By Paul Peacock,
Many racing yards are turning to a number of alternative treatments in an attempt to either speed healing times, improve the life styles of individual thoroughbreds or respond to the wishes of owners who themselves have clear ideas and requirements for the care of their animals.
A fast growing treatment for racehorses is Reiki, an ancient Japanese healing methodology which is said to date back over 2000 years, but was actually ‘discovered’ by a monk in Victorian times. It involved a combination of Japanese and Christian philosophies – the manipulation of Chi and the laying on of hands. Only recently has this technique been used with animals, possibly most successfully on equines.
Trainers frequently try Reiki for a halting and infrequent period, and there are two reasons for this, according to Beth Luck, an equine Reiki therapist. “If substantial treatment with Reiki takes place, and is successful, the horse can become calmer and in some circumstances loose that winning instinct – it becomes a horse again.” The last words a trainer needs to hear is that a racehorse somehow calms itself in a racing sense. The second reason is the unbelief that the fundamentals behind the process actually work. But there are reasons why, in certain circumstances, thoroughbreds might benefit from the attention of someone trained, or attuned, to Reiki in a racing yard.
As we shall see later, Reiki is associated with a calming effect on an agitated animal, and the greatest successes have been achieved where the thoroughbred has become difficult to ride, or is confined to box rest or shows signs of agitation.
It is a source of frustration often repeated by practitioners that they believe an animal needs more attention and or rest than might be actually available in a racing schedule, and consequently the patient is being only partially accommodated and frequently returned to racing too quickly. It would be easy to see that an animal only partially well would fall to injury in training or on the track. But then are the claims of Reiki practitioners valid, after all, every athlete, human or equine will benefit from a lot of rest and attention?
Reiki is thought to be connected to the body's magnetic or energy field. Some people say it is the manipulation of the Universal Life Energy and that the ‘patient’ receives energy through the practitioner which puts things right. This energy is sometimes referred to as ‘chi’ and is the same as that which is manipulated by acupuncturists and Oriental massage practitioners. This is the same so-called energy system as that used in Yoga and other oriental healing techniques. The basic idea is that the energy pervades all living things and is needed in order to put your system in the best possible status so that you can heal yourself. There is said to be a difference between the Reiki energy and all the others forms of chi; it is described as ‘beautiful energy’. The more a practitioner delves into the process the more beauty he or she is said to recognise in the energy. All the other forms of chi are cold in comparison.
In Reiki this energy can be received by the laying on of hands or the near contact; the hand being waved or held just above a special point. Thus the patient can ‘drink in’ energy which allows the body to heal itself. The ‘special points’ are known as Chakras, and the animal is supposed to let the person know which, if any, can be used. It is also important for practitioners to make sure the animal is happy before any administration. The crown Chakra is between the ears and another, called the third eye, just above the line of the eyes. There is another by the throat and yet another by the withers and there is a solar plexus Chakra and a sacral one, with a root one by the rump. Interestingly, all these points happen to be largely where the animal’s centres of lymph nodes. All these points are used by the practitioner, and the training the Reiki practitioner undertakes involves an appreciation of which channel is actually accepting the energy. The idea of there being an energy involved in the healing process should imply that the animal actually feels something. There are reports of exactly that among people who are able to report their responses. Warmth and tingling are frequently reported during sessions, but there are few if any scientific studies that measure either a temperature rise in tissues or an increased blood flow where the sensation is being reported. Various claims are made for this treatment in humans from the healing of cancers to tempering of moods, and there is a wealth of circumstantial evidence to show the treatment has been to good effect. But there are equally a large number of claims of fantastic results with horses, particularly where the animal has suffered some trauma or other.
The use the non scientific term, ‘puts things right’ about best describes the process of what practitioners believe the ‘energy’ is actually doing. Some practitioners call this chi a spiritual energy to differentiate it from heat or kinetic energy. In short, the energy is said to be something all animals need, but is not measurable in standard scientific terms. Consequently, some practitioners are able to provide treatments from a very great distance, the conduit for this energy being some form of spiritual communication.
Simon Earle, who practices what he calls natural horsemanship, had a Reiki practitioner in the yard for some time who worked on the horses, but the results were not discernibly different from the other work in the yard.
Lisa Venables of Holistic Horses has used a modified form of Reiki in her yard where animals have been discarded from the racing scene. She uses a number of techniques, but has an interesting take on Reiki which retains the energetic theory, but could provide an insight into the therapeutic effect of the treatment. She believes that we communicate our state of excitement to horses and the action of Reiki is basically calming. In order to be able to do it in the first place, the practitioner has to be confident and calm, and this is communicated to the animal. A horse that has a problem, and suffers from the stress of the injury or illness and also the stresses of living in a fast paced, modern racing yard, might not heal as well as it could. The Venables version of Reiki involves bringing the animal to a relaxed state, and once relaxed and at peace, healing has more of a chance of success. This communication of the human’s calm, she believes is an energetic process. This is more likely to mean a proactive understanding between the animal and the human, responding on feedback from the other, and emotional rather than spiritual in essence.
This empathetic idea of Reiki is certainly more understandable to Western minds and yet still draws on resources or perception and communication that might be considered ‘alternative’ by many. The kind of person who is able to communicate in this way might not fit in to the life of modern racing stables, with the fast paced sequence of training and therapies. However, Lisa believes every yard should have one person on the staff able to “communicate” with the animals in such a way.
The law regarding Reiki is the same as any complimentary therapy in that it must not be used as frontline treatment. It is an offence not to allow a suitably qualified vet to treat any ailment or injury the animal might develop. It is similarly an offence to diagnose a problem or propose a course of treatment. In short, Reiki can only be administered as an adjunct to treatment, under the supervision of a vet. The vet is within his remit of care to refuse to allow Reiki, or any complimentary therapy, where he believes it might be injurious to the animal. This might happen, for example, when the practitioner waves his or her arms around a lot and consequently unnerves the animal. There do exist, however, horse therapy centres where, like the one run in Wicklow, Ireland by Heidi & Philip Sheane, who has an equine vet on site and a mix of complimentary and conventional healing takes place. Reiki is a part of the compliment of therapies and a horse has a tailored programme to match its own needs.
Reiki is practised by a few equine practitioners around Chantilly in much the same way around the UK. It is of most interest in America, where there is a well established, if loose, association of practitioners. The laws covering the use of Reiki in the UK are set in Equine and Animal husbandry EU statutes, and similar ones exist in the USA. However, there are no uniform practitioner training requirements and almost anyone can set themselves up as a Reiki practitioner. Whether you believe in the Chi energy transfer explanation for the apparent success of this technique or whether you feel there are other explanations including the setting of an animal at ease and reducing stress will determine which kind of person you employ, if any. A Reiki practitioner with a comprehensive racing yard understanding can provide an angle to animal care which will benefit both horse and owner. A part of the technique is to notice the response of the animal when they are laying on hands and can therefore understand which parts of the animal are ‘taking the healing’. Such feedback has proved effective in assessing day to day practicalities of training such as poorly fitting saddles, rider stance and shoe problems.
Certainly there is mileage in improving horse health by paying them long term physical attention; everyone associated with them will know how much racehorses crave it, and Reiki is an excellent conduit for making a horse feel special. Whether it is the impulsive impartation of healing energy remains to be seen.