Unpredictable and seemingly so difficult to prevent, colic is the most dreaded, far-too-common occurrence in a horse’s life. You know how the scenario goes: in the morning when you fed your horse, he seemed absolutely fine. By mid-day, he was agitatedly kicking his flank and curling his lip. Instantaneously you felt that awful rush of panic and sense of helplessness. But here’s how you can help to prevent colic from occurring.
First, tell yourself that you are not helpless. In fact, there is something you can do to prevent colic from getting worse while you wait for your holistic veterinarian to arrive! Instead of wringing your hands, you can use them to stimulate specific acupressure points – points that can help relieve your horse’s discomfort. Acupressure is safe, non-invasive, always available, and has proven to be rather effective to prevent colic.
Often, during a bout of colic, a vet will suggest walking your horse for about 15 minutes (but no longer so that he doesn’t tire). While you are waiting, you can offer your horse an acupressure session to help begin to relieve his discomfort.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
From the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, colic results when some form of energetic blockage causes an imbalance in the body. The blockage can be related to an actual physical blockage, such as an impaction or torsion, which in turn causes an energetic blockage, or to an imbalance along the meridian and organ system.
Meridians are energy pathways or channels that run through a horse’s entire body. There are specific points, or pools of energy, along these pathways that can help maintain the harmonious flow of energy through the meridian channel system. These points are called “acupoints.”
Outwardly, these blockages manifest themselves through any number of clinical symptoms. In fact, the indicators of colic vary so widely that it can be difficult to determine what is actually happening to your horse.
Since there are so many different types of colic, we have selected acupoints that address the three most common forms of this condition. The acupoints in the charts accompanying this article have shown to prevent colic before it becomes severe.
A TCM practitioner would consider a simple impaction colic (i.e. colic that does not normally require surgery), where there is less peristaltic (involuntary contraction) movement and a pale, dry tongue, as evidence of a dry Large Intestine pattern. This pattern of imbalance indicates a deficiency of fluids in the large intestine. In eastern medicine, the intent would be to work acupoints to restore the fluid balance in the intestines and strengthen Yin along the Large Intestine meridian.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a spasmodic colic is called “Large Intestine Cold.” A horse suffering from this type of pattern usually experiences sudden painful abdominal spasms and increased peristaltic movement, while also exhibiting a pale tongue and cold limbs. Often, this condition results from consuming too much cold food or fluid and/or excessive exposure to external cold.
Flatulent, or gas colic is characterized by extreme abdominal pain. Other indicators of flatulent colic include excessive production of intestinal gas, white coated tongue, and an absence of manure. In TCM terms, this type of colic is a “Small Intestine Pattern.” This pattern can be caused by a number of things such as cribbing, a change in feed, a change in routine, unusual or excessive intake of cold food or water. Emotional stress factors such as frustration, boredom from confinement, and anger can also result in flatulent colic.
Prevention of colic
Horses have sensitive digestive systems so it may be impossible to totally prevent colic. However, you can reduce the incidence of it. Suggestions often cited are:
• feed on a regular time schedule
•have clean water available
• feed free-choice grass hay rather than grain
• wait to feed after exercise •provide a consistent exercise regime
• allow for as much turnout or pasture time as possible
• conduct acupressure maintenance sessions
• make dietary and exercise changes slowly over time
By following natural horse care practices, you can help to prevent colic from striking. But if it does happen, remember there is something you can do – apply acupressure techniques. Your intent to help is powerful in itself.
Acupressure point work techniques
• Begin point work using the direct-thumb technique. Place the ball of your thumb on the acupoint at a 90o angle to your horse’s body. Apply about 1 to 2 pounds of pressure; when you feel resistance, let up on the point slightly and then apply pressure again.
• Keep both hands on your horse. One hand does the point work while the other feels the reactions such as muscle spasms, twitches and other releases. The hand not performing the Point Work also serves to soothe your horse and provide an energy connection.
• Point work is generally performed from front to rear and top to bottom of the horse.
•Breathe out while moving into the acupoint; breathe in when letting up on the point.
• Use partial body weight; this ensures a smoothness of motion and protects your thumbs and wrists from stress.