Chinese Medicine…can it be part of equestrian life?

Chinese medicine may seem a world away from equestrianism's daily chores, competitions and that special horseowner relationship. But, by applying the central core of Chinese beliefs - The Five Elements - to you and your horse's compatibility, it's possible to achieve goals, improve performance and see into your horse's mind in ways you never thought were possible.

Use The Five Elements to:

  • Improve communication and understanding
  • Choose the right horse for your temperament
  • Avoid clashing with your horse's personality
  • Adjust your handling and riding style to your horse's Element
  • Learn what to look out for to maintain your horse in tip-top condition

Chinese Medicine: A Brief History
Chinese medicine originated in China more than 4,000 years ago and today is attracting interest worldwide. Herbal medicine dates back to the origins of Chinese medicine. The oldest known text is from 168 BC "Formulas for fifty two ailments" (Wu Shi Er Bing Fang). But probably the single most famous classic text is the "Discussion of Cold Induced Disorders" (Shang Han Lun) from AD 200. Chinese medicine has always been primarily concerned with maintaining health rather than merely treating disease and ill-health. Health is not just the absence of illness but the presence of a vital and dynamic state of wellbeing, when the flow of Qi is balanced and harmonious. Qi is the "glue" that pervades the cosmos and at the same time holds everything together. Loosely translated it means "energy", although there is no direct counterpart in conventional Western thought.

What are "The Five Elements"?
The simple answer is Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each of these 'Elements' has a collection of attributes that relate to health, such as temperament, physique, food preferences, internal organs, sense organ and quality of "Yin and Yang". In addition, there are other attributes which aren't specifically health related, such as direction, colour and so on.

Ostoeopath and acupuncturist, Paul Clusker, explains: "One of my early teachers, Dr Ted Kapchuk, spoke of the Chinese picture for "Element" as containing movement within it. So, an alternative (and more accurate) translation might be the Five Transformations of Qi (energy)." That way, says Paul, the Elements don't become fixed in stone andinstead allow him to perceive what the predominant Element is - without excluding the other Elements in that human or equine patient.

"Nowadays, I often think of The Five Elements as being like filters which help to organise my observations, intuitions and measurements into a recognisable pattern. "Every person and horse has a particular "Element" which tends to predominate. It will colour the way horse and rider express wellbeing and illness, their individual aptitudes and will influence how they work to get the best out of each other."

If you don't know your horse's element type you can find out on this free test at

Horse and Hound, October 2000

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