinary or Western evaluation and the interview with the owner, allows the acupuncturist to make a diagnosis and begin treatment.

While improvement is generally seen after each treatment, but owners should be aware that acupuncture is not an instant fix. Multiple sessions are usually needed before the ailment or injury is healed. Also, because acupuncture treatments address the flow of Qi in the entire animal, many times owners will see that other problems in the horse are relieved in addition to the specific ailment the acupuncturist is treating.

There are several techniques common in acupuncture, and some or all may be used by your acupuncturist depending on the horse’s condition.

“Dry needling” is the most basic of acupuncture techniques. Slender needles are inserted into acupuncture points, and nothing is injected.

Electroacupuncture involves the use of a mild to moderate electrical current once the needles are inserted. A machine is used to send the current through small wires connected to the acupuncture needles. This is most commonly used when stimulation of deep acupuncture points is desired.

If the horse has a Qi deficiency, heat at the acupuncture points is indicated. This can speed the healing process. An herbal preparation from the mugwart plant called moxibustion is commonly used for this purpose.

Sometimes the acupuncturist will inject something into the acupuncture points, such as saline, vitamins, or antibiotics. This is known as aquapuncture, and produces stimulation of the points for several days after the treatment. It is sometimes used in place of dry needling, and it can be a very effective treatment.

If even more prolonged stimulation of the points is desired, the acupuncturist might recommend gold bead implantation. By surgically implanting gold beads, wire, or threads at the acupuncture points, animals with chronic or progressive diseases can receive the maximum health benefits of acupuncture. It can even reduce the need for daily use of medicines.

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