Went to check out and support the new venture of an old friend yesterday. Veterinarian Michael Hutchison, who was my barn’s main vet from the time he started practicing in Tucson in 1993, has reinvented himself. After selling his traditional mixed vet practice, he went back to school and has come back as an equine acupuncture specialist. His return has already created quite a buzz around town, so I went to a lecture/demonstration this morning to reconnect and see what I could learn.
I always appreciated Dr. Mike’s open-mindedness, positive energy and his obvious enthusiasm for helping animals. His willingness to think outside the box and administer a then-unusual but now pretty mainstream treatment of intravenous DMSO saved one of my horses who otherwise would have been put down. And he is clearly super-energized by his new knowledge and direction.
At one point, it occurred he was present when I took a little step on the alternative healing path. While listening to his lecture, I remembered an incident that was one of my “ah-ha” moments back when I still didn’t quite believe in the profound effects of acupuncture/acupressure.
A lovely Paint mare belonging to my barn neighbor had aborted a late-term foal the day before and I had volunteered to hold her for the vet because her owner was at work when he could come. It was a cold late-winter day, with precip that kept changing from little ice balls to snow and back again – not what we’re used to in Arizona. In short, miserable for horse and humans.
So there is Dr. Mike, arm bare except for the long plastic sleeve and lubricant that should help him slip inside for a little exploratory procedure to ensure no damage was done by the unscheduled four-legged delivery. And there’s the mare, cold and cranky and probably very sore, with her tail clamped down, her backside with a big “Closed” sign on it. I was at the head, trying to sooth her and keep her still and dissuade her from escalating her understandable grouchiness into hind-leg target practice with the vet as target. I noticed the mare seemed to like her forehead rubbed and I remembered something I had learned about pressure points that cause an endorphin release.
“Hang on. I’m going to try something. I don’t know if it will work.” I reached up and stuck my thumb and a finger into the hollows at the front of each ear, putting pressure there while I continued to speak quietly to the mare. She stopped fidgeting, dropped her head and relaxed her body. Her whole body. In went Dr. Mike’s hand, then arm.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, but don’t stop,” he said from the back end of the horse. I stayed put, the mare stayed calm and the vet was able to complete his exam. Cool! Guess there really is something to this acupressure stuff.
I don’t remember for sure, but I imagine the ever-curious Dr. Mike asked for an explanation of what I had done and I, no doubt, gave a very poor one because I really didn’t have a clue at that point. I just knew it had worked and I really had to know more. A few years later, after I relocated to Colorado, I happened across a lecture by the wonderful women at what is now the Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute and I started exploring with the use of their pioneering book, Equine Acupressure: A Working Manual.
Acupuncture and acupressure continued to fascinate me, both as a treatment modality and as a diagnostic tool. In 2003 I had the chance to be part of the inaugural acutherapy certification course offered by Aims Community College and I spent six challenging months getting a good introduction to traditional Chinese medicine theory and practice. (Yes, I can learn all those points and meridians. Yes, I do like to set needles. No, I do not want to work on humans. I’ll keep translating what I learn to horses, thank you very much.)
Acupressure fits so well into both the bodywork and the ground exercises I do with horses every day that it has become second nature. And though understanding the complexities of TCM is the work of a lifetime, it is quite simple to teach a few useful acupressure points to my riding students as part of their “toolbox” of connection techniques.
I’m feeling grateful for the horses who have guided me to learn, for the people who have taught me and explored with me and for the new healing skills of an old friend.