When the New Way Is the Older Way
Our horses often speak to that in us which may be called our spirit. Our horses remind us of motion and open places and green life. Our horses share their lives with us: they give us their grace, their power and often their lives. In my case, my horse also comes to me in my visions while sleeping; the horses who were my charges during my years of farm work visit me this way too, years later. Our horses affect our way of looking at our lives, at our local and global world, and sometimes cause us to change the way we see, think and do. Our awareness alters.
Horse culture today is encircled by our broader, modern times; it may seem a different life, but no modern horse keeper exists without awareness of the pressing weight of endless pharmaceuticals, and claustrophobia from our virus-like sprawl of human habitation. We are suffering; our horses are suffering. It may seem that we have come to a crisis amid crises.
Perhaps it would be useful to consider, for a moment, the path
we have taken to arrive at our over-drugged, poisonous existence.
When, in the origins of what is now Western history and thought,
humans clustered to form the city-state unit of habitation, they
moved away and became alienated from the agricultural way of living.
And although some humans continued to live an agricultural life,
the urban reality took form. The prevalence of the urban mentality
is entirely present in our modern reality now. Joseph Campbell,
in his conversation with Bill Moyers, and as recorded in The
Power of Myth, testified that in the mindset of an urban
mentality, nature is condemned:
When nature is thought of as evil, you don't put yourself in accord with it, you control it, or try to, and hence the tension, the anxiety, the cutting down of forests, the annihilation of native people. And the accent here separates us from nature. (Campbell, p 29)
Campbell defines a nature-oriented mentality as one which does not attempt to control the natural world, but attempts to become in accord with it.
If our Western principles of thinking have caused us to annihilate
our more native ways of thinking, there is little hope for us to
find shared grace with our horses. Anyone who has ever thrown a
leg over a horse knows that balance and centeredness are core precepts
of equitation. It is obvious that the endless array of yet more
drugs, yet more surgeries are not creating a positive spiritual
relationship with our horses. And although it might strike some
approbation into the feelings of a few folks, it is past time to
look for methodologies that seek a greater grace.
If balance is crucial in equitation, it is equally crucial in
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The perpetuation of balance
and harmony is the center of this ancient method of practice. Reluctance
to accept aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine may have to do,
in part, with the poetic language intrinsic to TCM's ideology.
Although easily denied but historically speaking, Western ideologies
consist of an endless stream of xenophobic activities. It is not
for us to be fearful of other ideas; our horses are at stake.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has the appearance of flawless equitation:
it looks, on the surface, to be so simple....Yet, like equitation
of any discipline, there is the paradigm of the two parts and all
the workings within when the interaction of those two parts is
considered, both in conjunction with each other and in conjunction
with their own respective inner workings. The horse moves, the
rider appears to float above and yet be connected to the horse,
to the motion the two make together. Traditional Chinese Medicine
also appears simple - just about everyone is familiar with the
glyph of the Tai Ji, the black and white circular symbol of yin
and yang. That horse and human could also be yin and yang is not
too much of a philosophical stretch. However, the further, respective
inner workings of this ubiquitous dynamic may require some humans
to think past our socially programmed ways of thought.
Fortunately, blessedly, we have the assistance of Shen Huisheng
Xie, DVM, PhD, who is one of the foremost, if not the foremost,
practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine as applied specifically
to horses. Dr. Xie is rich in credentials: Most importantly, in
my view, is the acceptance given to him by my mare - who had previously
been afraid of new people and is now willing to be momentarily
polite. That he exudes quiet sureness did much to settle my own
spookishness (after all, he was recommended by word-of-mouth, at
that time, and was going to poke a needle, many needles, into my
beloved mare). His professional accolades include achievement awards
from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and he was the first person
to be appointed Complementary Clinician with the Veterinary Medical
Teaching Hospital of the University of Florida . In addition, the
publication of numerous scientific papers and a daunting schedule
of seminars serves only to reinforce, for even the most skeptical
human, that which my mare knew instantly: Dr. Xie is here to help.
The depth of what Dr. Xie has to offer is stunning. An apothecary,
Jing-Tang Herbal, offers prescription-only Chinese herbs to only
veterinarians licensed in Chinese medicine. The Chi Institute,
which offers certified continuing education courses to licensed
veterinarians in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, and a
website (www.tcvm.com), not only links these together but offers
a list of quality, certified veterinarians in your location. Additionally,
Dr. Xie's book, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine: Volume
One, Fundamental Principles, is an exceptionally lucid and
detailed text complete with quizzes and case studies. It is a physically
beautiful book - beribboned and boxed, probably the most gorgeous
book to be found in either the neophyte library of the vet student
or of a large animal practitioner...and it too is available via
the TCVM website.
Dr. Xie himself seems equally balanced
soothing my mare during treatment or lecturing to a dozen advanced
students in a seminar. Momentarily privy to a seminar for licensed
veterinarians, it was my observation to notice that Dr. Xie seemed
also balanced using PowerPoint and a laser pointer. A few of
the enrolled participants had dogs drowsily curled on the carpet
of Salon E at the Westshore Marriott in Tampa - a hotel whose
marble floored restroom alone was probably equal in construction
price to a modest barn. Dr. Xie later said, "I like modern technology," and
cited his interest in technology as one of his incentives for
coming to the United States .
Graciously consenting to speak for this
essay, after speaking all day as part of a five day seminar hosted
by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (to which
Dr. Xie was one of the two experts invited) Dr. Xie said, "I enjoy teaching. If I teach
a class, more horses then get attention." Saying, "I love horses...since
I was a little boy", Dr. Xie added that he spent his childhood
in the countryside where "we never closed the door." Growing up
in a small town, what Dr. Xie called a village, comprised mostly
of related people, and later attending veterinary school in Sichuan
, China in 1983, Dr. Xie nonetheless grew up with acupuncture as
part of his family tradition. Dr. Xie was already an Associate
Professor at the Beijing Veterinary School in 1988 when the opportunity
for further scholarship via a PhD at the University of Florida
, Gainesville brought him to the United States in 1994. Completing
his dissertation on acupuncture for pain relief in horses in 1988,
Dr. Xie then began teaching at UF. Of his academic experience,
Dr. Xie said, "First, I sit in classroom, and then I become professor."
Hardly an armchair scholar, Dr. Xie says
he teaches approximately 30 weekend seminars a year in addition
to his teaching and clinical duties at UF. He jets to California
and Colorado and his seminar participants have come from not
only the US but France , Italy , Japan and Thailand . Of this
grueling schedule, Dr. Xie says, "I
love to be part of this contribution."
The contribution is, lest we forget, for
the benefit of our horses, our beloved and sometimes off horses. "Most adult horses have some
imbalance", says Dr. Xie attributing this to the normal duress
of life, "and the good acupuncturist can find something to prevent."
Unlike Western medical practices, Traditional
Chinese medical practice sees prevention as primary to its practice.
Instead of waiting for, and dreading, compromises to health and
then setting about aiding recuperation, TCM seeks to maximize
health. "I think
Chinese medicine is the best medicine for prevention," says Dr.
Xie. "That is the best treatment. It's too late to dig the well
when you're thirsty. So when the problem occurs, [the course is]
to prevent future problems."
Describing Traditional Chinese Medicine
as encompassing both herbal (of which there are some 100 of Chinese
origin) and acupuncture treatments, Dr. Xie said TCM seeks "to help and to balance." The
Chinese system originates from the yin and yang principle and the
concept of five elements or energies and these energy principles
are used thousands of years later in diagnosis. "The ancient people
were fascinated with how the seasons follow each other," said Dr.
Xie, and with "a power that pushes itself and is never ending....There
is power in the universe - that power is then seen as five different
powers and this is applied to life."
The diagnostic methodology is then a "process of our understanding
type by elements," says Dr. Xie. All life forms are behaviorally
categorized by this system of elements, as are elements of physical
characteristics and disease predispositions. A diagnosis in TCM
involves observation - and whatever claims the human caretaker
makes - to make initial determinations regarding typification by
element. A physical examination includes touching and seeking areas
of discomfort (palpation), and careful observations of the tongue,
any applicable discharge (urine, feces, if nose or eye discharges)
and pulse. The Chinese method of pulse monitoring is far more metaphorical
then just the heartbeats per minute familiar to Western thinking.
Descriptions of pulse diagnosis include seasonal variances such
as "surging in summer" and sensory information such as "slippery
pulse" which, according to Dr. Xie's text, "feels smooth, rounded
and slippery like pearls rolling on a dish." (Xie 283) Dr. Xie's
text then shows clinical diagrams of sine wave pulse patterns and
comments that "This pulse often occurs normally in pregnant animals."(283)
The five elements are, obviously, fundamental
in determining the intrinsic nature of our horses, and ourselves,
as individual beings. Whereas Western medical thinking tends
to categorize vaguely by body type and precisely by symptomatology,
Traditional Chinese Medicine seems to be concerned with each
life as a whole in a holistic state. It is probably useful to
be aware of what element our horse is and to tailor our demands,
requests, and interactions to what s/he as an individual can
give. To this end, Dr. Xie verbally identified the types as follows,
with their 'positive' and 'negative' attributes:
+ likes to compete, likes to fight, loves a challenge, loves to
be on top of everything
- low on patience, angry, easily irritable
+ center of attention, likes to kiss and be kissed and petted,
likes to talk
- easily excited, distracted, likes to stop and look at something interesting
+ mellow, ok with everybody, tends to be easily satisfied
- sluggish sometimes
+ elegant, royal, aloof, does the job, leader
+ does what supposed to, strong willed, knows one's final goal,
likes to hide with a few friends
- insecure, always fearful
But Traditional Chinese medicine, with
the poetic intricacy of any art form, then seeks to balance the
individual with his/her element. Very much like equitation, this
balancing is divided into a series of cues, or channels, and
is ever mindful of the interconnectivity of these pathways of
energy, of these powers in communication with each other. It
is here that Western thinking might suffer its greatest breakdown;
post-industrial thought is one of separation and categorization,
of fragmentation and non-communication. Post-industrial thinking
has us living, as Edward Hoagland said, "two or more lives in one
nowadays." (Hoagland, "Earth's Eye")
The pathways of energy communication,
the channels, "are connected
to the elements," says Dr. Xie; it is these channels that are then
aided by acupuncture to try to assist balance within an individual's
element. Acupuncture is a skilled, carefully studied and precise
practice with licensing requirements. However equine massage programs
exist and teach the careful application of pressure to these channels.
Analogous to this rigorous conservatism might be the human parallel
of a friendly massage versus the deep tissue work of a trained
physical therapist. Dr. Xie says that there are variances between
channels and acupoints as per species, but for horses the channels
number fourteen, with six being of yin energy and six being that
More fundamental than the elements, the energy principles of yin
and yang are not entirely unfamiliar to the west - yang being energetic
and outgoing, yin being shadowed and internal - associated with
sun and moon respectively. The influence of the sun and moon is
the common fare of our televised weather forecast; at the time
of this writing, there have recently been both solar flares and
a red-gold lunar eclipse. Linguistically, the influence of too
much yin, or moon, gives us our word for mental malaise: lunatic.
That the moon would have a correlative energy presence in the renal
system of our horses, and that the bladder and kidney aspect are
correlated to the water element, seems suddenly to be the most
ordinary observation of sense.
Oddly enough, certain precepts of Traditional
Chinese Medicine echo the homilies of our mothers' "everything in moderation". Dr.
Xie says TCM "looks for balance, works with balance." But just
as the simple unfolds into ever more precise and intricate information
in TCM, regimens of diet are a balance between the element of the
individual and the yin and yang properties of the food consumed:
oats and corn have properties of heat; wheat and barley have properties
of cooling. Dr. Xie warns, "The dietary program should be correct
for type." Consider if a fiery horse, or other individual, were
to consume heat generating food, then an excess seems likely to
occur; over time such excesses can compromise health, well-being,
centeredness and balance. Hay, on the other hand, is more neutral
and, as Dr. Xie says, "usually works beautifully."
Dr. Xie does have an appreciation for
both Western Veterinary Medicine and Traditional Chinese Veterinary
medicine and prefers to work with both in balance of each other.
He thinks WVM is "more
mechanistic...it has a precise or more objective, specific diagnosis,
while TCM is more energetic, the treatment has much more power
to heal." Dr. Xie repeatedly mentioned the benefits of radiographs
and bloodwork and his text mentioned certain benefits made available
by Western surgical techniques.
And, of course, when it's a matter of
our horses, it is always a matter of our best balance. It's probably
a wiser consideration for our lives, and our lives with our horses,
to be in balance, in harmony. Dr. Xie says, "I think the best
medicine is not only Chinese
medicine or conventional medicine... both sides have
their own beauty."
By considering a view that includes harmony and balance not only with our horses, but for our horses, we enhance health and well-being. This is, of course, not only a more natural way, whether Western or Chinese in way of thinking, but in the way of beauty as well.
Campbell, Joseph with Bill Moyers: The Power of Myth. Doubleday:1988
Hoagland, Edward: "Earth's Eye"; Tigers and Ice: Reflection on Nature and Life. Lyons Press:2000
Xie, Huisheng and Vanessa Preast: Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine: Volume 1, Fundamental Principles. Jin Tang:2002
About the author:
SuZi is a writer, artist and educator. She can be reached via email@example.com.
For more information:
Dr. Xie is willing to be contacted by Email and fax: XIEH@mail.vetmed.ufl.edu,
firstname.lastname@example.org, and fax 352-367-8009. His text is available via
the website for Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine at www.tcvm.com.
TCVM Center, Chi Institute
9708 West Hwy 318
Reddick , FL 32686
Fax: 866-700-8772, 352-591-2854