When part of the body is not working, it is all too easy to reduce the whole body to just that one body-part. Conventional medicine works that way. The disease or the injury becomes the focus of all attention, treatment is aimed at that one part of your body and most likely the doctor you visit is also specialised in that specific area. The danger is that this specialist only sees the area they are specialised in. Focused on their chosen area of expertise, the actual person behind the disease or injury recedes into the background or becomes invisible. I have experienced that myself. Sometimes it doesn’t bother me. My grandfather lost his eyesight due to Glaucoma. I have high eye pressure, which is one of the risk factors for Glaucoma, so once every two years I go to an eye-specialist to get my eyes tested. The specialist is a busy man, and he has no interest in me as a person. To him I am just another pair of eyes, patient number x, that he has to run a few tests on, which he does. I get the result after 15 minutes and then I go home and that’s fine.
There are times though when such a reductionist attitude is definitely not fine. To be reduced to a defect body part when you have a chronic or long-term illness is demeaning. The difference is that things like a simple eye-test or a dental check-up doesn’t really affect your life, whereas a chronic illness runs through your life like a current and can have a major impact on the quality of your life. The reverse is also often true, what happens in your life has an impact on your health. We are more than the sum of our body-parts. That is why I prefer a more holistic approach to health, where the whole person, body and soul, is taken into account, not just the injury or illness.
However, where Minnie was concerned I fell in the reductionist trap without realising it and I became totally focussed on her leg injuries. I have dragged Minnie out on several occasions to have her leg scanned, I have had her assessed for possible damage to her hind quarters after I found out that she’d had a fall and she has had all kinds of treatment. In spite of all that, Minnie did not improve; the suspensory ligament is still inflamed, she was losing movement in her left hind leg and she was getting depressed. It was as if a bell went off in my head. What was I doing? Wasn’t Minnie much more to me than the sum of her parts? This has gone on far too long, now it was time to let go. As long as I can take pain out of the equation, my hopes and wishes are irrelevant. If the injuries heal, they can do so in their own time, if not, then so be it.
I spent some time watching Minnie as she wandered around the land, grazing and browsing the hedgerows. Now that I wasn’t concentrating on lameness, I noticed that she seemed stiff, a general kind of stiffness, there was no fluidity to her movement at all. And she was slow as if she was lacking in energy. I wasn’t the only one watching; Minnie was watching me too. Her eye was on me while she was grazing and every now and then she would stop and face me and she would just stand and look at me. Or she would come up to where I was sitting and nudge me.
I decided to try some massage on her. I could have studied a book and try to put something together that might be helpful with her injuries, but I didn’t. Instead, I started to massage her intuitively and let her body and her reactions guide me. Minnie is very particular about her personal space and I always wait until I feel she has let me in before I move in close to her. She is very subtle about it and her signs are easy to miss, but years of waiting for her to let me into her space now helped me to find the areas of her body where she enjoyed the massage and where she did not want to be touched.
Minnie is not an affectionate mare in the sense that she doesn’t really like to be touched. She is very vocal and always shows her pleasure in seeing me with a deep, throaty chuckle and if I wait for her to come to me she will greet me with an exchange of breaths. She is not fond of grooming either and when I groom her I have to show her the brushes first so she can smell them and touch them with her muzzle. Otherwise she’ll get upset. I had never seen her engage in mutual grooming with another horse either. But she is loving the massage.
My high headed mare is standing with her head low and her eyes half closed as my hands go over her entire body, pausing where it feels right and continuing on when it doesn’t. I massage her atlas with circling movements of my finger tips, her shoulder in long downward strokes with the heel of my hand and I run my hands down her legs, one hand on the inside and the other on the outside in a zigzagging motion all the way down to the ground. I’m getting some incredible releases, Minnie yawns and yawns and yawns. I run my hands under her belly and along her back simultaneously. I pick up her legs and make tiny circular movements with her feet and then gently put them down again. The door of the stable is open so Minnie could leave if she wants, but she doesn’t move. When I’m finished I sit down in the stable. More yawning. I feel very relaxed myself. Minnie turns around and licks my hands, lick, lick, lick for several minutes. She rests her head against my body. Then she moves away, into the back of the stable. I watch her as she drifts off. Then I leave.