When the New Way Is the Older Way

By SuZi

Traditional Chinese Medicine sees prevention as primary to its practice. It seeks to maximize health through the perpetuation of balance and harmony, considering each horse's intrinsic nature.

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
- lonely


+ 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 of yang.

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 cmynes@aol.com.

For more information:

Dr. Xie is willing to be contacted by Email and fax: XIEH@mail.vetmed.ufl.edu, shen@tcvm.com, 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
800-891-1986, 352-591-0561
Fax: 866-700-8772, 352-591-2854