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Diagram courtesy of Jeanne Alice Peter and Elemental Acupressure
Getting to know you: Five Element theory gets you and your new horse off on the right foot
by Susan Tenney
Wouldn’t it be great if new horses came with an instruction booklet that told you exactly what they needed to stay healthy and happy? Instead, most horses come to you with plenty of unknowns. So how do you work successfully with that new stranger in the barn? That’s easy; try using Five Element theory to better understand the physical and emotional makeup of your new friend. By sizing up your horse through the lens of the Five Elements, you’ll minimize the getting-to-know-you phase and hit your stride together more quickly.
Five Element theory sees every horse as a unique blend of five basic Elements – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. You’ll find that every horse has one Element that stands out above the others; this is your horse’s Constitutional Element. Figuring out the Constitutional Element will save you time and frustration by helping you understand the horse’s individual needs, strengths, and weaknesses right from the start.
For example let’s say that your new horse had a tendon injury that ended her racing career. In her first week with you she quickly asserts herself as lead mare in your herd and tests you constantly in the round pen. Given that your horse has a tendon injury, continues to test you, and has a dominant character, it’s very probable she has a Wood Constitution. Knowing this allows you to tailor your approach to handling, training, and health care with an eye to the specific needs of the Wood horse. Use the acupressure points described here to encourage Elemental health and balance. Now your “stranger” doesn’t seem so strange after all!
To identify your horse’s Constitutional Element, use the descriptions below to see which profile most closely matches your new horse’s behavior and health history. Then use the suggestions to know how to care for your new companion.
Note: Acupressure points Liver 3, Spleen 6 and Kidney 3 are contraindicated for pregnant mares!
The Wood Element:
First impressions: speed, power, dynamism
Seller boasts about: natural athleticism, strong competitive drive, eager worker
Seller grumbles about: dominant character, constant testing – especially of weaker or less experienced handlers
Best activities: sport horse
Worst activities: beginner lesson horse, repetitive tasks, standing around, retirement
Health issues to monitor: tense muscles, tendons, ligaments, hooves, eyes
Behavioral issues: dominance, aggression, impatience, spooking, and running away
Handling tips: Create firm, consistent boundaries and stick to them, be PRESENT – no slacking
Training tips: Vary lessons frequently; keep work challenging but not overly arduous. These horses push beyond their limits when fueled by competition. Allow for vigorous movement to get the kinks out before training detailed moves. Use regular massage and stretching for biomechanical tension.
Acu-tip: Liver 3 soothes aggravation, but pay attention – Liver 3 is a kick point during times of irritability!
The Fire Element:
First impressions: charismatic, social, high strung, flashy
Seller boasts about: high energy, loving, eager to work together
Seller grumbles about: lack of concentration, flighty, being a drama queen
Best activities: endurance (if fit), work requiring close relationship with rider, competitions where looks and attitude count (i.e. halter classes)
Worst activities: anything where horse has to stay calm, slow, steady, or alone
Health issues to monitor: front leg issues (tendons, navicular, shoulder, abscesses), rashes and other irritated skin issues, heat intolerance
Behavioral issues: loves excitement but quickly over-stimulated, scattered, anxious, separation anxiety
Training tips: In busy times with lots of noise, activity or social interaction, remember to take time apart to bond and ground. These horses look happy until suddenly overloaded. Keep Rescue Remedy on hand to soothe nerves.
Acu-tip: Heart 7 calms anxiety.
The Earth Element:
First impressions: kind, gentle, all-around good guy, steady
Seller boasts about: dependability, ease of riding, suitability for beginners
Seller grumbles about: stubbornness, nipping, slowness, “lazy”
Best activities: school horse, trail horse
Worst activities: anything demanding speed, quick thinking or frequent travel
Health issues to monitor: digestive conditions including colic and weight imbalances, growths (warts, sarcoids), dental issues
Behavioral issues: learns and processes information more slowly, stubborn, dislikes change, can be overly food focused
Training tips: When learning new things, keep lessons short and finish on a success. Regular exercise helps avoid sluggish body or mind. Be patient and kind – Earth types learn slowly but work hard when respected.
Acu-tip: Spleen 6 eases digestive upset.
The Metal Element:
First impressions: quiet nobility, smart, elegant, cool customer
Seller boasts about: hard working, no-nonsense low-drama attitude, tough
Seller grumbles about: impatience and intolerance, aloof manner, stiff movement
Best activities: demanding work with a quiet and trusted partner, dressage
Worst activities: retirement, high drama events demanding a showy attitude
Health issues to monitor: Respiratory issues, skin conditions, immune issues
Behavioral issues: aloof and stiff, serious, demanding, intolerant though often surprisingly good with children
Training tips: Work quietly, challenge this animal’s admirable mind and ability. Give 100% to your work. Provide a quiet, drama-free environment.
Acu-tip: Lung 9 benefits the stiff mind and all health issues of the Metal Element.
The Water Element:
First impressions: Something special, grabs your soul in an instant
Seller boasts about: unusual abilities
Seller grumbles about: strange sensitivities, unpredictable behavior, health conditions the vet can’t diagnose or cure
Best activities: unique to each Water horse, horse will show you if you observe closely
Worst activities: most dislike competition but those who like it can be uncommonly talented performers
Health issues to monitor: expect the unexpected, in particular conditions that are hard to diagnose
Behavioral issues: immensely sensitive to their emotional environment, unpredictable and extreme emotional responses
Training tips: Water horses lead you on a journey of exploration of body, mind, and soul. They often display unusual behavior and develop unusual health conditions requiring extra care, awareness, and patience; be prepared to take unusual measures. Surrender your expectations and go with the flow!
Acu-tip: Kidney 3 deeply supports the Water Element and is useful for old age.
Side bar: Five Element Fundamentals
To help you get the best results, remember these tips:
1. Listen to what the previous caretaker has to say but form your own opinion about your new horse. The previous people may not have understood the horse well.
2. If your perception of your horse’s Elemental makeup changes, try working with this new Element and see how your horse responds.
3. Physical and emotional stress can trigger changes in your horse’s Elemental balance. If you begin to notice different patterns of behavior or see physical changes in your horse, try to identify which new Element is most prominent. During this new phase, use the proper acupoints to balance that Element.
Side bar: How to use the Elemental Acupoints
1. Use the point associated with the Constitutional Element you’re working with to nourish and support the horse’s health and behavior.
2. Not sure which Element to work with? Stimulate all of the Element points presented in this article. The point that generates the strongest response will direct you to the Element that needs attention now.
3. Stimulate all of the points described in this article to tonify all 5 Elements. You support ALL of the Elements with this approach.
Side bar: Acu-tips
1. Use the Constitutional Element point 1-4 times per week.
2. Gently stroke the area of the point before and after pressure.
3. Use your fingertips to gently find and press the point.
4. Press the point from 10-40 seconds.
5. If you see extreme resistance, stop immediately.
6. Keep your spare hand held firmly over the cannon bone while you squat or lean over near the lower leg – do NOT kneel.
Side bar: Elemental Partners
Can a Wood person be successful with an Earth horse? Will a Fire horse get along with a Metal horse? Does my horse have to be the same Element as me? People often ask questions about which Elements work together best.
Some Elements have a natural affinity toward each other and tend to pair more easily. But any combination of Elements will work as long as one of the two partners is balanced and emotionally stable.
Trouble starts when two out of balance Elemental profiles come into conflict. Instead of pointing your finger at your horse or blaming the Elements, work to bring your own Element (and your horse’s) into balance. You may be surprised how quickly mutual respect and cooperation bloom.
Want to learn more? Visit us to read articles on each Element
About the author:
Susan Tenney, CMT works internationally as a practitioner of Five Element acupressure for animals. She teaches classes for animal lovers of all ages and offers an online certification program through her company Elemental Acupressure. Learn more about her courses, books and acupressure charts at
Really great info!! Thanks for all you do, Susan!
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