On a bright, muddy morning in March 2020, I arrived for my animal communication and Reiki rounds at Summit Equestrian Center determined to put aside my anxieties about COVID-19.
But there’s no hiding stuff from a horse.
Opal, a 27-year-old Percheron, met me at the fence and came straight to the point: “Please don’t be afraid. There is love in this world.”
Did she understand the pandemic? Probably not. Had she heard conversations about a sickness going around among the humans? Probably. Did she sense their worries? Absolutely.
Opal knew about uncertainty. She and her buddy Pearl, about 30, were cast aside after years of hard work. That could easily have been the end for them. Instead, through a chain of humans who saw hope where no one else did, they found new purpose as therapy horses.
Before they passed last fall, both of them told me their last couple of years on this plane were better than they ever could have expected.
When it feels like there is anything but love in this world, I remember and treasure this.
Animals speak energy like a Ph.D. We speak energy like a kindergartner.
“You practice Reiki with animals? How does that work?”
Great question! Reiki is a Japanese stress relief modality, and relaxation helps the two-legged and four-legged alike feel and function better. While the benefits are the same, the methods of animal Reiki are different from the Reiki you’ll experience in human offices, hospitals, and spas.
I don’t invite the animal to hop up on a massage table (cats leave and horses laugh). The hand positions I learned in my “people” Reiki classes don’t apply, and that’s not because of different anatomies. Animals are much more sensitive to physical space and presence. Touch is unnecessary, even invasive, for them. A person can feel energy from the practitioner’s hands, but a horse can feel energy from a person standing across a pasture.
When I began studying animal Reiki years ago, I used the hand positions with my dog Ellie as I sat with her on the floor. If she had a hot spot on her foot, I lightly held her foot. More often than not, she’d get up and leave. I now understand that was too much for her. When I sat quietly and meditated — and better yet, ditched any expectation about the “problem” or what should happen — Ellie was more likely to come and lie down nearby.
My teacher, Kathleen Prasad, had a similar experience. That’s how she developed the Let Animals Lead® method I now practice. It puts the animals completely in charge of whether and how they participate in a Reiki session. They are free to decline. They can come closer, move away, sit, walk around, eat, sleep, etc. while the practitioner holds space in quiet meditation. Letting animals lead is important for a couple of reasons.
First, it respects the animals. They may have been abused, neglected, moved around, treated by veterinarians, or had their hooves worked on for the first time in years. Mind you — rescue efforts and veterinary treatment may be for their best and highest. So is the chance to choose.
That’s why I always ask for the animal’s permission before I begin. If I get a no, either telepathically or through body language, I thank the animal for letting me know and move on.
Second, how much more can animals relax when doing so is up to them? (Raise your hand if you relax on command. Didn’t think so.)
Every animal is different. Some will immediately come and lean on me or want to be petted; others soak in the energy from a distance. It works regardless.
I’ve worked with rescued horses who have rarely, if ever, had a chance to choose or say no to anything. One day a retired draft horse, recovering from trauma, decided he’d had enough Reiki and walked back into the shed. I thanked him and moved on to the chickens a few yards away. A short time later, he stuck his big head out of the shed and asked: “You got any more of that?” (I did.)
Another horse, recently rescued from a kill pen, declined the energy and moved away. A few minutes later, she came back to where I stood at the pasture fence and asked for more. This happened several times in the course of half an hour or so. She was astonished that interacting was her choice. The next time I saw her, I tentatively held up my hands, telling her I’d lower them or step away if she preferred. She placed her head in my hands and stood perfectly still. (The photo above is of her drifting into a post-session nap.)
Animals understand energy better than we do. A horse senses the presence of a predator in the distance. A cat curls up next to someone who is sick. The kids’ new puppy stays away from Mom because he’s the only one in the house who knows how angry she is.
Just don’t ask that puppy to stay still for the Reiki practitioner. He doesn’t have to … and Mom is welcome to join in.
The horse didn’t know he was moving that day, let alone why. He didn’t know what awaited him at the end of that trailer ride.
With each attempt to coax him down the ramp, he panicked more. Once the humans finally got him off the trailer and into a pen, he ran back and forth, stopping every so often to whinny.
The change may be for the best. It may even save his life. The horse still deserves to know what’s happening.
Some self-care and animal communication techniques can help both you and your horse through change. Here are two things to consider if you are moving, re-homing, selling, or rescuing a horse:
1. You set the tone.
Your horse already knows something’s up. Your handling it with kindness, and honesty matters more than you think.
Tell the animals you’re all moving to a great new home. Let the horse know she’s going to live with someone who can care for her better than you can right now, or where you think she’ll be happier. Picture the trailer ride, the new home, the new owner and friends, even the temporary safe space. Tell the animals who will stay behind what’s happening, too.
If you are moving a horse for rescue or evacuation, stay as calm as possible. Let him know his safety is your priority and he can help by trusting you … even just a tiny bit.
2. Help is available. Please ask.
Fellow horse owners can be great sources of support. If you need to borrow something or you’re dealing with some major manure (literal or otherwise), help is probably closer than you think.
I can help by communicating the situation to your horse and listening to what he needs. I can support him, you, and the other animals with Reiki, a wonderful stress reduction modality. Both of these also work from a distance and can bring greater peace of mind to even the hardest transitions.
Most importantly: If you are having trouble caring for your animals, please reach out to your vet or a reputable rescue or animal welfare agency. They’d rather help you now than deal with a more serious situation down the road.