Fire & Water Create Balance: The Story of Yin & Yang, Sedation & Tonification
By Amy Snow and Nancy Zidonis

The ancient Chinese scholars used environmental elements like fire and water to characterize everything in the entire universe. For instance, "Fire Horses" have vibrant personalities and high spirits. A Fire Horse loves to play, learns easily, and his charismatic personality makes him warm and endearing. His lean, athletic body accompanied with his joyful exuberance makes him a pleasure to ride. In contrast, a "Water Horse" tends to be fearful and solitary by nature. A Water Horse likes to size up a situation before taking action. In the wild, this horse would be seen as a survivor, self-sufficient, and resilient. A Water Horse usually has a large, dense body with a lustrous, shiny coat.

Fire and water are the exact opposite of each other and in Chinese Medicine they balance each other. Think of each of their properties. Fire is hot while water is cold. The heat of fire rises and disperses into the atmosphere; water flows down and collects in pools. Fire is not tangible, lacks density, and cannot be easily contained; water has density and can be readily collected and contained. Fire has rapid, flickering movement while water is more subdued and stable in nature. Fire is light like the sun during the day; water is associated with the cool dark of night.

The ancient Chinese looked at the physical world and saw that when the extremes of fire and water were in balance for a particular situation, the environment was healthy and productive. If crops have the proper balance of the sun's light and heat balanced with the cool of night and water, the crops will grow strong and provide nourishment. The Chinese scholars, using the concepts of fire and water metaphorically, were able to categorize and describe everything in the universe. The words they used to summarize the attributes of fire and water were Yin and Yang.

Yang represents all the attributes of Fire. Yang is associated with heat, light, rising, lacking substance, and quick, rapid movements. Yin represents all the attributes of water: cool, flowing, darker, thicker, and slower activity. Together Yin and Yang create life force energy called Chi (pronounced "Chee", also seen as Qi or Ki). For a living body to be healthy and productive, Yin and Yang must be in balance so that Chi flows smoothly and harmoniously throughout the body.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors use the concepts of Yin and Yang to describe both the physical parts of the human and equine bodies as well as the state or condition of the body. When there is too much Yin or too much Yang the body is out of balance and Chi cannot flow smoothly causing a pathological state. Either excess or deficient amounts of Yin or Yang can cause an imbalance. And, if the excessive or deficient condition persists illness and disease can manifest.

Horses do their best to balance their own Yin and Yang conditions naturally. For instance, a horse demonstrating an excess Yang condition could be extremely thirsty and drinks lots and lots of water. He is trying to "sedate" or "disperse" the heat he is feeling by cooling himself down with water. This is his way to bring his body back into a balance of Yin and Yang so that Chi can circulate smoothly. Another example of an excess Yang condition, or pattern, is when a horse is anxiously seeking cool shade and can't bear the heat of the sun. Again, he is trying to sedate excess heat and bring his body back into a Yin/Yang balance. Yang conditions tend to have a more acute onset and can be resolved more quickly.

A horse showing evidence of an excess Yin condition might be lethargic for a long period of time, urinate excessively, and possibly form edema of the legs. Also, the horse's manure may have more undigested grain than usual, showing that the food has not been properly broken-down into absorbable nutrients. Some horses indicate they are excessively cold by consistently seeking the warmest, sunniest place in the pasture in an attempt to warm themselves. Excess Yin conditions, or patterns, tend to be more chronic and life threatening by their nature and require longer-term treatment.

Yin and Yang are constantly in a state of balancing each other. When Yin or Yang increases the other decreases. If there is an excess of Yang, then there is less Yin. If there is an excess of Yin there is less Yang. Both of these conditions are considered excessive. In developing a treatment plan for an excessive condition, the TCM practitioner will first Sedate the Excess to restore the body's balance.

Deficient Conditions are more complex and difficult to identify. When there is a deficient condition it means that either Yin or Yang have been "consumed" and fallen below the level of balance while the other is at a normal level. The difficulty in discerning a deficient pattern is that it may appear to be an excess of Yang when it really is a Yin deficiency. The condition may appear to be an excess of Yin while it really is deficiency of Yang. It takes an experienced and knowledgeable TCM practitioner to distinguish a true deficient condition. In any case, the first treatment strategy employed by a practitioner is to Tonify the Deficiency.

If the horse is not able to resolve his own ongoing, short-term Yin/Yang imbalances then pathological conditions requiring treatment can occur. The first two basic treatment strategies in Chinese medicine are:
1. Cool what is Hot and Warm what is Cold.
2. Sedate (disperse energy) what is in Excess and Tonify (enhance energy) what is Deficient.

Though the treatment strategy concepts sound very simple, it requires years of study and clinical experience to understand the many intricacies of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The TCM doctor is able to distinguish and discern the patterns of Yin and Yang excess and deficiency and then develop a Treatment Plan that can include Chinese acupuncture or acupressure, medicinal herbs, an exercise and rest regime, dietary requirements, and anything else that will help balance Yin and Yang with the human and equine body.

With any study, you have to begin somewhere. In the Tallgrass Animal Acupressure training program we start with the basic underpinnings of Chinese medicine such as understanding the nature of Chi and its two major aspects of Yin and Yang. We then offer a very practical method of working directly with your horse. We have seen people, with only a rudimentary knowledge of TCM, be able to help make a significant difference in their animals' lives.

In Equine Acupressure we identify excesses and deficiencies using keen observation skills, listening, smelling the horse, knowing the animal's history, and palpating specific acupressure points to gather information. Once we have a good picture of the horse's condition, there are fairly simple point work techniques that can be used to either sedate or tonify the horse's energy. The important thing is that you can participate in the health and well-being of your horse. Your animals know and need your special touch.

About the authors:
Nancy Zidonis and Amy Snow are the authors of "Equine Acupressure: A Working Manual", "The Well-Connected Dog: A Guide To Canine Acupressure", and "Acu-Cat: A Guide to Feline Acupressure". They own Tallgrass Publishers, which offers Meridian Charts for horses, dogs, and cats, plus "Introducing Equine Acupressure", a 50-minute training video. They also provide training courses worldwide. To contact them: 888-841-7211,,