Horses Respond to Therapeutic Touch Too!

By Barbara Janelle M.A.

First Published In Touch, Vol. II, no. 1, Autumn 1990

The horse stands with his head high and all his muscles tense with fear. The white in the eyes indicates pain somewhere in the body; he is holding his breath. I sidle in towards his shoulder, take the line and ask the horse to lower his head–the first step in establishing a working relationship with the gelding. Then slowly my hands enter and scan his energy field. The horse turns and looks at me, his eyes soften, he straightens and drops his head even more. His breathing deepens as I move through his energy field.

This is a typical response to a Therapeutic Touch assessment. Even the most fearful of animals will settle quickly when the energy field is entered gently and with awareness. It is very important not to rely completely on this calmness though, because the horse continues to give physical feedback, beyond what is sensed in the energy field. Often a horse will sigh, or chew softly when an area of tension or pain is scanned, indicating that the field is changing for the better. Occasionally horses will react in more violent ways. Once, while I was assessing a leg with a chronic open sore, the horse (normally a perfect gentleman) lashed straight out behind. My usual care in positioning myself paid off when the hoof missed me completely. The energy in this leg was so stuck that it felt like an electrical current. Obviously the horse thought so too!

Therapeutic Touch is an important tool in my work with horses. I train and rehabilitate horses using a specific kind of touch, as well as ground exercises, to connect the horse’s body to the brain through the nervous system. By making an animal more aware of itself, its balance, coordination and self-confidence increase and this makes for a happier and more willing equine partner. Therapeutic Touch adds another dimension to my work with horses and I will describe a number of ways in which it has proven to be very useful in my practice.

Over the last several years I’ve been asked to check a number of horses who bucked under saddle. One child’s pony would consistently buck in the trot-to-canter transition. An assessment, using direct pressure on the muscles of the back, showed some sensitivity in the loin area. I wanted more information about this and so did a complete Therapeutic Touch scan. The scan identified a very “stuck” energy spot over the 1st lumbar vertebrae. Gentle touch on the area showed swelling. I asked to see the saddle and found that its seat pressed directly on the spine at the point of swelling. Thick padding solved the problem until another saddle could be found; and smoothing the field at the problem site brought the swelling down quickly. I will add here that I always follow a scan with a complete grounding and field-smoothing procedure.

Two years ago, a friend’s horse broke a small bone in its foot. The vet ordered complete stall rest and was hesitant to predict a full recovery. He expected that full healing, if it occurred, would take 5 months or more. My friend used body work approaches that I suggested to keep the horse quiet and comfortable, and I taught her how to smooth and ground the horse’s energy field. She did this a couple of times every day. The hoof was completely healed in the third month and my friend was riding the animal in the fourth month.

This summer I worked on horses in two endurance rides, one of which was the North American Endurance Championships–a 100-mile race in 24 hours up and down the escarpment of Ontario’s Beaver Valley. There are vet checks every 10 to 20 miles on endurance rides, during which horses are checked for physical and metabolic soundness. One of the procedures that I use in my work at these checks is a thorough smoothing and grounding of the field. During the Championships one of the Eastern Canadian Team horses twisted a hoof coming down a rocky slope. I used Therapeutic Touch at each check to assess, treat and smooth the field. The horse was the first Team member to finish. Another horse on the team had problems with saddle sores and Therapeutic Touch reduced the swelling quickly, enabling the horse to finish well. The Eastern Canadian Team won the North American Championships.

At the end of the other Ontario endurance ride, a 75-mile race at Penetanguishene, several horses colicked when the temperature dropped after dinner. One horse was in critical condition with no gut sounds and no capillary refill (his gums were completely grey). He was hooked up to two IVs when my friend, Jan Snowden, and I began to work on him. The procedure we used started with ear pulling to activate several hundred acupressure points. (This alone is of major assistance to the body; squeezing the tip of the ear will bring the horse out of shock and keep him out of it.) Next, we moved to the body and did a thorough smoothing and grounding of the energy field. This was followed by three series of belly lifts: beginning at the girth, with our hands joined under the belly, Jan and I lifted the belly, held for a count of 5 and slowly released, moved back an inch to repeat it, and back again and again until we reached the flank; and then started another series. Jan continued to work acupressure points on the upper gums while I worked points between the anus and the tail. We repeated these procedures several times. The vet had expected the horse to be in critical condition for six hours. After 25 minutes of this work, the horse was able to walk and eat, and showed no more colic symptoms. The vet told me later that the last two horses she’d seen in that severe a condition had died.

Therapeutic Touch is a major tool in my work with other animals too. Cats and dogs respond very well to it. All animals are very aware and sensitive to work on their energy fields. Field smoothing and grounding comfort most animals. However, applying energy must be done gently and in very brief sessions. I generally find that the animal begins to fidget just as my inner guide notifies me to stop. Animals always let you know when they have had enough.

Most of my Therapeutic Touch work uses smoothing and grounding procedures rather than energy application. Smoothing the field reduces pain quickly and is very beneficial in cases of swelling. I’ve used it on infected eyes, injured legs, saddle sores, and sunburned noses to name but a few. Where energy application is called for, I usually visualize it as a cool and healing blue light. My hands lightly stroke across an area, holding still for only a few seconds if I feel it is needed. And I generally end with a smoothing stroke.

I believe that the long, slow, sweeping strokes that many people use in petting their animals are simply a form of smoothing the field. Animals enjoy and actually invite this kind of touch. It is little wonder that they feel comfortable with the more consciously done Therapeutic Touch.


Animals are aware and honest in their responses. When Booper lashed out as I worked on his hock, he emphasized two things:

a) be aware (keep your eyes open and position yourself and the animal safely)

b) horses are sensitive to energy build-up and shifts.

In my early use of TT, I was working ON rather than working WITH the field. Experiences like this one made me cautious about directing energy and led me to rely more on unruffling and grounding procedures. Then I began to understand that offering energy than was far gentler and more effective than directing it into the field. See my later articles on this such as “Enerizing the Field.”