Shiatsu Therapy for Horses
The following is a guest post written by Jele Dominis, a student of The School of Equine Shiatsu in Croatia.
Shiatsu is a holistic touch therapy based in Traditional Chinese Medicine which also incorporates the western knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Developed in Japan in the 20th century, Shiatsu literally means finger pressure. Practitioners use this pressure in and on the body, as well as stretches and rotations to stimulate the body’s vital energy (Ki) flow. Through touch, Shiatsu recreates two of the most basic life experiences which begin at conception and continue throughout gestation– the circulation of energy (information) and the sensation of pressure.
Energy circulates in our body through a system of meridians that are also closely related to our organs. Touch is closely connected to our autonomous nervous system. The two branches of the ANS are parasympathetic and orthosympathetic. Each branch affects our body in opposite, yet complimentary ways. The Parasympathetic branch makes us feel more relaxed, adaptable to stimulation and impulses; it slows our heart rate and deepens our breathing. Thus the energy flows more freely throughout our body.
The Orthosympathetic branch produces tension and restrictions. It sets off our fight or flight mode, increases our heart rate, and our breathing becomes shallow. In a balanced state, these two systems work together and regulate our energy. Today though, due to our high-paced lifestyles, there is a tendency to get stuck in the Ortho mode, which leads to a variety of negative effects.
So, what does this have to do with horses? Well, horses communicate through touch and energy. For example mares physically stimulate foals by licking, nibbling, nudging and in this way, provide comfort and support to their young. Horses, in general, groom each other as a way of communicating. They read energy from different animals/ humans in their environment to know whether to continue grazing or activate their fight or flight response.
Our daily lifestyles tend to make us tense, and it does the same for horses, too. They are prey animals; they move long distances, day and night, grazing with their herds. However, most domesticated horses are kept in stalls with no movement, no choice of when and what to eat, and sometimes no interaction with other horses. Life of a sports horse is even more stressful with strict training regimes, lots of traveling and changing environments, and maybe even less time off to be just horses. Sounds like a very humanesque lifestyle. So our horses are tense in much the same way that we are, and as we do, they, too, develop many negative side effects to that lifestyle.
As Shiatsu works to relax the body and enable unrestricted energy flow, it gives support, enabling the body to switch on the Para mode, creating an awareness for areas of tension or weakness on either the physical or emotional level. This awareness often leads to personal growth and improvement through exercising, dietary changes and lifestyle changes – for us as well as for our horses, and thus healing occurs. Of course, for healing to work, time is very important. Shiatsu is not a quick fix. It takes time. . . the body is not a machine. If it took years to get out of balance, it will also take time to get back in balance.
As horse and rider together make a team, imbalances in one affect the other. In our experience the best results are achieved when both horse and rider have treatments.
Shiatsu works well with other holistic therapies and physiotherapy, but it is not a substitute for veterinary care.
When can Shiatsu help?
- Before and after competition – as preparation for competition or relaxation after competition
- With injuries – it speeds up the healing of tendon, muscle or ligament tissue injuries
- Back problems – back pain, unbalanced movements
- Digestion problems – horses prone to colic, horses that cannot gain weight
- Urinary problems – difficult urination or bladder infection
- Respiratory problems – helps acute cough, alleviates chronic cough (heaves)
- Skin problems – speeds up the recovery of skin diseases (sweet itch, mud fever…)
- After stressful events – competition, moving, weaning, herd separation…
- Emotional imbalance and behavior problems
- Old horses – regular shiatsu sessions ease chronic conditions and pain (Cushing’s, arthritis)
- Changing of seasons – helps with the shedding of old and growing of new hair
- General improvement and maintenance of a healthy horse
For more information on Shiatsu therapists or on education for a Shiatsu therapist for horses in Europe, please visit: