Reiki, Horses, and the Art of Listening

By Rose O’Connor

            The horse is gentle, instinctive, grounded, strong, swift, and knowing. When we work with a horse, we ask him/her to listen to our language, often through the use of our voice, our legs, and sometimes with whips or spurs. We usually have an agenda, whether it be training, teaching, or even trail riding. Yet how often do we truly stop to just listen, to hear what they have to say, to learn a language that is as old as time?

This past spring, I was fortunate enough to attend an Energy Healing for horses workshop conducted by Anna Twinney of Reach out to Horses, LLC.  I spent many years in a career with horses, and have since moved on to teach and give Reiki.  Taking this workshop would mean a chance to combine the two; a love for horses and a love for Reiki healing.  Little did I know how much I would receive, from both Anna and the horses. The experience is still resonating within me, months later, for it was there, under Anna’s guidance, that I began to learn to listen to horses on a deeper level than I knew existed.

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Anna Twinney has been instrumental in the promotion and development of the natural horsemanship movement.  While her love of horses began in childhood, her direction became evident after spending one year at Flags Up Farms in California, a ranch owned by Monty Roberts.   Anna gave up her career in England as a police officer to work full-time for the Monty Roberts International Learning Center, where she also trained under her mentor, Crawford Hall[1]. There she became the first head instructor for the MRILC.  Anna became an integral part of the development team at Monty’s, and the originator of several of his courses.[2]

For two weekends, I had the privilege of watching and listening to Anna, first at the Denver Horse Expo and then at a workshop in Littleton, Colorado, which was held at Happy Dog Ranch, a non-profit facility that offers a home to horses, alpacas, sheep, dogs, and other rescue animals.  Happy Dog provides educational, vocational, and therapeutic programs for people of all ages and backgrounds.[3] This workshop was called Energy Healing for Horses, but most of the participants were trained in Reiki.  After several full days of listening to Anna and working with her and the horses, I began to fully understand the measure of her mission in life.  Her Divine purpose is to give horses a voice. Anna is an internationally acclaimed natural horsemanship clinician and trainer, and an animal communicator. She is also an Usui/Holy Fire and Karen® Reiki Master with many years of experience giving Reiki to horses and teaching others to do the same.

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Reiki, pronounced Ray key, is a method of healing energy that reduces stress and promotes healing, both for animals and their humans.  A Reiki practitioner has been trained and attuned to the energy of Reiki, which then flows naturally through the palms of the hands. Reiki can never do harm and is very gentle, yet powerfully effective. Reiki reduces stress, alleviates pain, speeds up the natural healing process, helps heal emotional wounds and relieves anxiety, all of which can be useful for the horse. It can also help animals in transition.  Reiki is used in over 800 hospitals in America and its use is growing exponentially around the world.[4]

When offering Reiki to the horse, Anna explains, we are merely the servants of the horse, just as we are servants of Reiki. We are the conduit for the energy.  And in order to be that conduit, we must allow our ego and personality to step aside in order to give way to the horse’s voice. He or she cannot speak to us in the same way another human can, and we cannot hear him/her with just our ears. We must learn to listen with all of our senses, and feel from our hearts, because the horse’s language comes from their heart. Their language is clear and purposeful and rich. It is quite possibly more sophisticated than our own.

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Before we go outside to have our first encounter with a horse and do chakra balancing, I strengthen my light with Reiki.  I bring Reiki into my heartspace and set an intention for clear communication and pure Reiki to flow through me for the remainder of this day. Many of the other students in this class have just finished Reiki Level I and II with Anna over the previous two days, and they bring much enthusiasm to sharing this newfound gift with the horses.

But first we must learn to dance. As Anna explains, when offering Reiki to a horse, the horse is the one choreographing and leading the dance, and we must learn to follow.  The language of the horse is visual, it is energetic, and it is spoken through body language. We must learn to see as the horse sees; to be visually aware of every nuance from him and from his surroundings. We must open energetically to sense what is happening to the horse and to the space around us. And we must learn to read the horse’s body language, which can be as soft as the whisper or as loud as the shout.

Introductions      

          Our conversation with the horse begins as soon as we arrive and set our intention for working with the animals. They know we are here before we even walk out to the paddock area to put halters on. As we engage with them initially, it is appropriate to introduce ourselves to the animal we will be working with that day and give him or her a few strokes in greeting. The first horse I was to work with was already waiting at the gate.  We locked eyes and the connection was immediate.  Even though many of us have been around horses for a long time, Anna brings alive a sense, an inner knowing, that there is much more here for us to discern than we’ve ever imagined.  My horse’s name was Kiwi, a bay gelding, and my partner for the Chakra Balancing work was Tom from California.

Kiwi, Tom and I were the first to arrive at the outdoor arena. We were waiting for instruction from Anna to begin, but Kiwi had other ideas. She began to gently nudge my hands, not looking for a treat, but feeling the Reiki energy and letting me know she was ready for Reiki right now! She seemed to be saying, “What’s the holdup?”

Always ask permission

            When giving Reiki to humans, we must always ask permission. The same is true with the horse, but in this case, we must ask permission both from the owner and from the horse themselves. In this case, we already had the permission from the owner of Happy Dog Ranch, and so now it was up to us to ask Kiwi’s permission.

My partner Tom and I began, as instructed by Anna, by introducing ourselves, and asking Kiwi, by name, if he would like to receive Reiki today.  We held out our hands, palms down, and allowed Reiki to flow through. Then our immediate job was to observe what Kiwi did, both energetically, visually and through body language. If he turned or walked away that would probably be a no, but not always. The conversation is ongoing and subtle. He might need a few moments to think it over before he decides either way. If he licked and smelled our hands, or if he stepped forward or put his weight on his left leg, we could read that as an initial yes for Reiki. Yet, unlike us humans who often live in our heads, horses live in the present moment, so when he says yes, it means yes for right now, but in ten minutes, he might be saying no.  This teaches us to hone our senses and our intuition, which is guided by Reiki, and stay connected to the moment at hand.  If we aren’t sure it’s a yes or no, we can use the Sway test, a simple form of muscle testing that will allow us to speak to Kiwi’s higher Self.

The Sway Test

  1. Plant your feet firmly. Be sure you are on level ground.
  2. Imagine that you are growing roots that extend from the bottom of your feet down into the earth.
  3. Clear your mind, take a deep breath, and ask the Higher Self of the horse if they would like Reiki (or healing energy if you are not attuned to Reiki).
  4. After a moment or two, your body will distinctly move either forward or backwards. Forward is a yes; backwards is a no.
  5. If you don’t move, reconnect and try again. Usually you will get a clear answer almost immediately.

When using the sway test, your muscles will automatically react.

Chakras

Tom and I observed that Kiwi stepped forward with her left leg, smelled our hands, and gave us both a yes on the sway test.  Our next job was to check the chakras. As with humans, horses have seven major chakras that run along their spine and an eighth, the brachial chakra, runs along the horse’s scapula to the point of shoulder. Chakras are spinning wheels or vortexes of energy that “are organizing centers for the reception, assimilation, and transmission of life energies.”[5]  We are all made of energy and this energy can sometimes become blocked or stagnant in certain areas, which can cause pain or dysfunction. Chakras interact with the body’s nervous system and endocrine system.[6]  If a horse is holding something physically or emotionally in their body, it can and will affect their health, attitude, performance, and wellbeing.

Anna has guided us to check the chakras on our horse using a pendulum, which in this case is a crystal  attached to a small chain. We hold the end of the chain and place the pendulum over the horse’s chakra. When the pendulum comes into contact with the chakra, it tends to spin, because the chakra itself is spinning or swirling and the pendulum will follow the flow of energy.[7]  The pendulum responds to the electromagnetic frequency of the chakra, so if the chakra is open, the pendulum will swing freely in a clockwise direction.[8]

Anna teaches us three methods of testing the chakras with our pendulum.We can hold the pendulum directly over the horse’s chakras, if this method is available to us. The second method is to hold our own hand over each chakra, with the pendulum in the other hand.  The third method of checking the horse’s chakras is a more intuitive method but equally as effective. It involves holding the pendulum over your own hand and asking the horse’s Higher Self to show you each chakra’s movement. Tom and I tested all three methods of checking the chakras and found most of Kiwi’s chakras open, though the third eye was less open and Tom was guided to work on Kiwi’s solar plexus chakra (see diagram).

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Location of the chakras on a horse

We took turns offering Reiki to Kiwi, while the other person held him loosely. Kiwi was, as Anna pointed out later, very subtle in his responses but no pushover.  He moved forward to show Tom he wanted Reiki near his solar plexus chakra. When I placed one hand over his heart chakra at the wither and slid my other hand toward the middle of his chest, the second heart point, he stood quietly for a few minutes, then showed me by turning his head toward me that he preferred my front hand on his brachial chakra instead of his chest. Kiwi settled in for Reiki in this area, seeming as though he could stay all day, but just as I’d had this thought, he shifted his weight and moved away to let me know he was finished, at least for the moment.

Anna tells us that sometimes horses need a break. They may take hands on Reiki for a few minutes, then want to move, only to return for more.  Or sometimes at the beginning of a session it just takes the horse a few minutes to settle into the treatment. Kiwi showed us some of the registers that he was accepting Reiki; his ears were at half mast, he licked and chewed, his eyes became half closed and his breathing changed.

What IS a Reiki Register? 

Registers are movements, or actions the horse makes that tells us that we are connecting with them in a positive way.  They are the way the horse speaks to us. These registers act as responders to our treatment and let us know that the horse is enjoying the treatment.  Signs that the horse is finished or that the energy may be too intense in one area can include things like turning their head towards you, nipping at your sleeve, walking away, pinning the ears or swishing their tail, trying to kick, moving away from your touch, or even more intense reactions, if we aren’t paying attention.  If we miss the whisper we may get the shout!  We need to be mindful when working with any animal that our antenna is tuned to a different station than usual.  If we wish to work with them and understand their language, the language of love, we must be aware of the world as it appears through their eyes.

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The following list contains many of these registers that let us know that the horse is receiving, processing and accepting Reiki.

  1. Ears half mast
  2. Eyes: half closed, glazed, softening of the eyes
  3. Nostrils slightly flared but relaxed
  4. Mouth relaxed; lower lip drooping down
  5. Licking chewing, sighing, blowing through nose
  6. Head dropping forward
  7. Weight on left leg in front
  8. Skin softening
  9. More gut sounds than usual; deeper breathing
  10. One hip dropped and toe rolled over
  11. Soft tail; passing gas
  12. Gelding or stallion may drop

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Bringing our session to a close

          We finish this session with the Bladder sweep. We must remain mindful that all parts of this session are being orchestrated by the horse, so we can do the sway test to ask the horse if he wants the bladder sweep, or read his body language and visual signs. We don’t impose anything on the horse with Reiki; we ask and we listen. In this listening process, we will be switching out of our role as trainers. While we don’t want to get ourselves into trouble or allow the horse to hurt us or someone else, we are now asking the horse to speak to us. So if, for example, a horse reaches around and nips you on the elbow when you are giving Reiki on his shoulder, this is not the time to yell or smack or otherwise correct him. Reiki energy can be quite intense for a horse, and he may be telling you he doesn’t like it there, or it is too much for him. If we ask the horse to communicate with us and then correct him when he does so, we are shutting down the communication and the healing. By all means move out of the way and do not get hurt, but as Anna tells us, this is exactly why we must learn to hear the whisper, so that the horse does not have to shout to get our attention.  This subtle language is an art that Anna has mastered over many years of listening, and it is truly a fascinating journey.

The bladder sweep begins at the third eye chakra, keeping both the hands together, lightly sweeping over the top of the horse’s poll all along his spine to his rump and down his back leg to his fetlock. The bladder sweep runs along the bladder meridian and acts as a way of connecting the energy of the horse’s body at the end of the session, as well as smoothing the aura. (a picture of the bladder sweep would be nice here).

          Just like the rest of our session is up to the horse, the time to end the session is up to him/her also. As we work with the animal, we continue to check in with the sway test periodically to ask if they want more Reiki or if they are finished with Reiki healing at this time.  We never want to assume that we know more than the horse. He/she is the ultimate judge of what is best for them in terms of Reiki energy. We ask, we watch, we listen.

Anna explains that once we start to give a horse Reiki, we better be prepared to continue giving it, no matter how long the session may last. It may be ten minutes or it may be two hours, yet once we’ve entered into this Reiki agreement with a horse, we are bound to stay until the horse is finished.  As long as the horse is giving us registers, signs of activity that they are loving the energy there, we stay as long as they ask for it.

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Horses can teach us so much about ourselves through sharing energy healing with them. They teach us about unconditional love in its purest form. In part two of this article,  the Love Lessons and the full treatment, I will share more of the magic that unfolded in our Reiki for Horses class with Anna Twinney.

Most of this article was first published in the 2015 Summer and Fall issues of the Reiki News Magazine.”

My info:  Rose O’Connor, Usui/ Holy Fire Karuna® Reiki Master teacher, offering classes in PA, Colorado and England.  Phone: 484-318-9380, email: rose@rockymountainreiki.com,  website: www.rockymountainreiki.com

[1] Twinney, Anna; “Reach out to horses”; http://www.reachouttohorses.com/background.html#crawford; accessed 4/14/15

[2] Twinney, Anna; “Reach out to horses”; http://www.reachouttohorses.com/background.html#anna; accessed 4/14/15

[3] Happy Dog Ranch Foundation, Inc.; http://www.happydogranch.org; accessed 4/6/15

[4]  http://www.centerforreikiresearch.org; accessed 6/16/15

[5]Judith, Anodea. Wheels of Life, 2014.

[6] Pope, Timothy. http://www.healingfromtheheart.co.uk/69701.html, accessed 6/21/15

[7] Quest, Penelope. Self Healing with Reiki, 2003, pp.46

[8] Dale, Cyndi. Advanced Chakra Healing, 2005, pp. 186

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