Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

What is Acupuncture?


Acupuncture is the ancient form of Chinese medicine involving the insertion of acupuncture needles into the skin at specific points on the body to achieve a therapeutic effect. The Chinese approach to disease is very holistic and the aim of this Traditional Medicine is to restore the equilibrium between physical, emotional and spiritual factors which in turn is believed to restore health. Since the 1970s when this form of alternative medicine became popular in the West, acupuncture has been used to encourage natural healing, improve mood and energy, reduce or relieve pain and improve function of affected areas of the equine body despite what seems to be the lack of compelling scientific evidence promoting the positive results of equine acupuncture.

Horse Acupuncture Points from the Bagyuiho (A Chinese Horse and Cow Acupuncture Text), 1399

Acupuncture needles are solid, usually stainless steel (they may also be gold or silver). The needles are very fine, flexible and rounded but sharp at the tip. They are ‘atraumatic’, meaning that they do not have a cutting edge like a hypodermic needle, which slices through tissue. Their design allows acupuncture needles to slide smoothly through tissues and which makes them unlikely to cause bleeding or damage to underlying structures.

Acupuncture points (also referred to as ‘acupoints’) are places on the skin that have a lower resistance to the passage of electricity than the surrounding skin and are part of a network of points that were mapped centuries ago by the Chinese. Most are found along ‘meridians’ or ‘channels’ that are believed to be the pathways by which energy or Qi (pronounced ‘Chee’) flows through the body. The needles are left in place for 15-30 minutes, and the practitioner may manipulate the needles to strengthen or reduce the flow of Qi.

When acupuncture points are stimulated, the body releases different chemicals according to the placement of the needles. If, for example, acupuncture is performed on an anxious horse, endorphins can be released that will help the horse to relax. Another example is a horse that is not running properly due to shoulder pain. Correctly placed acupuncture needles can help to release the blocked energy, as well as releasing painkilling hormones into the central nervous system. These hormones are believed not only ease the horse’s pain, but also promote the healing of the joint by reducing swelling and inflammation.

An acupuncturist may want to speak with your regular veterinarian before providing treatment and this provides the acupuncturist with the most complete information available about the horse’s condition. Then the acupuncturist will ask you to describe the horse’s symptoms, its normal daily routine—such as the amount of time spent in the stall or pasture—the horse’s social standing in the herd, and whether the horse seems to prefer heat or cold. The tongue may be looked at, the horse’s pulse may be taken at several locations over the body, and the meridians may be examined. Meridians are the channels through which the Qi is said to flow.

No one is positive that horses have meridians, although it is accepted that humans do. However, research indicates that horses do indeed have these channels for Qi. These meridians make it possible for a tender area to receive treatment without the acupuncturist actually having to put needles into the injured or sore area. Conditions in horses that have been reported to respond well to acupuncture include back pain, lameness, COPD, chronic gastrointestinal disease, muscle spasm, tendon injuries, infertility, and behavioral problems.

An interesting study which was conducted in the United States showed that trainers felt there was a lower level of leg injury and breakdown in stables that provided regular acupuncture treatments and that the horses seemed calmer with improved appetites and had less stable vices while in training. It would seem that due to the popularity of acupuncture in the performance horse industry today, that this mode of alternative medicine is here for the long term and with more research, more attention is being given to establishing acupuncture credibility. It is certain, that with more pressure being put on horse owners and trainers to produce horses that are drug free, new methods of treating old problems are needed and acupuncture may hold the answer.


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