Horses can be stressed by many things: travel, a new home, change of pasture or owner and herd dynamics, to name a few. But what takes the heaviest toll is stress from emotional loading. This type of stress significantly affects performance horses as shown in a scientific study of equine blood serum. Emotional loading can also stress horses that are used in equine therapy programs.
Two Ukranian researchers from the Kharkiv State Zooveterinary Academy studied blood samples taken from of 12 healthy Ukranian riding breed horses.1 The samples were taken from the jugular vein in conditions of relative rest after ordinary training and then again after the horses performed in entertainment venues with large crowds and loud music.
Their goal was to identify the biochemical changes to equine metabolic profiles after regular training and then after emotional loading during a performance. The researchers analyzed a wide range of biochemical markers, including whole protein, urea, creatinine, uric acid, total bilirubin and its fractions, glucose, cholesterol, triacylglycerol, calcium and ferrum lactate. They observed multi-directional changes in these markers, which was evidence of stress in the horses’ metabolic processes.
For example, dramatic changes occurred in one biomarker of oxidative stress, uric acid. It increased 8.6% after training and increased by 55.1% after emotional loading. The researchers concluded: “Emotional loading is the stronger stress factor which causes negative changes in indicators of the metabolic profile.”
In performance horses, stress cannot be avoided. Every performance as well as the associated travel, change of water and/or food, different stall environment, etc. will adversely affect the horse. So the question becomes how to reduce the effects of stress after the fact. What is needed is preferably a therapy that enables the horse to relax and drop the stress/emotional load taken on during the performance. The therapy itself should not be an additional stressor for the horse, such as use of an invasive procedure such as injecting a relaxant or other drug.
A remedy: Energy Healing
What’s really important to understand here is that stress is an energetic load placed upon the horse. This calls for an energetic therapy that works on the electromagnetic energy or biofield of the horse and supports its immune system in regulating and dissipating the effects of stress.
An energy healing modality, such as Reiki, uses both hands-on and hands-off techniques to first relax the horse and then enable him to drop the negative energy (stress) that has impacted his biofield. The physiological response to energy healing affects every cell of the body, releasing endorphins, relaxing muscles, regulating hormones, releasing toxins, increasing circulation and more.
In addition, Reiki is an energy healing method that heals on all levels: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. So not only does the horse experience a physiological release and re-regulation of his immune system, he experiences a body/mind/emotional release as well.
This aspect of Reiki is especially significant in the case of therapy horses that work with people experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, autism, the aftermath of abuse or a challenging life situation, such as cancer or other life-threatening disease. These horses experience significant emotional loading since those receiving equine therapy off-load their energy to the horses.
It is my belief that therapy horses need as much energy healing as performance horses to offset the load they accept in an equine therapeutic setting. There is a reason horse therapy is so helpful for people. They feel restored after a session, but what about the horse? What about the build-up of emotional loading after successive therapy sessions? What is it doing to his overall emotional state? His physical body? Organizations that offer equine therapy would be wise to consider energy healing sessions for their horses to help them stay balanced and dissipate the effects of ongoing emotional stress.
In the case of performance horses, energy healing after the performance is definitely indicated and possibly several days before the performance, giving the horse time to recover from travel and be at optimum levels for the event.
As shown by these Ukranian researchers, emotional loading has a profound effect on stress levels in horses. In light of all they do for us willingly and gracefully, it is our responsibility to be conscious of the impact to them and support them in return.
1. Influence of physical and emotional activity on the metabolic profile of blood serum of race horses T. I. Bayeva, G. F. Zhegunov, Visnyk of Dnipropetrovsk University. Biology, Ecology. 2016;24(2) DOI 10.15421/011665
The study can be read here.