When I first got into horses I was very pragmatic. Catch the horse, groom the horse, ride the horse. Feed him, water him, worm him, shoe him–horses were always shod; it was the way things were done. The vet came twice a year and gave shots. It was all pretty standard.
If anybody talked about nonstandard treatments or therapies, it was with extreme skepticism. I had known about chiropractic for humans since I was a toddler–an old family friend was a chiropractor. Chiropractic for horses? Inconceivable! As for the more far-out options, such as acupuncture, those were just a little too too for us pragmatists.
Until, one day, I saw an acupuncturist work on a horse. Seriously, you can’t placebo a horse. You can’t tell him “These weird little needles are going to act on your who-knows-whats and make you feel better.” Any more than you can feed him a sugar pill and tell him it’s a wormer (though he might think the sugar tastes just fine).
So here was a young and somewhat headstrong horse who belonged to a friend of mine, with some unresolved lameness issues that the conventional vet hadn’t been able to treat effectively. The person with the needles was a vet herself, a DVM (she also did chiropractic, and later got into Chinese herbal medicine; she’s since retired and become a sculptor–kind of a classic Renaissance type), so she had the background in conventional medicine. She understood the anatomy and physiology. She was, at base, a scientist. And here she was, marking out meridians and talking about energy paths.
Hokay, I said. Let’s see what the horse thinks. Needles are by no means a horse’s favorite thing, and yet these tiny needles with their plastic handles didn’t bother her in the slightest. At worst she’d twitch her skin as if to shake off a fly.
But what really struck me was how the needles affected her. She was normally fairly tense and flighty, not a relaxed horse at all, but after a couple of minutes her eyes were blinking, her breathing slowed, and her head came down. She was riding an endorphin high, and she was loving it. Not only that, after her treatment she was visibly better.
I was blown away. To be able to see how this fabled and unconventional therapy worked, in its pure state, on an animal who had no reason or inclination to pretend, was simply amazing.
I booked the Needle Vet for my own horse after that, and as the horse population increased, all of them got a session at some point either for a specific therapeutic reason or even as prophylaxis.
Which brings us to last week, and my six-month invalid. He’s been laid up since October after a close encounter with a fence, in which the fence won. Nothing we’ve tried has worked. We had the vet in. We did stall rest–he got much worse. We did massage–he got better during, and regressed after. We tried PT. He improved a bit and then plateaued.
Finally we had a choice. We could try chiro, but his problem was more musculo than skeletal–more soft tissue than bones and tendons. We hadn’t seen the Needle Vet in years, and anyway she was retired. A new one had come into town in the meantime, one we’d known in a previous incarnation as an emergency vet; he used to be our backup when our regular vet was unavailable. Another scientist and empiricist–he’s all about what demonstrably and provably works. Bonus: the horse knew him and liked him.
So we called the Needle Guy. It took three tries. The first one was derailed by an authentic Act of God: a massive haboob that made the national news. It was like a scene from “The Mummy.” Sandblast city.
The second try was also derailed, this time by a vet emergency–horse in another barn that needed hours of fluids and treatment. So we rescheduled again.
Third time was the charm. Quiet weather, if considerably on the warm side. Vet available. Needles at the ready. My poor messed-up boy was transformed into a very fancy Austrian-style pincushion–and he looooved it. At times I had to hold up his head, he was so zonked.
With acupuncture, you can often see results right away, but for a longterm injury like this, you may have to wait a bit. We were advised to give him a day to recover, then work him lightly and see what we could see.
What we saw was balanced movement, much less lameness, and a general sense of feeling more like himself.
Then I had to go away for a couple of days. When I came back, I tried the same work. And he was even better. More balanced. Less lame. Moving more like the horse he used to be.
He has two more sessions–the second tomorrow, and the the third and final next week. I’m very hopeful I’ll finally get my riding horse back.
So, I think, is he.
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