Tuesday, November 25, 2008


"So how'd that chiropractor visit work out?"

My sister is sipping wine and flitting in and out of the dining room making an early Thanksgiving dinner for the extended family. Discussing the highs, lows, and weirdos associated with alternative medicine (see associated blog post) is normal in my family. We've lined up for tinctures, acupuncture and naturpaths, finding surprising answers and plenty of conundrums in the search for health and vitality. We refer to these practitioners as, "chicken bone doctors." This is an affectionate term for people we have found worthy of respect in their oft misunderstood fields.

My sister's interest is genuine, as was my brother's online response to finding out I made an appointment for chiropractic care for a horse--I'd pay money to see someone adjust a horse!

The truth is, I'm not sure what to think yet about Chance's adjustment on Saturday. The long and short of it is, the horse was "out." This included his pelvis and both shoulders. His neck and throatlatch also required work. The Chicken Bone Doctor (CBD) was a petite Canadian with surprising strength and agility. She also had a sense of humor honed, no doubt, by plenty of skeptics both equine and human. I liked her.

"He's very sore." She observed, running her hands down Chance's spine. "He's had a hard life."

I shared parts of the horse's story, including his malnourishment, and fall in the trailer in September. Also his definate one sidedness at the lope. The longer the CBD worked, the more agitated Chance became. Many behaviors I hadn't seen in awhile came to the surface--threatening to kick, walk over me, and even strike (though he didn't actually do it). There were moments of head lowering and licking and chewing (a sign of relaxation, understanding and acceptance) as she worked but for the most part, Chance showed off his Jack Nicholson "charm." It appeared the most upsetting part for him was having four women, including the CBD pulling, prodding, stroking, and asking him to move, shift, and stand still. All his defensiveness and insecurites resurfaced. On the recheck the following day, Chance's behavior showed no improvement.

"Alot of this horse's issues are in his head," the CBD concluded. I agreed. We talked about the situations that lead to misalignment in horses (some of which are not obvious). Fall aside, I couldn't help seeing a connection between Chance's sometimes insecure, defensive approach to life (though he is getting better) and his out of whack spine.

Wise horse trainers know that to be effective with a horse one needs to consider more than just the physical. Similar to people, horses are a unique trinity of mind, body, and spirit. So, where does the physical end and the mental take over and visa versa? This is a secret only God knows but after a lifetime of observing horses I am convinced they share some characteristics with human beings. We are a unique dance of mind and body. It is a mistake to expect to simply treat physical symptoms and achieve overall health. The spirit is equally, if not more, important. Yes, I know this sounds like anthropomorphism but stay with me.

In humans, I have heard upwards of 90 percent of illness and disease has its origin in the mind. Sound incredible? I'm no doctor but the longer I live the more I tend to believe that. To quote the Bible--As a man thinketh, so is he.

What about horses? Can the state of their mind influence the physical body? Consider two special cases...

In 1932, American Roger Selby aquired a shipment of Arabian horses from the famous Crabbet Stud in England. Included in the shipment was a "freebie," a small inbred stallion believed to be sterile. Besides his apparent genetic flaws, the horse was a mental disaster. Some accounts say he was unrideable and possessed a cantankerous temperament. Selby had the horse's sperm tested by Ohio State University where he was found, indeed, to be sterile. But Selby's trainer, a man named Jimmy Dean, was convinced the horses potency problems were rooted in his mind. Distrustful of humans the horse seemed, to Dean, stressed and unhappy. Dean's wife, a sensitive horsewoman, sought to gentle the horse and spent hours gaining his trust. He was taken on relaxing rides around the farm to calm his explosive nature. Five years later, the patience of Selby and Dean were rewarded when the horse was put to purebred Arabian mares and found to be fertile. Raffles went on to sire 45 producers of National winners and is considered a legend in the Arabian breed.

A more current example of the strength of the mind, in horses, comes from Eastern Oregon. Last October, a small Arabian gelding was found wandering alone in the Cascade Mountain Range. Dragging a lead rope and wearing a full set of shoes, the horse obviously did not belong in the wilderness. Something was amiss. The animal was clearly suffering from a festering leg wound. In addition his left eye hung uselessly from its socket, his head and neck encrusted with his own blood. But that wasn't the worst of it. Veterinarians who examined the gelding found he had been shot in the head, the bullet exploding into three dozen pieces lodged permanently in his brain. His jaw broken, it was estimated the horse had been wandering for weeks. He was missing half his blood volumn. There is no physical reason why this horse is alive today. Simply put, his mind and spirit did not want to die.

Hero is on the road to recovery at his new home, Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch outside Bend, Oregon. For the complete story visit http://www.crystalpeaksyouthranch.org/. Owners Kim and Troy Meeder are the best kind of horse people--humble, genuine, and down to earth. They work hard to make a difference in the lives of maladjusted horses and youth (if you need a good cry, download the short DVD on the ranch and the work they do).

As for Chance, he has plenty of physical work ahead of him on his road to becoming a well rounded horse. And I have limits to probing the equine mind (no horse shrinks in my future). But instead of focusing on what my horses are eating, I'm seriously considering what's eating at my horses.


Marchel said...

Thanks for adding the video of Stacy Westfall's beautiful ride. It brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. Not only is it beautiful because all of it is done with freewill and an obvious love between rider and horse, it is beautiful because it reveals God's nature towards us and the "partnership" we can have with a beautiful God who is FOR us. I had the pleasure of gathering cows a few summers ago with a cowboy who cut cows without a bridle or any restraint in the middle of a huge summer pasture. The partnership between them was incredible to behold. He galloped his horse across the pasture and came to a sudden stop, then rolled his horse back to then turn off into another direction. I was in awe. How God must delight in this kind of partnership with us when we willing choose to yield to His soothing and wooing voice and loving touch of His hand on our spirits! Hosea records, "He drew me with the cords of Love." Invisible reins. Oh to be like this horse I saw on this unforgettable summer day, surrounded by the beauty of God's mountains! And oh to be like Stacy's horse. Will we let our God love us in these same ways, knowing full well that everything He teaches us is for our ultimate good... all because He is a GOOD God. "He lead me with His eyes". May we be senstive and loving towards our God as He is sensitive and loving towards us. Thanks again for sharing your insights Catherine. By the way, I'm thankful I had the privilege of riding "au natural" on my much missed and beloved mare of 25 years. It was a blast and even though she was not "fine-tuned" as the horses mentioned above- it was a day I'll never forget because it helped me come to a complete understanding of how God LONGS to have that kind of relationship with me in all my shortcomings and sometimes obstinate nature.

Catherine said...

I'm sure you miss Casey Marchel. I wish I could have met her. Too cool that you rode at liberty. I haven't done that yet but can ride Tango with one rein and a halter. I'd like to experience no reins. Would have paid money to see someone cut cows at liberty!