Life with ponies is not always smooth sailing. One day they are superstars, the next they are dumping the kids in the ring. Some are tough as nails while others are hot house flowers. The key to a healthy and happy life with ponies is balance and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine is one way to help.
TCVM theory is balancing the the Yin and Yang in body and mind for health and happiness. Yin and Yang are opposing forces, hot and cold, dark and light, sympathetic and parasympathetic.
TCVM has 5 branches, Acupuncture, Herbal Therapy, Tui-na Therapy, Food Therapy and Qi-gong practice.
Acupuncture uses needles or laser to stimulate acupuncture points. Many points are at areas dense with nerves and vessels and some are in trigger points of the myofascia. Stimulation alerts cells to release chemical messengers that flow though the body and tell cells in other parts of the body to react. Veterinarians can use their knowledge of acupuncture points and their actions to help the body heal itself. Some examples of these actions are to release endorphins to reduce pain and decrease anxiety or to release nitric oxide to dilate blood vessels or to release histamine which mobilizes white blood cells to help fight off infection.
Acupuncture is often described as energy medicine and indeed it is. We have many different forms of energy flowing through us. Depolarization of neurons by chemical gradients, like a battery, cause electrical impulses in our brain and spinal cord to control our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which control all our body’s functions like breathing, heart beating, hormone balance, thought and movement. We have chemical energy in our cells breaking down molecules from the food we ingest and transforming it to the building blocks of our bodies. We have kinetic energy in our DNA that winds and unwinds to control translation, transcription and protein synthesis. By using acupuncture to stimulate or calm these reactions, we can balance the whole body from the macroscopic to the molecular level.
Chinese Herbal Therapy uses formulas developed for medicinal purposes made from a variety of plants, roots, fungi, minerals and animal products. In modern herbology, most formulas are vegan and we do not use products such as rhino horn or deer antler velvet but some formulas contain insects, shells or bone from commercial livestock like cows, pigs and chickens. Most of our modern day pharmaceuticals are derived from plants and animals but then isolated and highly concentrated so they have a specific action, are stronger, work immediately and can have strong side effects. Herbal therapies are slower to work and gentler on the system because they have a wider range of action and the formulas are balanced to counter act the side effects that herbs in the formula may cause. They come in powder, pill and biscuit forms. Herbs are not supplements, they are medicine so they may be given for a short duration for an acute problem like hives or an upper respiratory disease or may be prescribed for longer periods for chronic disease like cancer, arthritis and for geriatric patients.
Tui-na therapy is Chinese physical therapy. Chiropractic Care and physical therapy techniques have their roots in Tui-na techniques. Joint manipulation, stretching and massage techniques are used to restore range of motion and decrease pain and stiffness. The spinal nerves exit the vertebral column between a canal made by a pair of adjacent vertebrae. These nerves transmit signals to all parts of your body to control muscles, organs, heart rate, ect. If these vertebrae are not moving freely or moving too much, this canal can change shape and squeeze or pinch the nerve. You are aware of muscle contraction and pain but proprioception (the way your brain knows where your hands and feet are) is caused by information gathered at your extremities and sent back to your brain. You are not actively telling your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe or your intestines to digest food but any blockage in nerve conduction to these organs can cause systemic problems.
In modern practice, Chiropractic care is performed by a DC or DVM to restore the normal motion of the joints. The massage and stretching portions of Tui-na can be done by the owner on a more frequent basis. You may be doing some Tui-na techniques already if you use a curry, hay wisp, rub down legs, do tail pulls or carrot stretches in your grooming routine. So your pony club DC was right, grooming is the first step to good health !
Food therapy is based on the energetics of foods and we classify them on different tastes. A good rule of thumb is crisp, refreshing foods such as cucumber, celery, watermelon rind and radish are good for Heat conditions. Warm foods are ones that take energy to digest so oats, sweet potato and pumpkin can help keep your pony warm in winter. Neutral foods are bland like potato, corn, cabbage, apples and carrots. The more processed a food is, the more heat it contains so raw is cold, while extruded nuggets are hot. Most ponies don’t need more than hay but you can supplement his diet seasonally with foods based on temperature.
More in depth food therapy decisions are based on the 5 tastes :
Sweet foods tonify the Qi(give you energy), which makes sense because they are filled with carbohydrates.
Sour foods tonify the liver and helps regulate fluid balance. The sour tasting foods are the citrus fruits, rose hips, green tea, pomegranate which are antioxidants. Some sour foods contain tannins like dark beer which may help increase sweating and help grazing animals digest foods with high soy content.
Bitter foods Tonify the Heart (circulatory and nervous system) and Clear Heat (reduce inflammation and infection). These are plants containing glycosides and alkaloids. Some common drugs made from plant glycosides are aspirin(anti inflammatory, anti pyretic), morphine (pain relief and sedation), quinine (antimalarial antipyretic) and digitalis (regulates the heart rhythym).
Astringent foods are associated with the Metal element ie Lungs, skin, reducing mucous and opening the airways. Acrid foods have a burning feeling on the tongue because they contain essential oils like ginger, mentha, mint, cinnamon, and corriander.
Salty foods Tonify the Kidneys and softens masses so we use salty foods in cancer patients, thyroid disorders, constipation and geriatric patients. Seaweed such as kelp and laminaria are commonly used.
Qi-gong translates to Life energy cultivation. It is similar to Tai Qi by using gentle movements, breathing and mediating to relax the body and mind. Stress produces cortisol, an endogenous steroid that increases blood sugar, suppresses the immune system and decreases bone formation. So you ask, how do I get my pony to meditate ? We all know when we have a bad day you should just not ride because your pony will be bad and you will leave the barn frustrated. Horses are very in tune to our feelings and emotions. My suggestions for pony mediation are to do your grooming/Tui-na sessions with a relaxed attitude and rhythmic breathing, take a long trail walk on a loose rein enjoying nature or try centered riding.
Incorporating TCVM practices into your pony’s daily activities is easy to do when you know a few basic theories and can help you live a long and happy life together.