I’ve just finished reading a book called ‘The Spark in the Machine: How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine’ (Dr Keown). It explores how western medicine validates the theories of Chinese medicine and how Chinese medicine explains the mysteries of the body that western medicine largely ignores. It has been a fascinating read and one which shows how conventional and complementary medicine could work so well alongside each other. The issue however lies in the attitude towards complementary therapies and the scepticism surrounding them.
Over the years though I have seen a significant shift in acceptance of different modalities. In the equine world an increasing number of owners are seeing the benefits that can be gained from exploring alternative routes in the care of their equine friends. Gone are the days when complementary therapies were met with raised eyebrows and sighs in the corner of the yard. As more research has begun to support the use of complementary therapies, a growing number of vets have come to accept their use, many now even offering acupuncture in their own clinics as well as recommending other modalities to their clients.
The growing use and recommendation of complementary therapies shows a shift towards a more integrated approach to equine health. Whilst this increase in recognition and acceptance is a good thing, it does bring with it a certain amount of confusion. With such a wealth of different therapies at owners’ disposal (Equine Acupuncture, Bowen, Reiki and Shiatsu) the question then is when to use these therapies.
For me the answer lies in the philosophy behind Ancient Chinese medicine. This philosophy is based on the notion of prevention and the belief that when everything is kept in balance the body can heal itself and protect itself from illness. In Ancient China, doctors would be paid a retainer to keep their patients healthy. If a patient became sick, the doctor wouldn’t be paid until the patient was healthy again. I believe that if therapies such as Shiatsu are used on a regular basis, this can help ensure everything is given the right environment in which to flow freely. Subtle changes or areas of tension and restriction can also be detected early on, giving owners the chance to seek the relevant treatment and prevent the issues escalating into a much greater problem. Just as regular farrier visits and dental check-ups are part of a horse owner’s routine, so too can a Shiatsu or similar session become a key part of it.
Whilst conventional medicine will always play an important part in our horses’ lives, complementary therapies can be used to promote and maintain health. At the end of the day the wellbeing of our horses is key and I believe the goal is simple: to work as a team to integrate the best of both worlds, using what complementary medicine has to offer alongside more conventional practices to ensure our horses live as healthy and happy lives as possible.