ACUPRESSURE - Action for Colic Concerns

By Nancy Zidonis and Amy Snow, Authors of Equine Acupressure: A Working Manual

The mere mention or thought of colic strikes terror into the heart of every horse owner. It is the most dreaded, only-too-common occurrence in a horse's life. Colic is so unpredictable and seemingly so difficult to prevent. It can happen any time, and so suddenly; when you went out to feed in the morning, your horse seemed absolutely fine. By mid-day, he was agitatedly kicking his flank and curling his upper lip, and in an instant you felt the rush of panic and sense of helplessness. It is during this moment of panic that you can realize you are not helpless - you can work acupressure points while waiting for your holistic veterinarian to arrive!

Colic is a potential killer. Every suspicion of colic needs to be taken seriously. The indicators of colic vary so widely that it can be difficult to determine what is happening to your horse. Usually, the more violent the behavior, the more likely it is an acute and life-threatening colic. No matter what, call your veterinarian immediately! Some of the most common signs of colic are:

  • Off his feed and/or water
  • Lying down more frequently than usual
  • Rolling more frequently than usual
  • Pawing the ground excessively
  • Standing as if to urinate
  • Kicking his abdomen
  • Turning his head to his flank
  • Curling his upper lip
  • Sweating heavily
  • Standing quietly and/or possibly rigidly

If you think it is safe to approach your horse, take a few minutes to observe him more closely to gather valuable information to relate to your veterinarian. This will also give you an idea of how you can perform acupressure point work that, in some cases, can help to relieve the condition prior to the arrival of your veterinarian. If at all possible, we suggest having another person assist you while checking your horse's condition and performing Acupressure Point Work.

Check the following "vital" signs:

  • Is his pulse normal, slightly elevated, or racing? (Normal resting pulse rate is approximately 25 to 40 beats per minute.)
  • Is his breathing rate normal? (Normal resting respiratory rate is 9 to 13 breaths per minute.)
  • Does his temperature seem elevated or cool?
  • Are the limbs warm or cold?
  • What color are his gums?
  • When you press his gums, how quickly (in seconds) does the color return? (Normal capillary refill time is one to two seconds.)
  • What color is his tongue? Is it moist or dry, pink or white, coated or clean?
  • Are his abdominal muscles tense?
  • Does his abdomen feel distended?
  • How audible are the sounds from his gut?
  • Has he defecated/urinated recently?
  • Is he passing gas?
  • Do his eyes look vacant?
  • What other obvious signs of colic is he exhibiting?
  • Is he taking any medications?

After assessing your horse's condition call your veterinarian. If he/she gives you instructions to follow, note them and proceed with the instructions. While you are waiting for the veterinarian to arrive, you can begin to mitigate the horse's discomfort by performing Acupressure Point Work.

From the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, colic is the result of an energy blockage that is causing an imbalance in the body. The horse has energy pathways or channels running through his entire body; these pathways are known as meridians. There are specific points, or pools of energy, along the meridians that can help maintain the harmonious energy flow through the meridian channel system. These points are called acupoints. A TCM practitioner uses acupoints during the Point Work section of an acupressure treatment. When there is an emergency, such as extremely acute colic, the practitioner would most likely perform the Point Work immediately rather than a complete treatment.

Acupressure Point Work Techniques

Begin Point Work using the direct-thumb technique. Place the fleshy part of the end of your thumb on the acupoint at a 90-degree angle to your horse's body. Apply about 1-3 pounds of pressure; when you feel resistance, let-up on the point slightly and then apply pressure again.

Keep both hands on your horse. One hand does the Point Work while the other feels the reactions such as muscle spasms, twitches and other releases. The hand not performing the Point Work also serves to soothe your horse and provide an energy connection.

Point Work is generally performed from front to rear and top to bottom of the horse.

Breathe out while moving into the acupoint; breathe in when letting up on the point.

Use partial body weight; this ensures a smoothness of motion and protects your thumbs and wrists from stress.

During an emergency, the TCM practitioner would quickly examine your horse as thoroughly as possible and ask in-depth questions about his medical history as well as his usual temperament, preferences in activity, food, and a host of other questions. The practitioner needs to learn as much about your horse as he/she can to be able to discern a particular pattern the current condition is presenting and thus understand the nature of the colic. The TCM practitioner has many years of training to be able to analyze and treat specific conditions. We have seen excellent results even when the person performing the acupressure is not an experienced acupressure practitioner. Your horse can derive benefit from your working the acupoints described in this article.


Impaction Colic

A simple impaction colic, (i.e., colic that does not require surgery), is where there less peristaltic movement and a pale, dry tongue; a TCM practitioner would consider this as evidence of a dry Large Intestine pattern. This pattern of imbalance is a deficiency of fluids in the Large Intestine and is said to be the result of a Yin or Blood deficiency. In eastern medicine the intent would be to work acupoints to restore the fluid balance in the intestines and strengthen Yin along the Large Intestine meridian. The Impaction Colic Chart shows the location of the acupoint, the traditional name, and the function of the specific point combinations recommended for this type of colic. Avoid using St36 and Sp6 during pregnancy.


Spasmodic Colic

In Traditional Chinese Medicine a spasmodic colic is called Large Intestine Cold. A horse suffering from this type of pattern is usually experiencing sudden painful abdominal spasms, increased peristaltic movement while also exhibiting a pale tongue and cold limbs. The TCM doctor sees this condition as a result of consuming too much cold food or fluid and/or excessive exposure to external cold. When cold is present in the Large Intestine it can cause sharp pain as it interrupts the flow of Chi or life force energy.

To effectively treat spasmodic colic pattern, the practitioner works acupoints that will warm and strengthen the Large Intestine Meridian. Follow the Point Work combinations for Spasmodic Colic Chart to release cold and bring energy to the points indicated.


Flatulent or Gas Colic

Flatulent or gas colic is characterized by extreme abdominal pain. Other indicators of flatulent colic include: excessive production of intestinal gas, white coated tongue, and an absence of manure. In TCM terms this type of colic represents a Small Intestine Pattern. This pattern can be brought about by a number of things such as cribbing, a change in feed, unusual or excessive intake of cold food or water. Flatulent colic can be caused by emotional stress factors such as frustration, boredom from confinement, and anger.

The combination of acupoints selected to relieve flatulent colic is directed toward moving Small Intestine Chi. Review the Flatulent Colic Chart for the specific points. Avoid using Sp6 during pregnancy.


Prevention of Colic

It is impossible to totally prevent colic, but there are ways to reduce the incidence of it. Consistent acupressure maintenance treatments given twice a week can significantly help reduce the possibility of colic. Other suggestions are: feed on a regular time schedule, always have clean water available, allow the horse to settle and cool off after exercise before feeding him, provide a consistent and sensible exercise regime, allow for as much turnout or pasture time as possible and make any changes in diet and exercise gradually.

The Colic Preventive Maintenance Chart will give you a series of acupoints to use to keep the harmonious flow of Chi energy flowing along the Large Intestine, Small Intestine and Stomach Meridians. Avoid using St36 during pregnancy.


Don't wait until the next time you see signs of colic to use acupressure. Learn the technique and the points before you are in an emergency situation and practice maintenance/prevention acupressure today. Consistently maintaining your horse's Chi energy balance throughout his body will go a long way toward reducing the incidence and severity of colic.

About the authors:

Nancy Zidonis is one of the pioneers in the field of equine acupressure. Over 12 years ago, Nancy began working with acupressure and horses. She has co-authored Equine Acupressure: A Working Manual plus a recently released companion 50-minute training video, Introducing Equine Acupressure

Amy Snow grew-up riding on Long Island, New York and started studying acupressure in the 1970's. Nancy and Amy began working together a few years ago and have expanded their writing and acupressure work to companion animals. They are co-authors of The Well-Connected Dog: A Guide to Canine Acupressure and Acu-Cat: A Guide to Feline Acupressure. They also offer training programs in equine and canine acupressure nationally and internationally.

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