The Five Element Horse Types + Interview with Holistic Veterinarian, Dr. Madalyn Ward
The following is an excerpt from Dr. Ward’s article, “Brief Introduction to the Five Element Horse Types and Temperaments”. This excerpt is provided as background information for the Q&A which follows. To view the article in its entirety, click here.
There are many approaches to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but the Five-Element approach is unique in that it includes the idea that each of us, animal or human, represents a “constitutional type,” exhibiting certain physical and emotional traits that are specific to that type. Viewing the individual from this perspective can also be applied to horses, thus facilitating a better understanding of any given horse’s nature and needs.
Body type, physical characteristics, health challenges, and personality are all considered in determining a horse’s underlying Five-Element type. Knowing your horse’s constitutional type can help you make dietary and lifestyle choices for him that will best support his overall needs on an ongoing basis. If you are looking for a new horse, Five Element typing will aid you in selecting a horse that is well-suited for your lifestyle, the specific activity you wish to undertake with him, or a particular training style.
The Five Elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine are Water, Fire, Wood, Metal and Earth. Each element has a connection to specific organs and energy pathways (meridians) in the body, as follows:
Water: The Kidney (KI) and the Bladder (BL)
Fire: The Heart(HT) and the Small Intestine (SI); the Pericardium (PC) and the Triple Heater (TH)
Wood: The Liver (LIV) and the Gallbladder (GB)
Metal: The Lung (LU) and the Large Intestine (LI)
Earth: The Spleen (SP) and the Stomach (ST)
According to TCM tradition, when your horse exhibits health problems, they are likely to be related to the organs and meridians associated with his constitutional type. For example, a metal horse might have chronic respiratory troubles (lungs) and/or problems in the front legs (because that is where the path of the lung and large intestine meridians run).
Each element is associated with a Yin and a Yang organ, with the exception being the Fire element, which is associated with two of each. Yin organs are generally solid, like the heart or kidney. Yang organs are usually hollow, like the small intestine or bladder. Exceptions are the paired Fire organs: the Pericardium and Triple Heater (neither solid nor hollow).
Each element has an extensive set of relationships like emotion, climate, season, color, sense organ, and body tissue. For example, an Earth horse would be most negatively affected by a damp climate, have worse symptoms in the late summer or during a change of season, have yellow discharges, experience problems around the lips, and have weakness in the muscles. These types of relationships help us recognize constitutional types.
Here is a short summary of each type:
Fire Horse: The Perfect Show Horse
Fire horses love to be at the center of attention and they want to be adored. They make excellent hunters and dressage horses, as well as good pleasure horses. They need to be told that they are loved. They enjoy grooming and bathing because it makes them beautiful.
Wood Horse: The Ultimate Competitor
Wood horses love physical challenges and must be kept active or they will develop bad habits like kicking and biting. Wood horses make excellent jumpers, barrel racers and cutters so long as they understand the rules of the game. Don’t try to subdue or overpower a Wood horse but instead reason with them.
Earth Horse: The Dependable Lesson Horse
Earth horses love two things: respect and food. They are solid citizens who want to be appreciated for the good work they do, and food treats often go a long way toward keeping them happy. They make perfect school horses and work well with children. They develop bad habits when their daily routine is upset.
Metal Horse: The Hard-Working Ranch Horse
Metal horses enjoy order and control, and can stand up to some of the toughest working conditions. They do their jobs perfectly but otherwise desire very little interaction. They can be found in all disciplines and are often found in working-horse situations like ranching.
Water Horse: The Arab Park Horse
Water horses need safety and a trustworthy rider. They can be brilliant show horses but panic easily. They perform well in events that call for animation and excitement, and are motivated by cheering crowds. They need steady riders to help them through scary situations.
Q&A with Dr. Madalyn Ward
How do you use the five element theory in your practice?
First, I try to identify the five element type of the horse. Does he fit into just one of the elements or is he a combination of two or more elements? I ask about the horse’s diet, what he’s used for, and then I observe any visible symptoms. If I detect an imbalance, I often use acupressure to restore the imbalance. I may advise the owner to make dietary and/or management changes with the horse to maintain balance.
Do you prefer to use acupressure over acupuncture in your practice?
I use both modalities, but tend to use acupressure more because it is easier—especially for many of the acu-points on the legs, which affect the elements. I do use acupuncture (with needles) on the upper body sometimes, though.
Some horses don’t like needles so acupressure is much easier in those cases!
Do you believe all horses can be ‘typed’ using the Five Element Theory?
Sometimes, it is difficult to ‘type’ a horse because not all horses fit into just one element. I find that many horses are born with a certain temperament but their personality has been affected due to their life experiences.
In order to ‘type’ a horse, I get as much information as I can from the owner. I ask lots of questions in order to understand the true essence of the horse. Then, even if the horse has learned to behave in a way that doesn’t fit in with their ‘type’, I will handle and recommend the owner handle the horse according to their ‘true’ type. This allows the horse to show their potential.
How do you differentiate between an excess vs. a deficiency condition in a horse?
With a deficiency, the horse tends to be thinner, have a poor hair coat, and have erratic energy or sometimes, no energy. They will often look tired. Many of the rescue horses that I help to treat have deficiency conditions.
Excess conditions often display as explosive behavior and excess energy. The horse may even be overweight. Horses with an excess condition may look healthier than horses with deficiency conditions, but they may have blocked energy.
I treat quite a few show horses and I find that excess conditions are more common in these horses, but even a show horse can have a deficiency condition if they have been overworked or are suffering from ‘burn out’.
How often do you incorporate Western medicine in your practice?
Personally, I don’t do much as far as Western medicine goes. I do refer horses to other vets if I think diagnostics are needed, though. I work with a team of horse care professionals and each team member has his or her place. I made the choice to be strictly holistic in my practice—I offer the least amount of drugs and the most support.
For chronic conditions that Western medicine has proven unsuccessful in treating, what are your general recommendations?
I usually begin with nutrition and then I balance the elements. Some examples of chronic conditions that I treat are insulin resistance, laminitis, uveitis, and ulcers.
The good thing about holistic care is that we can treat a pattern and bring balance without an exact diagnosis. We can pick up on very subtle signs of imbalance and then act accordingly.
Western medicine needs symptoms to diagnose. Unfortunately, the effect of disease on organ function may not show up diagnostically until 70-80% of the damage has occurred. For example, arthritis doesn’t show up on x-rays until it’s in the later stages.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m a very big proponent of feeding whole foods to horses and feeding less formulated feeds and supplements. Whole foods have phytonutrients and enzymes and are healthier for the horse. Some examples of whole foods are chlorella, AFA algae blue-green algae (spirulina), sea algae, Tahitian noni, and seeds like sunflowers, chia, and flax.
About Dr. Ward
Madalyn Ward, DVM graduated from Texas A&M University in 1980. She worked in an equine practice until 1985, and then started her own practice at Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. After four more years of practice, she remained frustrated about many aspects of western medicine. Despite regularly attending conferences, consulting with experts and reading all the latest literature, she was still not curing many chronic conditions. Madalyn also found many standard conventional practices very invasive and unappreciated by her patients. She wanted her patients to live happier as well as healthier lives.
In 1989 she started seeking out information and training in alternative healing methods. She was amazed at the wealth of knowledge about true healing — knowledge largely ignored by conventional teaching institutions. She has found the horse-owning public and practicing veterinarians who have faced similar frustrations are open to alternative methods.
Madalyn is trained in Veterinary Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Bowen Therapy, Network Chiropractic and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners and American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. She has authored three books, Holistic Horsekeeping, Horse Harmony: Understanding Horse Types and Temperaments, and Horse Harmony Five Element Feeding Guide. Madalyn’s websites are www.holistichorsekeeping.com and www.horseharmony.com.