Chinese Medicine – Metal & Earth Horse


The stocky school horse plods around and around the ring with a young rider on his back. He is kind and slow, providing a safe and steady ride, and has a fat round belly from all the treats he’s received. He’s a quintessential Earth horse.

Every horse embodies common physical and behavioral characteristics of the Five Elements of Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. By understanding how Five Element patterns relate to your horse, you can keep him healthy and happy on a deep, lasting level.

In this article, we’ll learn about the Earth horse’s needs and how to work with his temperament. We will also meet the Metal horse, an equine with a similar and yet different make-up.

Earth: steady as a rock
Not all Earth horses are easy to handle, but at their best they are dependable, generous and worth their weight in gold. The Earth horse is friendly, easy-going and basically just a “good guy”. He enjoys company and connection. Earth’s biggest motivation is comfort and ease. He avoids unnecessary movement unless it takes him closer to his grain. But because he is an agreeable fellow, the Earth horse usually perks up after initial reluctance and enjoys his outings. Don’t call him lazy as he has impressive endurance once his motor is running.

Easy does it
When training an Earth horse, use lots of patience. He is not a quick thinker and may take longer than others to learn. He does best with short, clear lessons presented in bite-sized bits that can be easily mastered. When he does well, build his confidence with generous praise and recognition. Once he has learned a lesson, he will hold it forever. Don’t mistake his slower mind for lack of intelligence as the Earth horse can be quite clever. Just remember not to push him by overdoing the pace of your lessons because he will resist if you do. His performance will become lackluster and his abundant patience will turn into a formidable stubbornness. Learn to honor his slower pace and you will have a work partner who will give you years of faithful rides.

Equine gourmet
Once the saddle is off, the Earth horse is ready to get back to his favorite occupation: leisure. He loves nothing more than resting in a field of lush pasture. He is often an “easy keeper”, so regular exercise and a low starch/sugar diet is necessary to keep him trim. In addition, he is prone to all manner of digestive conditions including colic, diarrhea and dental issues. Make sure you find a skilled dental practitioner and have your Earth horse checked regularly – simple filing is often not enough.

Keep a routine
A regular routine and gentle understanding are the keys to a happy Earth horse. Routine gives him a comforting sense of security and competence and allows him to relax into familiar rhythms without having to think on his feet. Minimize activities that require prolonged periods of rapid thinking, as this increases emotional stress. If you plan to change his routine, whether it is a small shift (like a new neighbor in the next stall) or a major transformation (like changing barns), give him lots of support and time to adjust. Be kind and understanding and the Earth horse will return the favor gratefully.

Considerations for the Earth horse
On a physical level, Earth horses are prone to several health conditions. Knowing about these “weak links” can help you act promptly if they surface. They include stifle issues, growths including warts, sarcoids, melanoma and cancer, edema including wind puffs and stocking up, thrush, weak or sway backs (often due to weight gain), and excessive passing of gas. If your horse has any of these conditions, try to find an acupressure or acupuncture practitioner in your area to see if he would benefit from treatment. Herbs can also be wonderfully effective for many of these conditions.

Metal: a competent companion
Both Earth and Metal horses are even-tempered, sensible, reliable and calm, but what motivates them is completely different. The Earth horse’s greatest ambition is to have a lazy afternoon in a lush pasture; the Metal horse thrives on hard work and mental challenge.

Whether it is a rigorous dressage lesson for a horse in his prime, or ferrying youngsters around the ring for a “retired” elder, Metal horses need a job to feel productive and useful.

Give 100% to training
The Metal horse is easy to train because he is smart, eager to learn and willing to work hard. But he gives 100% to his training sessions and expects you to do the same. He is tolerant of a unskilled rider who is earnest and trying hard, but impatient with a skilled handler who is sloppy or lax. This competent companion takes working with you very seriously. He bonds through work, not play.

Turning inward
To encourage harmony and maximum performance, don’t overwork your Metal horse. Though his reliable and collected nature seems to take everything in stride, his apparently calm exterior often hides a highly sensitive individual. More often than not, he is internalizing the stress of a heavy work load, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. Metal horses are also stressed when required to maintain a calm demeanor amidst chaos or difficulty.

If your stoic Metal horse seems unflappable, look closely for subtle signs of stress. Carefully monitoring the early signs of stress can head off problems before they worsen, and avoid any tendency to shut down emotionally under pressure.

Keep it calm
The Metal horse thrives in a calm, quiet, orderly home. In the bustle of a big barn he will be happier on the end of the row far from the entrance or, even better, someplace where he has free turnout to take private time when he needs it. Barns that have non-stop music or constant activity can really irritate this horse’s delicate sensibilities.

This horse is not a social butterfly. He’s happiest in a small herd with a few horses he can trust and rely on. When he bonds with another horse or person, his connection will be deep and lasting. Feel honored if you are the recipient of the Metal horse’s affections – he will only bond closely to a person he truly trusts and respects.

Considerations for the Metal horse
The most common place to look for physical ailments in the Metal horse is the respiratory system. If your horse coughs regularly, has labored breathing or other respiratory conditions, consider supporting the Metal Element with acupressure, acupuncture or herbs.

Skin problems also indicate your horse is dealing with a Metal imbalance. He may also show digestive problems and his immune system may require extra attention to stay strong. These physical symptoms surface when he is under emotional, mental or physical stress. Pay close attention to these signs; they may be the only way this stoic horse communicates that he needs your help.

If your horse’s temperament doesn’t match those described here, or in the two previous articles, stay tuned. We still have one more Element to go. In the next issue we will meet the Water horse – an unusual and very special individual.

The Earth horse at a glance 

Physical characteristics
Common ailments: Digestive issues, diarrhea, colic of all types, weight issues, overly food focused, passing gas, growths and edema of all types, hay bloat, stifle issues, rain rot/rain scald, thrush, sway back from a big belly, dental issues, sluggish behavior

Favorite sports: Anything of low to moderate exertion; a great lesson horse especially for beginners and children, excellent therapy helper, good pleasure and trail horse – long distance fine when pace is slow and steady

Tips for success: Regular moderate exercise, moderate diet with limited sweets, turnout for keeping the horse active, regular dental care, “belly lifts” for strengthening the back

Emotional characteristics
Emotional strengths: Dependability, stability, steadiness, gentleness, easy-going nature, friendly

Stressed by: Lack of routine, humans who expect mental quickness, complicated requests, handlers who take advantage of his forgiving nature

Balanced by: Genuine praise, touch, slow and grounded activities, routines, peaceful atmosphere, grazing time, comfort

Vulnerable to: Stubbornness, worry, lack of confidence, lethargy, apathy, dull-mindedness, slow learning, getting in a rut

Responds to stress by: Stopping to integrate the experience, refusing to move forward, shutting down emotionally, resigned cooperation

Learning style: Benefits from slow methodical lessons with lots of praise that teach concepts in bite-sized pieces, ending early on a successful bit of learning instead of forging forth to something new, a calm learning environment

Tips for success: Be patient and supportive. Give this horse praise for small steps to build rock-solid competence

The Metal horse at a glance

Physical characteristics
Common ailments: Skin issues (rashes, dry skin, hair loss, allergies, eczema, skin sensitivity), respiratory conditions (coughing – acute or chronic, labored breathing (roaring, lung infection), immune issues, constipation, impaction colic, “splints” (bony growths) on the inside cannon bone of the forelegs, coughing or stocking up when the animal receives vaccination

Favorite sports: Any task that gives him the chance to give his all, sports that require mental focus and demanding physical concentration and exertion – dressage, reining, jumping are often favorites

Tips for success: Challenging work when fit, regular “work” to feel useful when “retired”, attention to environmental factors affecting the respiratory system (such as bedding, training surface, dusty hay, skin products), stretching for suppleness; evaluate the need for vaccination with a holistic vet (less is often better with this animal)

Emotional characteristics
Emotional strengths: Logical, methodical and calm, reasonable, intelligent, dependable, independent, self-reliant

Stressed by: Commotion, noise, lack of order, incompetence, foolishness, unreasonable expectations from handler, overly sentimental interactions, and occasionally resistant to lots of touch like massage

Balanced by: Quiet time alone or with one favored person or animal, order, clean surroundings, respect, honor, competence, routine, work

Vulnerable to: Mental rigidity, intolerance, judgment, perfectionism, righteousness, stoicism, trying to do it all alone, shutting down

Responds to stress by: Internalizing inner chaos with exterior calm, impatience, irritation, emotional withdrawal, physical ailments like coughing and skin issues, blocking intimacy

Learning style: Benefits from methodical and challenging lessons, clarity, correctness and competence from handler, calm quiet direct handling, no-nonsense approaches, regular work

Tips for success: Be clear, quiet and respectful, give this horse meaningful work or training (work hard on your own part – e.g. handling/riding skills to earn his respect), don’t over-sentimentalize your interactions, gently coax him to feel safe expressing emotions and receiving touch and intimacy


Susan Tenney, CMT , works internationally as a teacher, writer and practitioner of Shiatsu and Five Element Acupress ure for animals. She blends mass age , acupress ure, stretching, movement exercises and lifes tyle modifications to improve animal health and performance . Her clients have included the Swiss Eques trian Team and two gold medal-winning United States Eques trian Teams. She is the author of Basic Acupressure for Horses and a growing line of laminated mini-posters. Susan offers clinics in Europe and the U.S., and leads a ce rtification program in Switzerland. www.ElementalAcupressure.com

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