Shiatsu is a massage therapy modality that is based on many of the same theories as Acupuncture and Acupressure, but instead it is designed for horses. It aims to balance the energy that moves through the body through pressure and stretching. It is a non-invasive therapy and is often part of a full-body massage, coupled with other modalities such as Swedish and deep tissue massage.
Equine Shiatsu operates under the same philosophy as regular Shiatsu, applying the philosophy of energy movement and meridians to horses instead of humans. The movements have just been tailored to suit the equine form.
Pamela Hannay, a pioneer in the practice of animal Shiatsu has taught at the Ohashi Institute in New York and Europe for over twenty years. She is authored Shiatsu for Dogs, and Shiatsu for Horse and Rider. Her practice with animals began in 1983 when a client asked her to help a horse with pain from a severe injury. After six months of therapy from Hannay, the horse recovered and she began sharing her work with other equine enthusiasts.
Instead of the use of needles, as in Acupuncture, finger, palm and elbow pressure is applied in Shiatsu. The movements are intended to move the energy around the meridians and clear any blocks to the energy. Shiatsu promotes relaxation and well-being, and helps to balance the body’s energy naturally.
When a horses energy is out of balance, there are a number of ways they may display this. The horse may just seem out of sorts, appear to be in pain, or exhibit behavioural problems. Similar to how a person may feel when things just “aren’t right,” a horse will display qualities of imbalance and discomfort.
It may be difficult for a horse owner or trainer to determine if a horse is out of balance. There may be physical signs pointing to their needing adjustment along a specific meridian, but it can be difficult to detect it to the untrained eye.
The Bladder Meridian is one of the horse’s most important meridians. This is the area a horse will most likely need adjusting. The average owner or caretaker may not understand that this is the case if the horse is having no issue with urination. The thing that is important for the caretaker to understand is that this meridian is important to the horse’s back muscles, hindquarters, hind legs and pasterns. It is the largest meridian on a horse, beginning on the face and running to the hindquarters, ending on the coronary band.
Horses predominantly communicate through their body language, and as such, are particularly sensitive to touch. This makes Shiatsu and ideal therapy to treat a horse because the respond to tactile communication.
Certain movements on the horse will influence the energy in a horse, and sometimes help to reestablish a flow of energy that is clogged or blocked. Similarly as with human athletes, racing horses may find Shiatsu especially helpful, due to the physical exertion they experience on a regular basis. Shiatsu is beneficial for overall health, but it also helps to promote healing and improved disposition and behaviour.
Shiatsu sessions for a horse will generally take one hour. The first session may be longer due to the pre-massage intake session, to discuss the health and lifestyle of the horse. Caretakers are encouraged to watch the massage and learn from the horses responses. Many times, caretakers will become accustomed to touching a horse a certain way, and they need to understand if that way is the most beneficial. They can also learn different ways in which to touch the horse depending upon the horse’s particular needs at any given moment.
The Shiatsu practitioner will use pressure, through strokes of hands, arms and elbows to move the energy along the horse’s body and stimulate the meridians. During the massage, horses may show a variety of responses including stretching, yawning, licking and chewing. The Shiatsu massage will be beneficial to both horse and caretaker, and the effects should be seen immediately.