The Five Elements And Your Horse - Part 3 Wood
Updated: Oct 7, 2022
This month continues part three of a five-part blog series* on the Five Elements of Chinese Medicine featuring me in a collaboration with Insightful Equine
If you’d like a refresher on the Five Elements and the essence of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I’d encourage you to re-read the first two blog posts:
Part 1 on the Metal Element (Autumn)
Part 2 on the Water Element (Winter)
PART 3--WOOD ELEMENT
Can you feel it? The sun is setting later, the snow is melting, and the temperature is warming (in fits and spurts)…it is beginning to feel more like spring. Yet, at my barn the surest sign that spring is just around the corner is that my Thoroughbred Romeo is shedding!I remember last year at this time how exhausted I felt. The thought of spring and all that comes with it here in Wisconsin (endless rain, more mud than you can imagine and a constant overcast sky) depleted me even more. It took time—well into summer—for my body, mind and emotions to recover a state of balance.
Yet, this year I feel so much different—more nourished and energized. I credit the change to spending more time this winter hibernating, eating nourishing foods and drinks that kept me warm, and being careful not to over-do work or chores or play. I have also noticed that my horses seem more calm and, in particular, my Wood horse, Romeo, is much less agitated and nippy. Perhaps because I was more mindful of his individual needs over the winter and spent more time helping him maintain a sense of balance.By following nature’s way and being mindful, my horses and I are in a better place entering into spring, the Wood phase of the year. Hopefully you, too, were able to implement some of the winter (Water Element) recommendations from the last blog; I’d love to hear if you noticed a difference within yourself or your horses as you move into spring.
TRANSITION We are currently transitioning from winter (Water Element), the most yin time of the year when it is dark, still, heavy and cold, to summer (Fire Element), which is the most yang time of the year when it is sunny, active, light and warm. Spring (Wood Element) is sandwiched in between those two extremes. There is a saying in Chinese Medicine that during spring you keep one foot in winter and one foot in summer. This rings especially true here in the Midwest where we regularly experience snowstorms in April. All the more reason that it is important to use this time to gradually shift toward the more active, yang time of year.
RE-BIRTH AND RENEWAL
The Wood Element is powerful! And, its energy is all about growth and change. Think of a seed that has been covered by a blanket of snow during winter and seemingly overnight it shoots delicate tendrils through the dark frozen earth to be birthed into the sun and air. Imagine the force and energy required to make that happen!
Each year we move through a similar process of re-birth and renewal. We planted seeds about our visions for the new year deep within ourselves during the dark winter months, and they will soon germinate and break through to be exposed to the light of the sun. Our job during this phase is to maintain a healthy Wood Element by keeping true to our desires, organizing ourselves so that we make good decisions and maintaining a smooth flow of Qi (Chi) so that come fall we will reap the harvest of our goals.
However, the stillness and heaviness of winter (heavy foods, thick clothing, long dark days) may build up pressure and pent-up energy that manifests as frustration and irritability by this time. This can be a sign of Wood imbalance. While anger is the natural emotion of the Wood phase it is important to understand the difference between the healthy and an imbalanced expression of anger. Anger can be healthy and helpful when we need to speak up for ourselves or respond to a threatening situation. On the other hand, anger that is imbalanced may present as unhealthy competition, critical judgment, controlling behaviors or even emotional outbursts and rage. For some of us, anger is an emotion to avoid or deny and this also reflects an imbalance.
While we may have the urge to dump the winter sluggishness and dive into spring with both feet hitting the pavement (or the arena sand), it is important to be deliberate in how we move our energy during the Wood phase. Much like the trunk and branches of a tree reaching up and extending out toward the sun it also helps us to replicate this energy. And like the healthy tree that can bend and sway in the wind, the Wood phase asks us to maintain mental, emotional and physical flexibility. Being rigid and stiff in our physical body or mentally or emotionally is another sign of imbalance. Maintaining our internal sense of direction for the year will help us plan the steps needed to achieve our goals while being flexible enough to bend and move around obstacles that life will inevitably present.
THE ORGAN SYSTEMS
The Wood Element expresses itself in the physical body through the organ systems of Liver and Gallbladder. Of note: because horses eat all the time there is no need to store bile like humans and thus horses do not have a Gallbladder. Regardless of this fact, the energetics of the equine Gallbladder system are equally important in Chinese Medicine. As you may recall from the previous blogs on the Metal and Water Elements, the associated organ systems of each element represent holistic networks that include the organs, channels for delivering Qi, their functions and attributes; very different from the way western allopathic medicine identifies, understands and works with specific organs. For instance, in TCM the Liver (capitalized as it refers to the holistic system) is considered the strategic planner of the body, or some use the metaphor of an army general or architect; and the Gallbladder is the decision maker or construction manager. Whereas the architect develops the vision for the new building she needs a decisive construction manager to make a myriad of important decisions and on the spot judgments to ensure the architect’s vision becomes manifested according to the plans.
The Liver and Gallbladder systems do not like extremes and it is the Wood Element’s job to ensure smooth flowing Qi (Chi) throughout the body. The Wood system is an important part of the body’s immune function. So when people and their horses get sick or have allergies during spring it is an indication that Liver/Gallbladder systems may be out of balance. Other physical symptoms of Wood imbalance include: eye issues, headaches, tendon/ligament/connective tissue issues, hoof issues and stiff/choppy movements.
SUPPORTING MORE HARMONY FOR YOUR HORSE
As guardian of your horse(s) what can you do to support more harmony during the Wood phase of spring?
The flavor attributed to the Wood phase is sour so incorporating sour into the diet** is good for Liver/Gallbladder. Examples of sour would be Apple Cider Vinegar, blackberries, grapefruit, lemon, lime.
Dandelion and Milk Thistle are great herbs for the Wood system during springtime. It’s easy around here to find dandelions for horses…they are very abundant in spring. For more information on herbs please check out https://harmanyequine.com/top-ten-herbs-starting/
Get your horse outside and moving. If you and your horse have not been very active over the winter please start slowly and gradually.
Introduce your horse to something new. Some fun ideas: try some R+ (positive reinforcement) or clicker training, explore being at liberty, introduce some Cavaletti exercises, practice in-hand work, or get playful and make up fun games together, etc.
If your horse regularly develops allergies or stiffness/tendon issues*** during the spring, you may want to consider proactively scheduling several sessions with a body-worker, acupuncturist, acupressure practitioner and/or chiropractor.
Sharing acupressure with your horse is a great way to help him/her feel good and deepen your connection. Please check out the brief acupressure videos I have on my YouTube page. The newest video is a perfect point for spring https://youtu.be/TkwdHKquKq4
SUPPORTING MORE HARMONY FOR YOURSELF
Finally, spring is a great time to renew yourself! Hopefully during the darkness of winter you spent some time envisioning what you desire in the coming year. Supporting your Wood element will help you manifest and reach your goals. Here are a few ideas to help you smoothly transition through spring:
Focus intentionally on what needs to be renewed or refreshed in your life, your home, in your relationships, your job, and with your horse(s).
Release the winter heaviness through spring-cleaning. Our homes (and barns) always feel lighter after a good deep cleaning.
Get organized! Being organized always helps us make better decisions and prevents frustration. Pick one area to start…maybe it is that hall closet that is the family dump zone. Or, start smaller and simply organize one drawer at a time in your kitchen.
Lighten up on your diet. Add in more greens and definitely drink more water (but avoid the ice).
Get moving! Move with your horse and make it fun. Get outside and take a walk…explore together. Or if you feel like trying something new this Qigong practice for springtime is the perfect place to start: https://youtu.be/TdSTlr1k4Aw
Benevolence, kindness, forgiveness and patience are all Wood element virtues. Any of these would be useful mantras to help return to harmony when feelings of frustration, impatience, and/or anger overtake us. I use the virtue of patience as a mantra to help me stay in harmony with my horse Romeo when he gets a bit nippy or pushy. In fact just the other day as I was trying to video us for my YouTube channel he was pushy and frustrated; he did not want any part of it. I calmly stepped away, took a couple deep breaths and reflected on being more patient. I then realized that I was being very rigid about capturing this video. I wanted it done then and so my energy was solely focused on completing it and not about being present with him. I returned to Romeo, thanked him for the reminder and left the barn. Over and over again Romeo reminds me about the lessons of Wood: that being present, patient, kind and extending forgiveness to others are some of the most important lessons in life. And yes, the video eventually got filmed.
I wish for you a spring that allows you to move and play with your horse; that opens you up to expansive energy; that helps you reach up and out toward your vision for the year; that encourages you to be flexible so that you can easily move around the obstacles of life.
Above all, I wish for you a spring that encourages you extend kindness to others, your horse(s) and, most importantly, yourself.
If you have questions or would like more information on Chinese Medicine or the Wood Element, please send me an email. If I can help your horse(s) this spring (or any time of year) please reach out.
The next part in our series will arrive this summer with the Element of Fire.
So, until then…
Be in harmony,
*Please note that this post (nor any post that you find here at Red Dog Ranch Equine LLC) does not provide or replace veterinary medical advice. If your horse needs medical attention please seek a licensed veterinarian.
**Please consult your veterinarian prior to making changes to your horse’s diet and/or incorporating integrative care into your horse’s health care.
***Always consult your veterinarian prior to initiating an integrative care for your horse. Always follow proper veterinary medical care and recommendations.
Five Element Archetypal Qigong and Jungian Psychotherapy: A Synthesis, Gold, Peter Meyer. Pacifica Graduate Institute, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2016.
Between Heaven and Earth, Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold, Ballantine Books, NY, 1991.
Wood Becomes Water, Gail Reichstein. Kodansha USA, Inc., 1998.
Elemental Acupressure https://www.elementalacupressure.com
Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute https://www.animalacupressure.com