There are many more senior horses now than ever before. Horses in the 15 to 20-year old range are still competing in some disciplines and even 30-year olds are becoming more common. In fact, according to reports, more than 15% of the horse population in North America is over 20. These elders have become our dear friends, and we want to do everything possible to extend their lives with as much comfort as possible. Two easy ways to do this is with movement and acupressure.
Aging animals need to keep moving
The horse’s body is designed to move and seniors are no exception. This means more turnout, low-stress trail riding, or training in the arena. Physical activity supports her digestive processes, enhances nutrient absorption, and maintains the strength and flexibility of her muscles, joints, and other soft tissues. Additionally, social contact with humans or pasture mates keeps up her mental attitude and spirit. Many older horses are reluctant to keep moving because they are in pain; arthritis is very common. Joints, tendons and ligaments can become very sore due to inflammation and/or degeneration. Keep in mind that once the body slows down, though, the potential for internal disease goes up, so techniques to reduce pain and promote movement are paramount.
Acupressure is a great gift to seniors
Offering your horse consistent bodywork helps stave off the painful effects of arthritis, soft tissue problems, gastrointestinal issues and other conditions associated with aging. Acupressure has been used for centuries to maintain equine health, and you need little or no experience to enjoy tremendous success in supporting your horse’s long-term well being. This is because the energetics of acupressure are present whether you have in-depth knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine or not.
An acupressure session for equine elders
Traditional acupressure points, called “acupoints,” are known to have effects on specific body tissues and functions. By stimulating the following acupoints, you’ll help your horse continue to move freely and comfortably, keeping her body functions strong, balanced, and healthy.
Bladder 11, Great Shuttle, energetically nourishes bone with blood and life-promoting energy, helping to keep arthritis in check.
Bladder 17, Diaphragm’s Hollow, strongly influences the circulation of blood and energy, providing balance to the entire body.
Stomach 36, Leg Three Miles, is used to aid digestion and promote gastrointestinal health while regulating and tonifying blood and life-force energy. This acupoint enhances the animal’s activity level and assists with nutrient absorption.
Gall Bladder 34, Yang Mound Spring, influences the strength and flexibility of tendons, ligaments, and joints. It can reduce atrophy in an older horse’s soft tissues.
Kidney 3, Great Stream, brings forth the horse’s original essence and energy that supports her basic constitution. This acupoint is often used to add essential energy during the winter phase of life.
Acupressure point work technique
- Locate each acupoint while looking at the chart and reading the anatomical description of the point.
- Begin Point Work using the direct-thumb technique. Place the soft, fleshy tip of your thumb ball on the acupoint at a 90º angle to your horse’s body. Apply about one pound of pressure, hold your thumb on the acupoint, and count to 30 or watch the horse for evidence of an energetic release such as licking, yawning, stretching, or passing air.
- 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 soothes your horse and provides an energy connection.
- After holding your thumb on an acupoint on one side of the horse, move to the opposite side and hold that point. Again, watch for any releases or count slowly to 30 before moving on to the next acupressure point shown on the chart.
Performing the “Elder Equine Acupressure Session” every fourth or fifth day on any horse over the age of 15 not only supports his physical body but also provides you both with a great bonding experience. You can’t stop the effects of time, but you can offer your horse support through her golden years, which could last 20 years or more. An extra bonus is a stronger connection between you and your equine.
The signs of aging
Each horse is unique in how he or she ages. It depends on lifelong circumstances, breeding, mental attitude and individual constitution. Here are some common indicators:
- Vision deteriorates
- Muscle tone and strength decrease
- Posture appears more sway-backed
- Lower lip droops and is less flexible
- Emotional “flatness” and loss of spirit
- Loss of teeth and dental issues
- Dehydration occurs more frequently
- Kidney and bladder conditions happen more often
- Reduced appetite signals potential nutrient absorption problems
- Gait appears stiffer due to tendon, ligament, joint, and bone issues
- Coat lacks luster with increased dryness, patchiness, and graying.
As a senior horse’s caretaker, you can apply many additional ways to help her stay healthy and physically fit. These include diet, play, rest, training, turnout, social contact, and regular veterinary, dental, and hoof care.