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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

The Women & Horses Newsletter - May 2003
Access the Nervous System through Acupressure

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         Access the Nervous System through Acupressure
                     By Mary D. Midkiff


Having almost completed my Spring travel schedule, I wanted to 
take a few minutes to fill you in on a few interesting 
observations through my clinics.


My first stop in April was in Des Moines, Iowa and the Iowa 
Horse Fair.  This is a local volunteer managed event put on 
annually by the Iowa State Horse Council.  The weather forecast 
was for 50s and 60s all weekend and it turned out to be bitter 
cold and snowy.  Nonetheless, the Horse Fair went on and 
attracted a good turnout.  Unprepared, I ended up visiting 
Wal-Mart to buy whatever was left of winter undergarments!


I was scheduled to give a demo each day in the rotund 
historical pavilion arena at the fairgrounds.  Before my 
presentations each day there were breed demonstrations.  The
horses in these demonstrations varied from Peruvian Pasos to
Friesians and I felt for the riders and handlers working with 
their horses in very cold and windy conditions.  The horses 
were on their toes and out of focus, I took all of this in while
waiting for my demonstration.


When it came to my turn to speak I asked my demo rider to come 
into the vast arena.  I had been introduced to the rider earlier
but never to her horse until that moment.  She and Brandon, a 
Norwegian Fjord gelding, came into the arena.  Jessica, a slight
teenager, hung on to him as he spun and dragged her around, 
looking at the audience, feeling the cold and noticing me and my
irritating microphone.  It was a great deal to take in and he 
was not "with" Jessica or me.

When horses are "out of their bodies" like Brandon was, they can
be very dangerous.  They become pushy, they forget where their 
feet are and can step all over you, they throw their massive 
weight around and toss and jerk their heads above or out of your
reach.

Instead of going ahead with my demo as planned, I told the 
audience Brandon had to be "present" before we were going to 
accomplish anything.  His nervous system was highly revved and 
he was in another zone making it unsafe for him and for us.  We
could have spent the entire hour just calming him down with 
traditional approaches such as chains over the nose or in the 
mouth, and rough handling.
 
I immediately asked Jessica to let me handle the horse and began
acupressure on his neck at once.  We walked around for several 
seconds and he kept pulling and resisting me and refusing to 
focus.  I was persistent with my acupressure and waited to allow
the chemical endorphins to enter into his nervous system.  The
chemical release was apparent when he began to drop his head, 
lick his lips, roll his eyes, yawn and chew.  Now I could 
release my acupressure and let him think about what was going on
inside his body and begin to settle.

I continued walking him around on a long rein and he was very 
willing to cooperate. I went back to the acupressure a couple of
more times and really let him feel the changes in his body and 
mind. Once that was accomplished, Jessica was able to mount a 
quiet, willing, focused horse in a greatly reduced risk 
situation.  Now we could concentrate on her and her riding as
the demo was planned.  I believe people in the audience learned
as much from that experience as they did from anything else I 
had to say.

I often think how wonderful it would be if all horse people knew
a few acupressure and massage techniques to help them through 
these difficult situations.  Here are a couple of letters I 
received after that demo.

  Mary -

  I saw some of your demonstrations at the Iowa Horse
  Fair, but at the time I had no idea how soon I would
  need your acupressure suggestions!! My new, green
  (though normally very level-headed) 1/2 Arab was
  spooked by a bicyclist as he was backing out of the
  trailer yesterday. He lunged forward back into the
  trailer stall, then somehow spun his 15'3 body around
  and went out headfirst. I sure didn't want that to
  become a learned pattern, so I loaded him again after
  he was calm, and again asked him to back out. He
  wouldn't take a single step back. I stood there with
  him, knowing that if I tried to force anything, he may
  become uncontrollable plus I'd lose all the trust I've
  worked hard to earn (he's learning anger management -
  he was mishandled as a youngster). He just seemed so
  angry about the situation. For the next 30 minutes, we
  did a sort of 'one step backward, two steps forward'
  kind of dance, and I began to question myself on why I
  had reloaded him. Finally a little light bulb went on
  in my head (I sure wish it had lit up sooner!!!) and I
  began acupressure on the hollow above his eye like you
  taught us at the horse fair. Within just a few
  minutes, his rigid, protruding upper lip began to
  relax. He seemed to fight the relaxation for a short
  bit (like a child who doesn't want to go to sleep) but
  soon he lowered his head, took a big sigh, licked his
  lips, and CALMLY backed out of the trailer like he had
  so many times before. I might still be standing in
  that trailer today if I hadn't remembered that
  acupressure spot. Thank you Mary!!
  Kristi Schaaf  
  
    ---

  We attended your lecture at the Iowa Fairgrounds and 
  couldn't wait to try some of the techniques ..  especially the 
  massage spots on the neck and head.. for calming the horse.  

  Well, I have had a wonderful experience on my Appaloosa.. 
  The Mare is gentle by anyone's standards, but has not been as 
  responsive as when we got her...  

  Until now.  After using the massage spot on the neck that you 
  demonstrated, She is even coming to me without her halter!!!!!
  There are many other things that she is doing now, but the 
  bottom line is .....MANY THANKS! 

  I would love to learn more.  I use reflexology and alternative
  medical treatments for me, and know what can be done.  Any 
  suggestions on books or classes???

  Thanks again.  Looking forward to more FUN times on the Trail.   

  Char Van Kerck in Colo, IOWA     (North  East of Des Moines)

    ---

Another woman called and told me she had not been able to 
harness or bridle her new mule until she used acupressure on his
neck and he calmed down and dropped his head for her to quietly 
bridle him.

The Acupressure Points

There are three acupressure spots that are the easiest and most 
helpful for you to learn.  First of all, if you know of someone
who practices equine acupuncture ask them to help you identify
some of these points and secondly remember you do not need a 
great deal of pressure to stimulate a chemical release.

The point I find the most useful is approximately four inches 
down the neck behind the poll/ear area.  There are points in the
same location on both sides of the neck, so use either one or 
try alternating and see how responsive your horse is to one side
or the other.  Run your fingers along the neck muscles from the 
poll toward the shoulder and see if you can find a "hole or 
hollow" that feels the size of a quarter in between the muscles.
Again have an acupuncture specialist help you identify these 
points to be sure.  Using two fingers, the index and middle to-
gether, move your fingers around that "hole" or acupressure 
point until your fingers find the indentation.  Now press 
lightly and hold.  Even if the horse objects and moves around 
stay with it and don't release.  Hold at least 30 seconds for 
the chemicals to travel throughout the system.  You will do less
and less as the horse becomes accustomed to acupressure.  For
instance, on my horse, I simply touch the spot and she relaxes.

Slowly release the point and walk your horse around on a long 
loose lead.  Let him think about what has just happened.  You 
should see one or all of the following: lowering of the head, 
relaxation and an "inward" look to the eyes, rolling or blinking
of the eyes, relaxed ears, licking and chewing with the mouth, 
snorting or sneezing, shaking the head and neck, yawning 
and releasing a breath.

Once the horse is quiet and calm, try it again and see how he
responds.  Use this technique anytime you are in a potentially
stressful situation or when the horse seems confused or afraid.
It can help especially with farrier and vet visits, and with 
starting gate and roping chute issues.  Start this technique 
when your horses are very young and continue it throughout their
lives. It's always there as a ready tool for you.

Two more helpful spots or points are the hollow spaces above the
eyes, and hollow spaces in front of and behind the ears.  Use 
the same technique as with the upper neck.

Give this a try and let me know what is happening with you and 
your equine partners.  More travel stories to come!  

Happy Riding,

Mary D. Midkiff
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           Women have a special magic with horses...
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PO Box 20187
Boulder, CO 80308
Phone 303-544-0333 | Fax 303-544-0331
mailto:mmidkiff@womenandhorses.com
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(c)2003 All rights reserved.
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