Jim Masterson, Equine Massage Therapist for the 2006 and 2008 and 2010 USET Endurance Teams, and for equine clientele competing in FEI World Cup, Pan American and World Games competitions, teaches a unique method of equine bodywork to therapists and horse owners around the world. Listen in…
The term poultice is derived from a Latin word for porridge. In the equine world, poultices are applied for the relief of localized pain, when caused by inflammation.
It is predominantly used on the lower legs of horses to benefit tendons, joints and ligaments. A hoof may be poulticed if there has been a traumatic injury, bruising and if abscesses arise. When utilizing a poultice for therapy, the goal is to reduce heat, inflammation and to aid in the healing process. The least amount of time an area is stressed by these elements the less damage there will be and the more it will aid in the longevity of your horse’s career.
The most prevalent type of poulticing is termed “cold” therapy and is composed of clays and bentonites. This application would minimize the inflammatory response to an early injury or overworked legs, and act as a pain reliever. For application, wet your hands and splash cold water on the injured site. Spread ¼ to ½ inch of poultice onto anywhere you feel heat or swelling. If wounds are present alternative care may be needed. Cover the poulticed area with wet brown paper. Follow up by wrapping with wet cotton or bandages. The longer the poultice remains cool and wet the better it will draw heat and inflammation. Overnight application or longer is an option, maybe for that trailer ride home. Once you are ready to remove the wraps let the poultice dry fully. As it dries it will continue to pull excess fluid and heat. Brush the leg and follow with a cold water flush or bath. Cold water is an excellent tool for reducing heat and inflammation.
Human attachments are a complex business. For one thing, when two people come together, they are often unaware of just what it is about one another that creates the attraction. On the other hand, when we are repelled by another person, identifying what about them bothers us is not the problem, yet why this behavior or characteristic infuriates us is quite another matter. But in the world of psychology, categorizing attachments styles has shed much light into the complexities of relationships. Now enter horses. When a horse and a person meet, are horses prone to the same types of attachments that people are? That is to say, can we actually classify their relationships with us or one another into categories the way we do with people?
Looking in the matter further, some established horsemen have attempted to do just that. Pat Parelli, (www.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com), one of the forerunners of the natural horse movement, promulgates what he calls “horsenality types.” Using a pie chart with related descriptions, Parelli breaks down horses’ personalities into four basic types, right brain introvert, right brain extrovert, left brain introvert, and left brain extrovert.
On the other side of the coin, some equine therapy programs attempt to address attachment styles of participants through the horse’s responses to them. One prominent one, Gestalt Equine Therapy (www.gestaltequinepsychotherapy.com), addresses this topic by using congruence levels of people — as reflected by the horse’s willingness to be near them — to determine secure, vs. insecure attachments styles. The idea is that when a person is experiencing congruence, his/her attachment style can be said to be secure. While this approach can be quite revealing about the participants attachment style, the horse’s attachment style is not taken into consideration.
While there is no debate among those who work with horses that the truth about people cannot be masked when around them. It seems that even those who seem to project one emotion will frequently be found to have another. An apparently confident person can struggle mightily with the simple task of placing a halter on a horse. And often, under circumstances such as these, those around the otherwise unchallenged person will stand back in awe of what was previously unbeknownst to them. Such is the nature of the unconscious. It is an all together present, and yet wholly ignored, facet of the human equation. Sometimes called a “gut instinct,” there have been some who have suggested its wisdom in everyday decisions, and absolute importance in the more pressing life and death situations. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of “Blink,” for one makes a very elegant case for utilizing the prescient nature of the unconscious in predicting satisfaction with all sorts of life decisions.
Yet for as much as the unconscious can offer, it is, for the most part, outside of the everyday awareness of the masses. However, that is not to say that the human system is not affected by unconscious drives, fears, and motives. Those in the field of trauma will strongly argue that in the case of overwhelming traumatic situations, while there is often no conscious memory, there remains a physiological imprint of the trauma, called a “body memory.” In a case such as this, a person will experience physiological reactions, such as increased pulse, elevated startle response, and muscle tension despite the absence of any noticeable stimuli. And here again, while the remnants of the trauma are register physiologically, and hold the truth about the trauma, they are not responded to, as consciously, the person has no reason to.
Horses have, for some time now, been showing promise as a complementary modality for humans experiencing psychological distress. As the unconscious guarding that is so typical of human interactions is absent from these horse-human relationships, people often develop an affinity and camaraderie with their equine partners. Especially in the case of trauma, the hallmark neurobiological changes, such as increased excitatory neurochemicals, and exaggerated startle response, tend to obfuscate human social dynamics. As these particular individuals often feel outside of the human experience, and even detached from the self, they typically find a kinship with horses that extends beyond a cognitive congruence. Physiological changes register a calming response, and mitigation of some of the trauma effects while in the presence of horses.
Similarly, several studies have indicated that human-animal touch, and the resultant syncing of mind and body responses to be integral in trauma recovery, (Brooks, 2006; Perry, 2006; Van der Kolk, 2003; Yorke, Adams & Coady, 2008). This response has been particularly strong in human-equine interactions, (Bass, Duchowny & Llabre, 2009; Davis, 2009; Schultz, Remick-Barlow & Robbins, 2007).
While there is no debate that something clearly happens when people and horses come together, just what transpires has been described in a multitude of different ways. Some practitioners of equine therapy prefer to characterize the horse as a reflective mirror in which the person can see his/her own behavior carefully mimicked. Still others have alluded to the idea that horses “attune” to the physiological rhythms of people, thereby having a sedative affect on factors such as heart and breath rate. And others, who perhaps are just fond of horses, purport that they respond to people when they are in state of “congruence” and withdraw when they are “incongruent.” Yet for all the intrigue these often elaborate descriptions hold, do they really accurately capture what happens between horses and humans? They are, after all, our descriptions of animal behavior that is not akin to us. And perhaps in attempting to characterize the horse as something that makes sense to us, we have failed to miss the central point that the horse is a herd animal. His very safety depends of maintaining the sanctity of the herd around him, and his behavior, therefore, must make sense from that perspective. To be sure, the only equine behaviors that exist outside of this spectrum are those that we humans have created. Weaving, for one, is a perfect example. Weaving does not exist in a herd because it has no survival basis. It is not until we house a horse in a space that makes sense to us, for a time that we prefer that he begins this repetitious swaying, akin to the self-soothing rocking seen in autistic children.
So when we say that the horse “mirrors” us, we must define this from the basis of a herd animal. That is to ask, what would the survival purpose of mirroring be in a herd? Just how would this behavior preserve the contiguous nature of a herd? Reflecting another, after all, fails to send a direct message. And further, if all horses reflected one another, how would order be upheld?