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  • Writer's pictureSam MacLean

The Five Elements And Your Horse - Part 5 Earth

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

This is the final post in 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 previous four blog posts:

Part 5 - The Earth Element

Hopefully by now you are beginning to tune into the various elements and sense the changes as we move from one season to the next. Late summer, the element of Earth, is no different. You probably have noticed the change in the sunlight, especially late in the day as the sun descends toward the horizon. There are even some trees with leaves that are beginning to fade. The evenings are a little cooler and in the mornings we are seeing some fog accumulating in low areas on our property. These are signs that we have moved way past the peak external, yang, of summer and are now beginning our gradual descent toward the more internal, yin, nature of the latter part of the year.

In Chinese Medicine the Earth Element is an important component of the Five Element theory as it represents the center axis of life. And yet, late summer is not truly a season like winter, spring, summer and fall. If we view the Five Elements as phases and not as fixed phenomena, we can experience the dynamic movements that take place as one element transforms into the next. Looking through the lens of transformation, we experience the Earth Element throughout the year in a few different phases: 1) during the late summer or harvest time, as we are now; 2) during a short time period at the end of each of the other elements as they transform into the next element; and, 3) during a couple days before and after each of the equinoxes/solstices. The ideal visual for looking at the Five Elements (Transformations) this way can be seen in the diagram above, with the Earth Element in the center and the other elements pivoting around its stable center.

I personally love viewing the Five Elements this way. Everything in nature happens at a steady pace that evolves over time. We are not in spring one day and then in summer the next. Rather, nature gradually transforms from one season to the next, each element reaches its peak and then gradually transforms again into the next. I have also noticed in my five decades of life that there are regular times throughout the year where returning to center, getting grounded, nourishing myself and accepting where I am in life allows me to open up to and make room for the next phase. This is the element of Earth, the transition phase of life.

SEASON: LATE SUMMER The season of Late Summer includes harvest time, approximately mid-August through the first frost. It is a season of transition, transforming from the most yang (active and external) time of year, summer, to the more yin (quiet and internal) time of year beginning with autumn. During Late Summer, as the energy begins its decline, the plants and fruits complete their ripening and are ready for harvest. A productive summer generates a bountiful harvest, which allows for plenty of crops to be stored away so that food and forage will offer plenty of nourishment through the fall and winter. A healthy Earth Element in Late Summer creates a sense of abundance. This season of transition is also the time of year when kids return to school; when we are all typically transitioning from a more relaxed summer pace, or “vacation mode”, to more of an intense “work mode”.

EARTH AS MOTHER Gail Reichstein, in her book Wood Becomes Water, begins the chapter on the Earth Element with this sentence: “Earth is the mother of life.” The archetype of mother earth runs deep in human history and for good reason. Earth is our home, our nourishment, our sustenance, our comfort and our patient provider. Earth is the stable center. When we were babies, our own mothers could be described in the same way. In fact the perfect image of the Earth Element is a nursing baby, with the mother providing love and nourishment, everything the infant needs to live and thrive.

In times of chaos and transformation, what do we do? We go home to family. We eat “comfort foods”. We snuggle under blankets. We seek security. Essentially, we mother ourselves. We also know to nurture others in need. When others are hurting we reach out with care and compassion. The emotion of the Earth Element is sympathy. And when we are balanced in our Earth Element, sympathy is expressed spontaneously, like comforting a sick child or friend in need without thought of “what’s in it for me?” And yet, when our Earth Element is out of balance it can manifest in distinct ways. The sympathy may take on an exaggeration to the point of worry and obsessive thoughts/rumination. There may also be a complete lack of sympathy and compassion; or “over-mothering” where the recipient feels smothered; or embodying the “martyr”, who mothers everyone with no boundaries or consideration for his/her own needs and then is full of resentment later.

ORGAN SYSTEMS The Earth Element expresses itself in the physical body through the organ systems of the Spleen (including the pancreas) and the Stomach. As you may recall from the previous blog posts, in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) these associated organ systems represent a holistic network that includes the organs, along with channels for delivering Qi, broader functions, attributes and energetics. It is a very different way of seeing the functions of organs than the way western allopathic medicine identifies, understands and works with a more narrow, mechanical view of organs. In Chinese Medicine the Spleen and Stomach, as a team, provide nourishment and fuel to our body and all the various systems of the body.

When the Earth Element organs (Spleen and Stomach) are healthy and in harmony in an animal/human body, the muscles are supple and have the energy needed to support the body, limbs and movement; the organs remain in their proper positions; food is digested well; there is a healthy balance of blood sugar; and there is enough energy to sustain every day life without worry of lack or scarcity. On a mental and emotional level, when the Earth Element is in harmony the horse or human is able to share from of a sense of abundance with others and equally receive love, empathy and sympathy from others. They feel grounded, stable and centered; and they know how to nourish themselves. However, when these systems are out of balance physically the horse or human may be significantly overweight, struggle with diabetes or insulin resistance or metabolic issues, experience digestive issues, prolapsed organs, edema, and poor muscling, to mention a few examples. On a mental/emotional level, the Earth imbalance may show up as extreme worry, OCD and rumination, the inability to feel sympathy or being overly caring, sluggishness, extreme stubbornness, or even hoarding (the feeling of never having enough).

A helpful analogy for the balance needed to maintain a healthy digestive system, keeping the Earth Element in harmony is to think of a beautiful pile of compost in the garden. A rich, fertile compost pile is one where everything has been “digested”, it has that amazing earthy scent and there is an even feeling of dampness, where the compost could stick together if squeezed into a ball. A good compost pile needs a particular balance of heat, moisture and dry material for everything to decompose. In an unhealthy compost pile it may stink, you may see material that has not been fully “cooked” and there may be some mold, meaning there is stagnation and too much dampness in the pile, which has prevented enough heat to fully “cook” everything. In the other extreme, a compost pile with not enough moisture will be dry and crumbly, with little scent and the materials may not have decomposed well due to lack of heat. The balance needed in the compost pile is similar to the balance needed in our own digestive system. Too much cold, fat and sugar may cause stagnation, and too much dampness, may cause gas, bloating, edema or phlegm. Think about this when your pony is grazing all day on a super rich pasture or when you dive into a big bowl of your favorite ice-cream. It is all about finding the healthy and nourishing, and balanced center for each of us as individuals.

SUPPORTING MORE HARMONY As Guardian Of Your Horse(s) What Can You Do To Support More Harmony During The Earth Phase? Consider Some Of These Suggestions:

  • The flavor attributed to the Earth Element is sweet**. But this does not mean sugar is good/healthy for you or your horse. The flavor of sweet refers to sweet whole foods like: apples, bananas, barley, carrots, kale, melons, pears, pumpkin, squash, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, and whole grains like oats and barley. The sweet flavor is nourishing to the Spleen and Stomach systems. Be mindful of feeding your horse fruits like apples and pears: do so in moderation (occasional treats) as they are very dense and may contribute to excess conditions of Earth, especially in horses that have Earth imbalances. Please note that if your horse is IR (insulin resistant) or has PPID or bouts of laminitis or weight issues, please consult your veterinarian about appropriate sweet flavored whole foods.

  • Digestion begins with the mouth and for horses this means having healthy and balanced mouth and teeth are very important. Please ensure your horse receives regular care by a qualified equine dentist.

  • Sharing acupressure with your horses is a great way to help them regain their natural harmony and vitality while also deepening your connection. Please check out the brief acupressure videos on my YouTube page***. The newest video is a perfect point for the Earth Element:

Finally, late summer is the ideal time to evaluate how you are nurturing and nourishing both yourself and your horses so that you all will be ready when the weather turns cold. Here are a few ideas to help you make the most of this season. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do I nourish myself? My horse(s)? Other loved ones?

  • How am I eating? Am I rushed? Eating in front of the TV? Or am I relaxed and eating mindfully, thoroughly chewy each bite of food before swallowing?

  • What am I mentally digesting? Am I watching the news for hours on end that makes me worry about the future? Am I watching horror movies that create anxiety? Am I scrolling through social media right before bed? Or am I mentally digesting interesting books and documentaries that keep me learning and expanding myself or perhaps selecting calming music before bed?

  • Are there things that I ruminate or obsess about that distract me from other things/people/animals that I hold dear?

  • Where am I feeling most stable and centered in my life? How can I build on that so that I can feel grounded in other areas of my life?

  • What areas of my life are bearing fruit? In the areas of life where I feel most abundant, is there opportunity for me to give back to someone in need/support?

  • Thinking ahead to autumn, are there areas of life that I need to adjust? Are there habits or practices that no longer nurture me and/or my horse? What can I begin preparing for now so that I can “let it go” this fall?

My wish is that you feel grounded, stable and abundant during this beautiful time of year. Being able to experience your center and the strength and stability of your mind-body-emotions will go a long way to preparing you and your horses for the cold, dark and more inward seasons of fall and winter. It has been an absolute pleasure to connect with you over the last year as we explored the nature of each of the Five Elements. I hope experiencing them in a new way has enabled you and your horse to move from phase to phase with balance, joy and vitality knowing that you both are growing and transforming along the way. I encourage you to re-visit these posts as needed to help you be more mindful during each season with the goal of creating more physical-mental-emotional harmony in your life and the lives of your horses.

Please follow me on Facebook and Instagram (@rdrequine) for lots of posts and information on Chinese Medicine and helping your horses live a life full of joy, harmony and vitality. Another way to stay in touch and continue your learning is to sign-up for my quarterly toolkit. Four times a year you will receive helpful tools to keep your horses healthy and in harmony with the world around them. Sign up here:

If you have any questions or would like more information on Chinese Medicine or the Earth Element, please send me an email. If I can help your horse(s) during this harvest time of year please reach out. Be in harmony, Sam

Resources: Nourishing Destiny, Lonny S. Jarrett, Spirit Path Press, Stockbridge, MA, 2009. Between Heaven and Earth, Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold, Ballantine Books, NY, 1991. Wood Becomes Water, Gail Reichstein. Kodansha USA, Inc., 1998. Elemental Acupressure Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute The Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture

*Please note that this post (nor any work 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.

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