Category: Articles

How to Breathe with Your Horse

How to Breathe with Your Horse


Originally published in the June 2011 issue of From the Horse’s Mouth


You rush into the barn after a killer day at work, after being caught in traffic or missing your train or having to listen to loud-talkers on their cell phones when all you wanted to do was try to relax. You don’t have much time to ride now, darn it, so you dash around the barn at top speed, throwing on your riding clothes, silently cursing the fellow boarder who stops to tell you a (not very interesting) story about her or his horse or dog or child. Ordinarily, you would love to stop and chat, but not today. You smile weakly, nod in fake agreement, silently counting the minutes of riding that you are missing, computing how long it will take you to get back home so you can shower, eat something, pay some bills, and get ready for tomorrow, to start all over again.

Or maybe your horses live on your property, which means you won’t have to drive home after you ride, but you will have to feed and muck and fill the water tank and sweep the aisle, and what is that, a loose fence board?

Maybe neither of these scenarios rings true. But you get the idea: Sometimes when you go to ride, you’re stressed.

Horses being horses, the more hurried you are, the slower they move. And the more stressed you are, the less cooperative they are. They’re trying to tell us something, but too often we’re just not listening.

Because a stressed ride is rarely an enjoyable ride, it’s a good idea to calm yourself before attempting to communicate with your horse. You could take your horse for a short, relaxing walk in hand before mounting up; if you have been trained in Reiki, you could do self-Reiki for a few minutes, and then share a few minutes of Reiki with your horse; if you practice meditation, you could calm and center yourself with a few minutes of meditation.

What all of these approaches have in common is that you are slowing your breath, letting go of distractions, and refocusing your attention on your equine companion, on the calm, the peace, the fullness of heart that just being together can bring.

If you don’t already have an approach for finding this calm center, I would like to teach you a very simple and effective one: Breathing with your horse.


Softening Your Hands

The first step is to soften your hands. To do this, pretend you are gently pulling taffy. Start with the fingertips of your left hand touching the fingertips of your right hand. Then gently pull your hands apart. Repeat this slow, gentle motion until your hands, wrists, and arms are relaxed. Four or five repetitions will probably be enough.

Remember to breathe as you do this. Humans often hold their breath when they are learning something new or concentrating too intently. Let your mind go; relax. Pull the taffy, gently, slowly.

Pulling Taffy


Placing Your Hands on Your Horse

Remember that whenever you touch your horse (or dog or cat or child or spouse—any other being), you are joining your nervous systems. This is why touch from an agitated person can be so unnerving and why touch from a calm, centered person can be so soothing.  As you know, horses are extremely sensitive to touch, so you want to make sure you are sharing calm, nourishing touch.

Once your hands are soft, place them on your horse’s body. You can place them wherever you like: The ribcage area is probably easiest, but you can also place your hands on your horse’s back or neck or chest or girth area (or one hand on one area, one hand on another). Just be sure you are in a comfortable position.

Make sure your hands are actually on your horse, not just resting on her hair, which can tickle and annoy her. And be sure your hands are not gripping your horse. You want soft, firm, calming hands.

Your horse may move away from your touch, especially if he is trained to move away from pressure, which can be frustrating when you are trying something new. But be patient. Once your horse understands what you are doing, which may not happen the first time you try this, he will both enjoy and appreciate it.

Soft Hands on Ribcage


Breathing with Your Horse

You’ve softened your hands and placed them on your horse; now all that’s left to do is breathe. Yes, I know you’ve been breathing all along!  But now you will slow and deepen your breath.

Try breathing from your abdomen. As you inhale (yes inhale), let your abdomen fill with air like a rubber ball; as you exhale, allow your abdomen to flatten. Find a comfortable, slow rhythm. Keep your hands soft; breathe.

You may be able to synchronize your breath with your horse’s breath (although this can be easier with a dog, where you can feel the rising and falling of the creature’s chest and sides). But whether or not you can feel your horse’s breath, your horse will be able to feel yours.

If you keep your hands soft and breathe deeply and slowly, you will find that the anxiety of the day will evaporate; within minutes, you and your horse will be one.

Your horse will be grateful for your calm and loving presence. And you will be in a better frame of mind to enjoy your ride.


Copyright 2011, by Pam Sourelis




What is Reiki and How Can it Help Your Horse (or Your Dog or Your Cat or You)?

What is Reiki and How Can it Help Your Horse (or Your Dog or Your Cat or You)?

Originally published in the September/October 2010 issue of The Sentinel: Voice of the Horse Industry in the Midwest


I stumbled onto Reiki about ten years ago. I’d never even heard of Reiki prior to that, but once I learned about it, I thought it might be a good addition to the Neuromuscular Retraining work I do with animals. “A good addition” turned out to be a major understatement. I had no idea what a powerful and versatile approach to healing Reiki would prove to be.

First, a definition: Reiki (pronounced ráy-key) is a healing practice that promotes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance. Reiki treatments can be done in person or from a distance. Reiki is not a religion or belief system, and it works in conjunction with—and enhances—all other medical and therapeutic techniques. Reiki can never cause harm; it can only be used for healing.

There appears to have been a steady increase of interest in Reiki over the past few years, especially among animal lovers. This is wonderful news because animals are very open to this type of healing; they don’t question whether it is really happening; they just gratefully accept it—often with dramatic results.

Reputable Reiki practitioners do not diagnose illness.

Let me start out by saying that reputable Reiki practitioners do not diagnose illness. I periodically get calls from distraught animal owners who tell me their horse (or dog or cat) is ill and that they don’t know why and don’t know what to do. My answer is always the same: Call your veterinarian. This is because Reiki practitioners are not veterinarians and are not qualified to diagnose disease or the effects of physical injury.

However, Reiki is a powerful healing modality and an extremely effective complement to veterinary medicine.
Here’s a story. Some years ago, I arrived at the barn where my horse was boarded and found the owner in a frantic call to her vet. Her mare had been in the pasture enjoying the beautiful summer day when she’d suddenly begun violently shaking. The woman, I’ll call her Anne, had brought her horse into the barn, noticed that the horse’s gums were white, took her temperature, which was elevated by three or four degrees, and immediately called her veterinarian.
When Anne got off the phone, I asked if she wanted me to give her mare Reiki while she waited for the vet. She did. I went into the stall with Anne and gently placed my hands on the horse. Within seconds, the horse stopped shaking; within a minute, the color returned to her gums. After several minutes, Anne took the horse’s temperature again; it had dropped two degrees.

The veterinarian arrived a short time later, examined the horse, and couldn’t find anything wrong. No one was ever sure what exactly had triggered the episode. But Anne and I—and I’m sure her mare—were grateful that the Reiki had so quickly helped the mare’s body to alleviate the shock and to lower the elevated temperature.

Here’s another story. My horse, Nikos, had gotten a tetanus shot, and the next day he had a baseball sized knot at the injection site. The barn owner (different barn) was mucking stalls, and so I was talking to her while I held my hand over the knot, sharing Reiki but not paying much attention, just passing the time on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

After a few minutes, I noticed that the knot felt substantially smaller. I moved my hand, and sure enough, the knot had shrunk by about two-thirds. I couldn’t quite believe this myself, and so I said, “Hey, Sue, take a look at this. Is the knot smaller, or am I just imagining things?”

I’d only been at Sue’s barn for a week, and she hadn’t known much about Reiki up to that point, but when her mouth fell open in disbelief and she softly demanded to know how I’d done that, I figured she was seeing the same results I was. (This incident so convinced her of the power of Reiki that she went on to take both my Level I and Level II Reiki class so that, as a barn owner, she would have this tool in her toolbox, so to speak.)

Reiki can also be used to relieve the symptoms of stomach upset or colic (while you’re waiting for the vet), to reduce pain and swelling from overexertion, and to accelerate the healing process after any injury or surgery.

About six years ago, my Nikos stepped on my little dog Elika and dislocated her wrist. The veterinarian told me it was a bad dislocation and that she might never be totally sound. In any event it would take several months to heal. Because there was so much swelling, he put her leg in a soft cast, and instructed me to bring her back in three days so that he could put a hard cast on.

Over the course of those three days, I shared Reiki with Elika several times a day. When we returned to the vet for the hard cast, he was very surprised to discover that Elika no longer needed it. (I told him why, but . . .)  He warned me, however, that Elika could take months to heal and might always walk with a limp. But with daily Reiki, Elika was charging around at top speed in two weeks, completely sound. She has been sound ever since.

Reiki can also be used to help alleviate the physical stress of chronic illness. I have worked with many dogs and cats suffering with cancer, and have found that the Reiki alleviates their pain, increases their appetite, diminishes their depression, and increases their energy. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that Reiki can cause tumors to shrink, and I believe I have experienced this phenomenon as well.

Unlike humans, [animals] don’t question whether this type of healing is really possible; they just gratefully accept what they need, then move away.

The great thing about sharing Reiki with horses and other animals is that they love it. Unlike humans, they don’t question whether this type of healing is really possible; they just gratefully accept what they need, then move away.

I will always remember the first time I shared Reiki with my Nikos. I had just completed a  Level I Reiki class the day before and was so excited to practice with him. We took a trail ride first, and then I put him in his stall with some hay. When I placed my hands on him, his head immediately dropped, his eyes glazed over, and the hay fell out of his mouth. He stood motionless, completely transfixed, for the 20 minutes or so I worked with him.

Several days later, when I was again at the barn, I excitedly put my hands on Nikos to once again share Reiki with him. He gave me a look that said, “What are you doing?” and moved away from my hands. At first, I was confused by his behavior, but I came to understand that he—as well as other animals—knew when he needed Reiki and knew when he didn’t. Nikos loved Reiki and would ask for it often. In his final months of life, he and I shared Reiki time together nearly every night.

Reiki can also be used for emotional distress.
While many humans do not believe that animals have emotions, you and I know better. We’ve seen our animals express joy, sadness, depression; we’ve witnessed them mourn the loss of a companion; we know when they are lonely or bored, excited, anxious, in love.

Of course the positive emotions do not present any problems, but when our animals are fearful, sad, grieving, overwhelmed, lonely, or depressed, we want to do what we can to help them.

Some years ago, I was at the barn visiting my horse. In a previously unoccupied stall, was a new horse, a lovely bay Morgan. He was turned around in the stall with his head in a back corner; his posture reflected total dejection. I stood outside the stall to quietly introduce myself to him, but before I could say a word, I was overcome with a terrible grief. The feeling was so strong that I actually began to cry. I was not grieving, or even unhappy, so I knew that the emotion had to be coming from him.

My immediate reaction was to make the Reiki signs and begin sharing healing with him. After a minute or so, he lifted his head, then turned to face me. He walked the few steps toward me, stuck his head over the stall guard and allowed me to stroke his face. He was still sad, but the terrible darkness had lifted. I told him that he would be OK, that he had nothing to worry about, that this was a good place to live.

When the owner of the barn came in, I asked her about the horse and told her what had happened. She said that the Morgan’s owner, a friend of hers, had brought him that morning and then left; she would be gone for several days on business, which was not ideal but was unavoidable. Apparently, the horse had been moved many times in his life by a string of previous owners; and each time he had been moved, he had been abandoned. No wonder he had been grief stricken! I returned to his stall, shared more Reiki, and assured him that his human companion would return in several days. He did not again express the awful grief he expressed that first day and seemed fairly well adjusted to his new home by the time his human returned.

While the Reiki helped to ease his pain and helped him to adjust to his new surroundings, a better approach would have been for him to have a Reiki session before the move, and to have someone explain the move to him before he ever got on the trailer.

My experience with sweet Welsh pony named Noble is a good example of how this works. Noble was extremely fearful of men and refused to be handled by them. He was also difficult to load into a trailer. Unfortunately, he had to move again, and the only person who was available to move him was a man. Noble’s owner (a woman) contacted me in an effort to put Noble’s mind at ease about the situation and with the hope of shortening the normally lengthy loading time, which could extend into hours.

In a session the night before the move, I shared Reiki with Noble while I visualized the trailer for him, visualized his stepping into it without fear, visualized the ride to his new home, and visualized his stepping off the trailer without incident and quietly leading to the pasture.

The next day, Noble’s owner called me from her car. She was driving behind the trailer, which was en route to the new barn. She excitedly told me that Noble had been completely unconcerned about the presence of the male handler, had jumped right onto the trailer, and was riding quietly. Later, she called to tell me he had unloaded just as easily as he had loaded and had quietly walked to his new pasture.

Can Reiki always change behavior? No, it can’t. Some behavior issues are training issues; others are a result of pain or discomfort, which can have a variety of causes, including unbalanced hooves, unbalanced teeth, poor saddle fit, an unbalanced rider, and nutritional deficiencies and toxicity.

The layers of the onion, so to speak, need to be peeled back.

And, of course, sometimes more than one session is necessary, the layers of the onion, so to speak, need to be peeled back. Several years ago, I worked from a distance with an elder draft, Leroy, who had been rescued from a killer pen out East. His spirit was broken. He would not socialize with the other horses in his new herd. He could not tolerate the touch of a human being. When I worked with him, his grief spilled out. He accepted the Reiki, and immediately began to heal.

His new human companion noticed the change in him immediately. But I asked to work with him two more times over the course of the next few weeks. Each time, Leroy came further out of his shell. By the end of the three sessions, he was loving being touched and groomed, started mingling with his herd, and was welcoming his human when she came out to the pasture.

While his human said that she could have gotten the results with natural training methods, she also said that it would have taken her months and that the results might never have been so profound.

Ollie was another horse who responded immediately to distance Reiki (coupled with neuromuscular retraining) but who completely turned around in three sessions. He had been so tense and fearful under saddle—which was making him a danger to ride—that his trainer (a kind and gentle woman) had suggested to Ollie’s human that she might need to find another horse. But Ollie wasn’t in fact fearful. In my first distance session with him, I discovered that he was in pain. He responded to the Reiki and neuromuscular retraining immediately and after three sessions became the model student: focused, willing, safe. (You can read Leroy’s and Ollie’s complete stories on my Website.)

And there are so many other ways that Reiki can help animals to heal.

I am in love with Reiki. It is a gentle, non-invasive, powerful, loving approach to healing. It connects both the practitioner and the receiver (the horse, dog, cat, human . . .) with Source energy, intelligence, and love. It has enriched my life and the lives of the animals I have had the honor assisting. I cannot imagine my life without it.



Talking with the Horses

Talking with the Horses

Kingsley, a six-year-old Welsh pony gelding who was under the impression he was a stallion, had been asked to move. Sweet-natured as he was, Kingsley was breaking down fences to be with “his mares,” who were in season. Lorraine, his human companion, had found a new boarding situation for him, one with a larger pasture, but she was concerned he would be depressed over the move or, a scary thought, even more unruly. She asked me to speak with him.

“Does she want me to be someone I’m not?” he asked almost as soon as the session began. I explained that, no, that wasn’t the case, but Lorraine would very much appreciate it if he stopped destroying fences. I also explained that he would be living closer to Lorraine, and so she would be working with him more often; he would have a job, and if all went well, he would have a child to work with in the fall. (Kingsley loves children.)

The next afternoon, Lorraine called me to say that Kingsley, who ordinarily was quite difficult to load, had jumped right onto the trailer, apparently eager to begin the next chapter in his life. At his new barn, he had jumped off the trailer in good spirits, curious yet calm about his new home. I’ve spoken with Lorraine subsequently, and she tells me that Kingsley is happy, has not broken down one fence, although there are mares present, and is progressing in his training with amazing speed.

Of course, speaking with a disruptive animal does not always result in a behavior change. As every horse lover knows, the creatures in our care-and that includes our dogs, our cats, our birds, our ferrets-are individuals. Some of them are just plain stubborn, and no amount of explaining, cajoling, or even pleading is going to change that.

But I have found that communicating with an animal usually does alter troublesome behavior-when the communication is a conversation; when I ask what is wrong and then listen to the answer; when I offer suggestions to the animal and explain boundaries; and when I accompany the conversation with Reiki (a type of energy healing) so that I can help to heal physical or emotional damage that may be contributing to the problem.

Franz, a beautiful young Friesian stallion, came to his new owner with serious behavior problems, among them biting, and bucking and rearing on the lunge line. Joyce-who used gentle, natural training methods-had been working with Franz for over a month and was certain that his issues were the result of a deep-seated fear; she asked me to try to find out what was troubling him. She wanted me to explain to him what his jobs would be (breeding stallion, trail horse, dressage) and to explain that she loved him and would never hurt him.

Because Franz had so much fear and pain in his body, I spent a large part of the session sending him Reiki healing. As I worked with him, I came to understand that he had been beaten at his previous barn. Physical trauma-as well as emotional or spiritual-leaves a mark in the energy field of a being. I most often see these marks as dark spots or holes in the energy field. I worked with Franz to heal the damage, to remove the darkness and fill the hole. I also sensed that he was tied in a large, tight knot, not only physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Using Reiki energy, we worked together to release this knot.

Franz spoke as we worked. He was grateful to be away from his previous barn but dearly missed one of the horses he had left behind. He was filled with sadness. I asked him what Joyce could do to help him. He said, “Be kind to me. Be patient. I have a good heart.” I asked him if he knew why he had come to Joyce. Without hesitation, he said, “To be healed.”

A few days later, I received an email from Joyce saying that Franz had responded to the session immediately. He was no longer showing signs of pain, was no longer frightened, and was working with focus and a sense of joy.

Was the change in him merely coincidental, or had something profound happened between us as we worked together? I, of course, believe it was the later. When I work with animals in this way, I hear their voices (which my brain translates into words); I see them and their surroundings or see an incident they have experienced; I often touch their skin or feel their breath on my face. I experience their emotions-joy, fear, depression, excitement-sense the presence of illness, and often receive information about their unique spiritual journey. I experience all of this across distance, from my quiet work space at home. Working from a distance, I can focus on the animal completely, without the noise of the barn or home, the interruptions of the curious; working from a distance, the animal and I can more fully speak soul to soul.

Is it possible for you to converse with your animal in this way? Oh, yes. Everyone is born with the ability to communicate telepathically, to receive messages without actual sensory contact. When the phone rings and you know who it is before you answer it, this is telepathy. When you know that a friend or family member is ill before you’re told, this is telepathy. Because our culture does not, as a rule, nurture this kind of knowing, many of us have forgotten how to fully use it. But the knowledge can be revived. You have already begun. You know when your horse is unhappy or tired or ill. You know when you may have pushed him too hard. You know when she is frightened or excited or content.

Each of us is also born with the ability to heal with energy-the substance that surrounds and connects us, the “soup” we are all floating in. While I have been initiated into Reiki, an ancient Japanese tradition, all cultures have ancient forms of energy healing. Some of us choose to dedicate our lives to this type of healing, and so our abilities are more refined, but each of us is capable of healing others with touch-if we take the time to learn how to reconnect with this ability, if we practice, if we stay connected to the energy source that sustains us.

Our horses spring from an ancient source. This is what draws us to them. They are magical, mystical, with stories to tell us that will enrich our lives, that can change its very course. Is it is worth the time and patience it takes to learn to listen, to learn to place a hand on a wither and ease another being’s pain? I believe that it is.

This article first appeared in the August/September 2004 issue of The Sentinel.

© 2006 by Pamela Sourelis

The Bun Learns to Hop . . . Again

The Bun Learns to Hop . . . Again

How Neuromuscluar Retraining Helped a House Rabbit Regain His Independence

By the time I was able to make the trip to Minneapolis to work with the Bun, his movement had been impaired for just over a year. His human companions, Mia and Paul, were not sure what had happened, but Bun had suddenly been unable to use his left hind leg, which after several months had begun to atrophy.

Bun had allowed me to work with him several years before when he had somehow strained his back (he and his human, Mia, had formerly been my neighbors in Chicago), so while he was a bit wary, being a bun, he was nevertheless willing to give me a chance.

Because I was spending the weekend in Minneapolis working with horses, I planned on working with Bun on three consecutive days. Because he was a bun, and not thrilled about being excessively handled, we kept the sessions short, about 20 minutes apiece.

In our first session, late on the evening of my arrival, I sat on the living room floor with Bun and began with gentle touching, using only my fingertips. My intent was merely to bring Bun’s awareness to his body. His movement had been severely diminished for a long time, and I wanted to reintroduce him to his body parts and their ability to move. I outlined each vertebra of his spine, gently pushed his tailbone towards his head to remind him how his hind end connected to his fore, outlined his ribs, and gently moved his sternum (or breastbone) from side to side, all with the tips of my fingers. I would have liked to work with Bun’s feet as well, but he would not allow it. At the end of the session, Bun still had his left hind leg tucked up under him, but he seemed much more alert and energized when Mia returned him to his area in the dining room where his bed and food were and where he now spent much of his time.

The next morning, I worked with Bun again before I left for the day. This session was similar to the first one, in that I was still attempting to bring Bun’s awareness to his body, but this time I wanted to bring his awareness to a slightly deeper level. Once again, I used my fingertips to I gently outline his spine and gently push his tailbone towards his head. But this time, instead of outlining his ribs, I gently lifted his ribcage, one side at a time, to show him that it was capable of movement and to show him the connection between his ribs and spine. And this time, when I touched his sternum, I used both hands—one hand on the point of his sternum, one hand underneath his body, directly behind his front legs. I gently, slowly moved his sternum back, forward, and from side to side, again to show him that movement in this area was possible and pleasurable, and to show him the relationship between his sternum, ribs, and spine. Bun listened attentively to this lesson. When he appeared to have had enough, Mia took him back to his area in the dining room.

Late that evening, when I returned from working with horses, I decided to work with Bun again. I was leaving the next day and wanted to work with him as many times as I could in the short time we had. I felt that the way to make the best use of our time together without overloading his nervous system with too much information was to do more frequent, shorter sessions.

I began our third session by sitting on the floor and placing Bun between my outstretched legs. In previous sessions, I had worked on my knees, bent over him. But now, I wanted to offer him a secure, enclosed space, as I was going to work at a deeper level than the previous sessions. My intent in this session was to prepare Bun’s body and nervous system for standing on all four feet.

Once again, I worked with Bun’s sternum. I used both hands to slide it from back to front to back to front. My touch was gentle, but I asked the sternum to move more fully than I had before. As I eased the sternum back towards his tail with one hand, I used my other hand, which was under his belly, to gently lift him onto his feet. As I eased the sternum towards his head, I gently set him back down.

After showing Bun this rhythmic movement a few times, I began alternating it with gentle pushes through the pelvis—first one side, then the other—and the sternum. I still had one hand underneath him, offering him support, and now I was raising him completely off the ground to prepare his nervous system for standing. At first, he was alarmed when his feet left the ground; Mia pointed out to me that his eyes were beginning to bulge. But he did not try to escape or bite, so I gently continued with my work.

I then set Bun back on the ground and began working with his right hind leg. Remember, it was the left hind that was giving Bun problems. But I wanted to bring to Bun’s attention to how smoothly and efficiently a hind leg can work, and so to do this I worked with the one that already worked most efficiently. I placed the flat of my hand underneath his right hind foot, creating an artificial floor. Unlike an actual floor, my hand could move. And so with his tiny foot on my palm, I slowly rotated my hand at the wrist, causing the “floor” to slant in this direction and that, bringing Bun’s awareness to the flexibility of his foot and each of his toes. I then played with Bun’s leg, gently and very slowly showing him the range of motion he had available in the leg and hip. Bun was very quiet as we worked, clearly listening to the information I was sharing with him.

Finally, I was ready to touch the left hind, the leg that Bun had kept tucked up under him for so long. I gently touched his toes, one at a time, showing him that the foot was not an unyielding block, that it was flexible. His foot spasmed momentarily, then released and softened. As I had done with the right foot, I now played the artificial floor game with the left foot and then showed Bun the range of motion he had available in this leg and hip. As I worked with Bun, as his body softened, I became more and more convinced that the injury he had sustained was not to the leg itself but to the nervous system, that he had suffered a mild stroke. And so at this point, I decided to play a trick on his nervous system.

I eased one hand under his belly to support him and to lift him to his feet, then with the other hand I gently crossed his left hind leg over his midline-the imaginary line running vertically through the middle of the body. I had already shown him that his right hind leg was fully functional. Now I wanted to trick his nervous system into thinking that the left hind was in fact the right hind. To do this all I had to do was move the left leg to the right side.

I had no expectations at this point. I merely wanted to give Bun this information. I still had one more day to work with him before I had to leave, and I planned on continuing our dialog the following morning. But, incredibly smart creature that he was, Bun only needed to be told once. Moments after I crossed his left hind leg over the midline, Bun jumped off my hand, shook himself, and hopped—using all four feet—into the next room.

I started laughing, Mia started crying, and Bun no doubt wondered what all the fuss was about.

The next morning, I decided not to give Bun another session. I felt his nervous system had received enough information over the previous two days and that he needed to be allowed to integrate it. I sat near him while he ate his breakfast and gently stroked him a few times. Then I showed Mia a few ways she could work with Bun until I could return to Minneapolis several months later.

I did not get another chance to work with him. Two weeks after my visit, Bun died of natural causes. Mia assures me that his last two weeks were good ones, that Bun was able to hop around the house and that one day he even scratched his face with his left hind foot, something she had not seen him do for over a year. I am forever grateful for that, and that I had a chance to work with this intelligent and gentle creature before it was time for him to leave.

Mia Talks about the Bun

My wonderful house rabbit, the Bun, had always had full run of the house with no problems. As he got older, he had some troubles negotiating the hardwood floors, but other than that he never had any trouble getting around. Then one day in his eighth year, my husband and I came home to find Bun unable to use his left hind leg well at all. It wasn’t paralyzed—he just seemed unable to keep it from slipping underneath him. A trip to the emergency room X-ray machine revealed no breaks, thank goodness, but we were not given much to work with in terms of recovery or even how to keep him comfortable. We tried acupuncture for awhile but did not notice any significant improvement.

I had known about Pam’s work for several years; she had helped Bun once before, and I thought she would be able to help him again. The problem was that Pam, who is based in the Chicagoland area, was two states away, with a schedule that wouldn’t allow her to come to us. Finally, more than a year after Bun’s injury, Pam was able to make the trip to Minneapolis.

At this point, Bun was nearly 10 and his left hind leg had atrophied quite a bit. He was finding it harder and harder to get around. We had always kept him in a safe area after his “incident,” but his world was getting smaller every day. Throughout it all, he remained his sweet, affectionate self, with no intentions whatsoever of letting a little thing like a bum leg get him down.

Finally, Pam and the Bun got to work together. They worked two days in a row, in three sessions of about 15 to 20 minutes. Pam sat on the floor with him and showed his body that the left hind leg was still there and could still work for him. Through her work with him, we concluded that what had happened was probably a neurological episode, such as a stroke, but we will never really know.

In the first session, Pam slowly introduced her work to the Bun with gentle touching and very subtle movements, using only one finger. Bun was a little dubious, but cooperative. By the second session, Pam seemed able to work a little more directly with the Bun, and he was definitely listening to what she was telling him.

Their third session was very interesting; Pam was able to use both her hands on Bun and really “have a conversation.” I could tell that Bun was very engaged in what was happening. And then, without warning, Bun jumped out of Pam’s lap and hopped into the next room—using his left hind leg, unassisted!

Pam showed me a few exercises I could do with the Bun to support her work between visits, which included all over, gentle touching and creating a false floor for him with my hands under his feet as he re-learned how to move efficiently. My beloved Bun could make it from one spot in the house to another, with no assistance. He began sitting in places he hadn’t been in over a year. It was amazing and gratifying to see him able to use his body again.

Sadly, Bun died two weeks later, of natural causes. He will always be missed, and always be remembered. I thank him every day for showing me how incredibly intelligent the body is and how easily it can be taught to heal itself.

Mia Schillace Nelson

To Stretch or Not To Stretch…

To Stretch or Not To Stretch…

Stretching: Why it may not be such a good idea

For the past couple of years, it seems that more and more horse magazines are publishing articles about the benefits of passive stretching (stretching that the human does to the horse) as well as the benefits of using treats to encourage their horses to stretch on their own. People are encouraged to take hold of their horse’s front legs one at a time and pull them forward; they are encouraged to pull on their horse’s tail. People are encouraged to hold a treat behind their horse’s pecs (the muscles on the chest) to get the horse to stretch its head down and back; they are encouraged to use treats to coax their horses to flex their necks from side to side. I recently read this suggestion on the Internet: Hold a treat by the horse’s nose, then bring the treat down to the horse’s fetlocks; the nose will follow. Then take a few steps backwards, keeping the treat and the horse’s nose as low as possible; the horse will take a few steps backwards as well. A few steps will stretch the whole top line, all the way through the rump, like “horsey yoga.”

On the surface, these exercises seem harmless enough. You are most often cautioned to do them gently and slowly. Conventional wisdom says that stretching is a good idea before physical activity; runners stretch, don’t they? But consider that runners are stretching their own muscles; someone else doesn’t do it for them or give them an incentive to possibly go beyond their comfort zone. And, in fact, runners and other athletes are being cautioned that stretching cold muscles can lead to micro tears, that walking may be a better method of muscle warm-up.

Still, that “horsey yoga” move seems like it would feel wonderful. What possible problem could result from a horse stretching its top line before a rider gets on? We want the top line to be strong and supple. Strong, supple back muscles support the rider more effectively and protect the horse’s spine. Let’s suppose that the horse is in excellent condition, has never suffered any back problems, has never suffered any stiffness or soreness in other parts of the body that might indicate a physical imbalance. Let’s also assume that the horse has just come out of the pasture or, if he’s come out of a stall, that he has been hand-walked for five or ten minutes before being asked to stretch. If an experienced equine body worker were to very, very gently induce stretching, it’s quite possible that no harm would be done.

But what if the horse was just a little bit stiff or sore in one area of the back, say for example the lower back. You’ve probably been stiff in your lower back at one time or another, so you know how that feels. The horse might not be stiff enough that you’d even notice. Or maybe he’s just a little stiff in one of his shoulders, or maybe his neck doesn’t move as freely as it did when he was a couple of years younger.

I’d like you to try something. Get down on all fours. Now imagine someone is holding a piece of chocolate fudge next to your left wrist. It’s your favorite fudge, you haven’t had any in years, and you haven’t had lunch. Arch your neck to get to the chunk of delight, and as you do so, imagine that it is being pulled back a few feet. Step back to follow it. If you are fairly limber, you may not have any problems with this.

Now I would like you to try something else. Still on all fours, I’d like you to tighten your lower back. Now try the exercise again. How does it feel to arch your neck and spine when your back is restricted? Now release your back, tighten one shoulder, and try the stretch again. Now try it after tightening your neck.

Of course, no one is actually coaxing you on with a sugary treat, and you can stop whenever you like, but if your horse is like most horses, she or he is going to go after that treat no matter what. And while we might like to believe that the stretch is doing our companion good, there is a good chance that it isn’t.

You might say, “Well, I never do this exercise. My horse has stiff shoulders, so I gently pull on his front legs before I ride.” My response to this would be twofold: (1) I can’t imagine that it feels good to have a stiff shoulder pulled on; I imagine that the body would resist this stretch, even if only very slightly; (2) A stiff shoulder may very well be caused by an imbalance somewhere else in the body, and if this is the case, then pulling on the leg, no matter how gently, will not solve the problem.

So what to do?

Lifting and Holding: One Alternative to Stretching

In looking at alternatives to stretching, it’s useful to first consider what our intention is; in other words, why are we doing these stretches to begin with? I suspect that most people do them because they want their horses to be limber and relaxed, balanced and ready to carry the rider’s weight.

But we have to be careful not to cause our horses physical discomfort, even slight discomfort. If we ask our horse to move even a little bit beyond his comfort zone-and we really have no way of knowing if we have done this-we risk creating resistance in his body. Even the tiniest bit of resistance in a muscle can cause problems later on. A little bit of tension in one area of the body can cause a slight imbalance that may not even be noticeable right away. But over time, the imbalance can cause more tension, which can cause more imbalance, and well, you get the idea. Obviously, we want to do our best to avoid this scenario.

So I would like you to offer you an alternative. Rather than stretching the muscles, I would like you to lift them or hold them. Lifting involves holding one end of a muscle group and gently lifting it. Holding involves placing your hands on two sections of a muscle group and gently supporting and shortening it.


(LEFT: Soften your hands, wrists, and arms by gently “pulling taffy.”)


But before trying either of these methods, you first need to soften your hands. To do this, I’d like you to pretend you are gently pulling taffy. Do this softly and slowly. Don’t do it so long that your hands or arms get tense. The idea is to relax and soften your hands, wrists, and arms.


Now, crouch next to one of your horse’s front legs. Be safe. If your horse is unpredictable, you might want a friend to hold your horse for you. Gently place your hands around your horse’s leg. You can work with the lower leg (where there are tendons but no muscles) or you can work further up the leg. Be sure you are not gripping the leg. Now gently lift the muscles (or tendons). Be sure you are not just lifting skin. You don’t want to tickle your horse. You want to provide temporary support to the muscles, briefly taking over their work. Lift the muscles for five or six seconds and then gently and slowly release. Do not just let go! Release in small increments, gently allowing your hands to return to the position they started in.



(Lifting the tendons of the lower leg)



(Lifting the muscles of the upper leg)

Be sure to breathe while you are working with your horse. People tend to hold their breath when they are learning something new. But holding your breath creates tension, which is something you don’t want to pass on to your horse. So breathe deeply and slowly while you work.

You can lift any muscle or group of muscles on your horse’s body. Try gently lifting the muscles around the shoulder. You can lift towards the poll, towards, the neck, or towards the back. You can gently move from one position to the next. The key word is gently. The old adage “No pain, no gain” simply isn’t true. Pain creates resistance. But gently supporting a muscle group releases tension and allows the muscles to lengthen.

Try gently lifting the muscle that runs just beneath the spine. Work with one small area at a time. Be sure you are not digging your fingers into your horse’s back. Soften your hands, gently place your fingers on her back and gently lift the muscle.

Holding a muscle or muscle group is similar to lifting; the difference is that your hands are touching two different portions of the muscle at once. So, for example, you can hold the muscles of the shoulder by placing one hand below the shoulder and one above, gently supporting the muscles by applying gentle pressure towards the center. In effect, you are slightly shortening the muscles (the opposite of what you are trying to do when you use stretching exercises). You can also hold small portions of the muscle along the spine. When you are comfortable with this, you can hold and lift a small area of this muscle at the same time. This is a much more pleasurable to your horse than pulling on her tail (which is a part of her spine), and it is much safer.


(Holding the muscles
around the shoulder)

(Holding and lifting the
muscles beneath the spine)


When you hold and support the muscle, you take over its work, you help it to relax and lengthen-with no risk of tearing or otherwise stressing the area.

If you’re having trouble believing the benefit of these gentle exercises (or even if you’re not!), ask a friend to lift the muscles of your leg or arm, to hold the muscles of your shoulder or neck. Be sure your friend has soft hands before beginning; be sure your friend doesn’t hold his or her breath while working.


Of course, these exercises are not intended to replace veterinary care. If your horse has acute or chronic pain, contact your veterinarian.

But as a way of helping to release tension, helping to allow your horse’s muscles to lengthen on their own, and-as an added bonus-strengthening the human/equine bond, I invite you to put aside the stretching and try gently lifting and holding instead.

*This article first appeared in the August/September 2006 issue of The Sentinel.

© 2006 by Pamela Sourelis

The Letter

The Letter

Five years ago, I got a call from a woman who wanted a Reiki and animal communication session for her horse. I don’t remember what the issue was, but I do remember that the woman (I’ll call her Beth) was pleased with the results. When I spoke to Beth after the session (which I did from a distance), we started chatting and she mentioned that while she wanted her horses to have free access to both their paddock and their stalls, one of her two horses was using both stalls as toilets, which meant the other, older, horse had nowhere to lie down. Consequently, she was locking the older horse into his stall at night, which was making him both stiff and crabby.

I suggested she stop putting shavings in the stalls. She tried it. It worked.

She seemed impressed with this simple solution, and—perhaps feeling sympathetic about the recent death of my beloved horse Nikos—she invited me on a trail ride with her and her two horses.

When I picked the hooves of the horse I was going to ride, I noticed that his feet were quite unbalanced. I asked her if it would be OK to comment on his feet. She said yes, and so I offered her my opinion (an educated opinion; I’d taken two barefoot trimming classes and trimmed my own horses). She thanked me for the information, and we went on our ride. The two horses then in my care were both too young to ride, and so it was sheer joy to be on a horse again, feeling the sun on my face, the cool fall air. Sheer joy.

A few weeks later, we tried to take another ride, but when we got to the trails, we discovered that the area was closed for hunting. Disappointed, we pledged to try again soon.

During one of our several conversations, Beth had mentioned that her older horse was so plagued by flies in the summer that she was considering putting him down. I was stunned by this. She said she’d tried everything—which I learned meant every commercially available repellent—but nothing had worked. I explained that flies flocking to one horse are a sure sign that the horse is toxic, a condition the flies can sense. I also explained that an allergic reaction also indicated a toxic system. I told her that I worked with a biochemist who had developed an outstanding line of pharmaceutical grade products designed to detoxify the equine body and to restore biochemical balance. Not wanting to push or to overwhelm her with information, I told her if she wanted to know more, she could let me know.

A few weeks later, Beth called to ask about the feed protocol. I remember that I had my coat on and was getting ready to walk out the door when she called, but she was so insistent on learning more—or so I thought—that I sat down and talked with her for over an hour. I continued talking to her even when she started arguing with me. It became painfully obvious to me after awhile that she had called to pick a fight. But why?

Finally, I said I was just offering information; I wasn’t trying to sell her anything. I reminded her that she had called me, and not the other way around. Still trying to keep the peace, I suggested that she do what she felt best and that we not discuss feed protocols again.

I don’t remember how the conversation ended, but I remember that I was both rattled and confused.

A few days later, I received a card from Beth, thanking me for my services in a way that very clearly said our budding friendship was over.

Fast forward about two years. I was in a commercial barn, working with several horses, at the same time that a barefoot trimming clinic was going on. On a break, one of the students said, “Hi Pam” as she passed by me in the aisle. I didn’t recognize her and had to ask her name. It was Beth. “You worked with my horses,” she said.

“Oh yeah,” I said, I remember you. “You were very unkind to me. You asked me for information and then attacked me for giving it to you. You really hurt my feelings.” She told me she was learning barefoot trimming because of me. To tell the truth, I didn’t much care.

Three years later, two days ago as I write this, I received a letter. It was the day after my Nikos’s birthday. He would have been 31. He was the being who brought me to this work, who patiently taught me—and continues to teach me every day of my life. I was missing him. Standing in the post office, I tore open an envelope with a return address I didn’t recognize and was surprised to find a letter. It was from Beth.

After identifying herself, she went on:

I’d like to say I’m sorry for the way I treated you. I mistook your passion for horses’ well being as a personal attack on me and reacted to that instead of seeing what you were really trying to say.

I also want to say that I appreciate the path you have led me down. Because of you and your different horse keeping philosophies, I’ve changed so many things about the way I keep [my horses] and how I feel about horses in general. I’ve also learned natural hoof care and have been able to work with and hopefully change others’ lives (horses and people). The people are the hardest!!

Anyway, now you’ll know that I realize now where you were coming from. I’m truly sorry for hurting you and that because of you and your passion, my whole life has changed. (Well, almost . . . I still use a bit!) But we’re all better off because of you. I hope this letter finds you well, Pam.

I refolded this kind, brave, loving letter, slipped it back into the envelope, and cried.


About ten years ago, when Nikos, who was my first horse, had only been with me for about a year, I was boarding him at a small, private barn in Streamwood. It seemed like paradise. It was much quieter than the huge commercial barn where I had taken lessons and where I had met him. At the large barn, he’d only been turned out three days a week for two hours. At the small barn, the horses were turned out seven days a week for six or seven hours. The paddocks were fairly small. There weren’t any water troughs in the paddocks. And they weren’t fed hay in the paddocks. But I was told, and believed, that horses only needed to eat twice a day and that they didn’t need to have water in front of them for the few hours they were out.

After I’d been there for a few months, a new boarder moved her horse in. She’d just moved to Illinois and didn’t know anyone in the area. She seemed nice enough but kept to herself. One afternoon, a few weeks after she moved in, I witnessed her in a frustrated rage. She yelled—at no one, at the air and sky—that she couldn’t believe this place, that the horses had no hay, no water, nothing to do but stand around. She was furious; she picked up a large stick and hurled it as far as she could. The next day, she and her horse were gone.

I will never forget that woman. I don’t remember her name or her horse’s name. I never had a conversation with her. But her indignation over the care her horse was receiving—care that looked pretty darned good to me compared to where we’d come from—her indignation opened a door in my heart. I instinctively knew that she was speaking the truth, that she was coming from a place of love and compassion for her beloved friend, her horse. From that day forward, I have tried my best to learn everything I can about the needs of these amazing creatures. No more stalls (cages by a different name), no more shoes, friends to run and play with, free—choice grass hay, proper dental care, saddles that fit so that the horse can freely move the back, and on and on . . .

After nearly four years, this will be the last of my monthly articles for From the Horse’s Mouth. If the editor is willing, I may drop in from time to time, but for now I will say my good-byes. And as I do, I urge you all to open your hearts to the needs of the horses. It is so easy to become complacent, to do things because that’s the way we’ve always done them, because that’s the way everyone else does them. It is so easy to become offended, to become defensive in the face of new information.

But information is just that—information. If we need to change the way we’re doing things for the good of the horse, well, OK, we need to change. That doesn’t mean we were bad people before the change; it just means we didn’t know. We need to make decisions based on what is best for our beloved horses, even if doing so is inconvenient for us or makes us the object of unfriendly gossip, because doing what is best for our horses—respecting their natures, allowing them be horses—will nourish our hearts and ultimately be best for us as well.

Be well,


*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in May, 2010.

© 2010 by Pamela Sourelis

Choosing a Reiki Practitioner

Choosing a Reiki Practitioner

This article originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in April, 2010.


Some of you may have seen The Dr. Oz Show on January 6, where the good doctor gave the thumbs up to my favorite healing practice: Reiki (pronounced ráy-key). Dr. Oz, a cardiac surgeon, revealed that his wife is a Reiki practitioner, that Reiki healing is commonplace in their household, and that he has used the services of a professional Reiki practitioner in his operating room. At the end of the show, he urged his viewers to “Try Reiki.”

The segment on Reiki was short (only a few minutes) and of course did not mention the benefits for animals. But while people’s interest in Reiki for themselves is just starting to heat up, animal lovers have been open to Reiki for their four-legged companions for some time. This is terrific because animals are very open to this type of healing. They don’t question whether it is really happening; they just gratefully accept it. When they’ve had enough, they move away.

Humans, however, are skeptical creatures. They tend to ask a lot of questions, which is good. But they also tend to be wary of the unfamiliar, which can deprive them of some amazing experiences: such as Reiki treatments. There is a lot of confusion about Reiki, and a lot of misconceptions. Let me give you a short, straightforward definition:

Reiki is a healing practice that promotes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance.

Reiki treatments can be done in person or from a distance, any distance. Reiki is not a religion or belief system, and it works in conjunction with—and enhances—all other medical and therapeutic techniques. Reiki can never cause harm; it can only be used for healing.

For animals, I have used Reiki to alleviate physical trauma and shock; to manage pain; to help wounds heal more quickly—including post-surgical wounds; to help diseases resolve more quickly; to help relieve colic and other digestive upsets; to help resolve mental and emotional upsets, such as with abused, traumatized, or sad animals; and to intensify neuromuscular retraining sessions.

For humans, I have used Reiki to accelerate healing after surgery or injury, to accelerate recovery from illness, to manage pain, to lower blood pressure, to assist with detoxification, to assist with recovery from grief or loss, to decrease stress, to increase vitality, and to improve mental and emotional outlook (including in those suffering from anxiety, depression, or dementia).

So let’s say you’ve decided to take the plunge, to try Reiki for yourself and your animal companions. How do you find a reputable practitioner?

First, if you or your animal is ill, please consult a physician or veterinarian. Reiki practitioners are not licensed to diagnose or treat specific illnesses. And anyway, that’s not what we do. Our job is to help create balance in the client’s body (animal or human), balance that triggers the client’s own healing mechanism. All bodies have the innate ability to heal.

Second, please understand that you or your animal companion may need more than one Reiki session. Reiki is amazingly powerful, but healing is a process.

So what questions should you ask when interviewing a prospective practitioner?

Ask about the practitioner’s level of training. In the United States, there are three levels of Reiki training: Level I, Level II, and Level III (also called Master level). If a friend of yours is a Level I practitioner and wants to help you out, that’s terrific. But if I were paying a professional, I would want a person with at least Level II training.

Ask about the practitioner’s length and type of training. Reiki training is not standardized. Some practitioners have attended one-day classes, often in large groups, and have had no further contact with their teacher or fellow students. Traditionally, Reiki was taught (both in Japan and the United States) as an apprenticeship. Completing Level III (Master) training could take years. When choosing a Reiki practitioner, I would want a person who has participated in hands-on classes with a Reiki Master and who has participated in a supervised internship as well.

Ask how long the practitioner has been in professional practice and whether she or he has participated in continuing education courses or workshops. Check out the practitioner’s Website, if she or he has one; read any articles she or he has written; attend a talk she or he may be giving. Does the practitioner conduct him- or herself in a professional way?

Ask about the practitioner’s beliefs about healing. Ask the practitioner to explain Reiki. Is the explanation clear? Does it make sense? If the practitioner claims that she or he can “cure” you or your animal companion, walk the other way. Such claims are unethical. Healing on some level always occurs with a Reiki treatment. Cure, however, is dependent on many factors. Remember that healing is a process, a process that requires commitment from the one seeking the healing. (In my experience, animals have no problem with this although humans sometimes do.)

Ask about the practitioner’s commitment to daily self-healing. The core of Reiki practice is self-healing. The more in touch the practitioner is with the self-healing process, the better a healer she or he will be.

If you are hiring the practitioner for your horse or dog or cat, ask about the practitioner’s experience with animals. This may not be as important if the sessions are to be conducted from a distance, but in hands-on healing you want to be sure the person can clearly read animal body language and can follow the animal’s lead. It’s also useful if the practitioner knows something about animal anatomy and behavior.

And, finally, trust your instincts. Choose a professional Reiki practitioner that you and your animal companions will feel comfortable working with.

Reiki is a powerful healing practice. I have been honored over the years to experience Reiki easing much pain and suffering, and have witnessed many beings, both two-legged and four-legged, regain health, vitality, and a fuller appreciation of life. I urge you to give this beautiful healing art a try.



© 2010 by Pamela Sourelis



Thank You, Davey

Thank You, Davey

Last month, in my article about animals understanding what we say, I talked about Davey, an elder paint pony whose care I had taken over a month before. (The article is now on my Website.) Well, it grieves me deeply to say that I lost that dear creature on the evening of December 28. His gut got twisted up, and we had to let him go. We believe Davey was 30 years old.

I met Davey three years ago, December 1, 2006, when I moved my two horses to Davey’s barn. He was living alone and had been for quite a few years. The owners of the property used to breed Trakehners, but they had long since retired. Davey had been the wife’s driving pony; he was a show pony, a very successful one.

But the woman was now suffering from many physical ailments and was housebound. Her husband, I’ll call him Eric, took care of Davey and is the one who leased me five acres on their 20-acre property.

My heart immediately went out to Davey, who that winter was stall bound sometimes days at a time. Eric said Davey was old and fragile and that he couldn’t go out when it was too cold. I suggested a blanket, explained that moving around and having plenty of hay would keep him warm, as would being with other horses (mine), but my suggestions fell on deaf ears.

Finally, after witnessing Davey being confined for five days in a row, I did manage, however, to convince Eric to let me put Davey in the indoor arena with the front doors open on days when he couldn’t go out, so at least he could get some light and fresh air, and put his head over the gate to survey the front yard. I took on the jobs of setting him up with water and hay in the morning, and mucking the arena in the evening—before he had to go back in his stall.

About a month after my horses and I moved to Davey’s barn, Davey began to change. He had been so shut down and depressed from his years of isolation that he walked through his days in a kind of fog, but now he was getting feisty—dragging Eric down the aisle to his paddock and back. Eric didn’t understand what was going on, but that was OK. I gave him tips for walking Davey safely, and soon all was well.

I continued to advocate for Davey for the three years that I knew him, sometimes with positive results, sometimes not. I knew that he was laminitic, and tried to convince Eric to stop letting him out on pasture all day to gorge on grass and an overabundance of clover, but Eric didn’t understand the connection between sugar and laminitis. I also suggested he stop feeding molasses-laden pelleted feed, but again Eric didn’t see the problem even though Davey’s soles were prolapsed (convex instead of concave), his coat was oily and dandruffy, and his neck had a floppy crest.

But I did manage to get Davey’s feet tended to by a good barefoot trimmer. And I did groom him and talk to him and clean his water bucket and generally try to be a good barn mate. Last winter, when Eric (who has hip problems) couldn’t get through the snow and ice from the house to the barn for three months, I took care of Davey for him.

Then, early last fall, Eric told me that they were putting the place up for sale. When I asked what they were going to do with Davey, he said they weren’t sure. I convinced him to let me take Davey with us (me and my two other horses).

Come late October, Davey was failing. While in his stall at night, he barely drank any water and barely ate any hay. What little hay he did eat, he was quidding. His feet hadn’t been done in months, and Eric had gone back to a farrier who just wasn’t doing a very good job. Davey’s feet were long, unbalanced, and cracked, and his again prolapsed soles indicated there was a great deal of inflammation in his feet (and probably his whole system). His eyes had become very runny, and his coat felt even more oily than before. And that floppy crest . . . I couldn’t stand by any longer.

I knocked on the door of the house. “Eric,” I said. “I’m taking Davey with me when I go.”

“Yes,” Eric said.

“Well,” I said, “I can’t take him if he’s on his knees. I have to start caring for him my way now.”

And from that day on, Davey was my pony.

I’d always liked Davey but hadn’t allowed myself to bond with him. But the moment I stood with him in his stall, kissed the top of his sweet head, and told him he was a member of our herd, our hearts connected.

Within days, I had his feet properly trimmed and his teeth tended to. I washed his eyes every morning with calendula tincture and water (which helped to reduce the running). I picked his feet every night and treated the frog fungus with apple cider vinegar. I changed his feed from sweet feed to a highly digestible, sugar-free feed. I replaced his clover-rich hay with grass hay. I shared Reiki with him and gave him short neuromuscular retraining sessions. After two sessions, I saw him stand square for the first time. Eric said he couldn’t remember ever having seen him stand square.

I couldn’t turn him out at night with my two for a few reasons: The shed I’d had built was only big enough for two, Davey was losing his sight in one eye, and he was used to lying in shavings, not snow. But I didn’t want to confine him to a stall, so I set him up in the arena at night. Each evening, I’d turn my two into the arena with him for about half an hour. Gradually, he regained his self-confidence; he went from standing in a far corner of the arena to standing within a few feet of Tara and Fuersti while they ate hay. When he’d glance over at me, I could see he was pretty proud of himself for that.

After I’d put Tara and Fuersti back outside for the night, I’d play with Davey in the arena for awhile; I’d work on teaching him to come to me when I faced him and bent forward from the waist, teaching him to follow me at liberty, teaching him to back up and to give various body parts to pressure. Then I’d give him a treat. He had to come to me to get it, and each night he’d follow me around a little longer, but he’d never come quite all the way, choosing instead to walk within a few feet of me, stretch his neck as far as he could and then stretch his lips (aren’t horse lips amazing?) until he could gently coax the apple wafer out of my hand.

When I’d return to the barn in the morning, he would call to me as I got out of the car. He had always eaten his hay, had drunk a respectable amount of water. One morning, I noticed that his coat was shining; when I stroked him, I noticed that the oily feel was gone, that the dandruff was gone. When I kissed his neck in gratitude, I noticed that his odor, which had been very strong, was lighter and pleasant. He was doing amazingly well.

After about a month, and once the paddock and pasture were snowy instead of muddy or icy, I felt it was time to turn Davey out with his herd in the daytime. (He’d either been in the arena or in his own paddock up to that point.) At first he was tentative, kept his distance. When I’d return in the evening to bring the three of them in for dinner, Davey would hang way back behind the other two. But after a few days, he was only a few respectful feet behind them, and he walked into the barn, up the aisle, and into his stall without a halter and lead, like my other two. He was becoming one of us.

The night before Davey died, I went into his stall after he had finished dinner and bent at the waist, asking him to come to me so that I could put the halter and lead on and get him settled in the arena for the night. The first few weeks I’d done this, he just stood and stared at me. For the past few nights, he’d taken a few steps toward me. Progress. But on this night, he came all the way up to me and stood facing me, waiting for me to put his halter on.

When I’d finished my chores, spread hay outside for my Fuersti and Tara and put them back outside for the night, I went into the arena to say good night to Davey. As I had been doing for two months, I held an apple wafer in the palm of my hand and walked backwards away from him. He’d been following me for weeks, but still did his giraffe impersonation when it came time to take the treat. But tonight, the night before he died, he followed me around the arena and then walked right up to me, within a foot or two, a respectful distance, but close enough to nuzzle my hand and gently take the treat. It might sound like a little thing to some, but you horse lovers know that this was huge.

On the morning of the day he died, it was sunny and pleasant (near 30), and he was eager to go out. He kicked the stall door in anticipation, a bad habit I thought I’d broken him of. But I couldn’t reprimand him. His sweet face was so earnest, his eyes so kind. “Hurry up, please,” was all he’d meant to say.

I put him out first, let him find a spot to munch hay, then let my Tara and Fuersti back out. For the three years they had been in separate pastures (for reasons I do not understand, Eric would not allow me to put them together), Davey would always call to my two when they came out after breakfast. Since he’d been turned out with them, though, he’d been silent. My sense was that he was more concerned about being in an acceptable spot, respecting the herd hierarchy, watching his back, than with voicing a greeting.

But this morning, the morning of the day he died, Davey lifted his head from his hay pile and called to the others as they came into the paddock. My heart soared. We’d done it. He was a member of our herd.

Late that afternoon, when I went to the barn to collect my three for dinner, to settle Davey in for the night, I found him down, soaking wet. I asked him to get up, and he did, but then he went down in his stall. It is enough to say that the vet came, was there for an hour and a half, made him comfortable, checked and rechecked, cried when she said there was nothing to do. His small intestines were strangulated. She thought the culprit was probably a fatty tumor. (He had one on his chest as well.) He was much too old for surgery. And so we let that dear, sweet pony go.

While it’s true that I did a great deal for that pony over the three years that I knew him, the truth is that he did at least as much for me. Two months earlier, the night that I took over his care, the night I first told him he was a member of our herd, I placed my hand on his neck to share Reiki with him and was amazed by the intensity. He sighed, dropped his nose nearly to the floor, and closed his eyes.

We were one heart.

I said, “You are such a wise old man. I can’t wait to learn what you have to teach me.”

The night that Davey died, I called a horsey friend to cry with. I told her that when I’d taken over Davey’s care, I hadn’t been sure how I was going to be able to afford a third horse, but I’d known that I had to find a way. And the money had come. I told her that Davey had opened up a space, that now there would always be room for an elderly pony or horse in my herd.

I was saddened that he’d left too soon to teach me the lessons I’d hoped to learn from him. But my wise friend said, “He did teach you. You just said it. He helped you to open up a space for others, so that you can help them to regain their dignity in their final days.”

He did, indeed, do that. He taught me there is always room for one more. He taught me that by helping another to regain dignity, I heighten my own; by helping another to fit in, I enrich my own space; by allowing my heart to entwine with another’s, perhaps the two of us help to shine just a bit more light onto the world.

Thank you, Davey. You have taught me well. Rest in peace my dear friend.

Until next time . . .

Be well,


*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in March, 2010.

© 2010 by Pamela Sourelis

They Understand

They Understand

Over the years, I’ve spoken with many people who want to know the “secret” of communicating with their animals. They don’t seem to understand that they are already doing it: Their animals are hearing and understanding them; they are hearing and understanding their animals.

Granted, people who communicate with animals professionally can often hear deeper messages than people in the general public can. But that’s because the professionals get more practice than most other people and because the professionals believe what they are hearing and believe that the animals can hear what they are saying.

My first dramatic experience of this came many (many) years ago when I was living in San Francisco. One morning, I opened my front door to find the oddest looking puppy tied to the porch. (She grew up to be breathtakingly beautiful, by the way.) I didn’t need another dog, but I took her in. In those days, in that city, no one leashed their dogs. The dogs were all very civilized, very well behaved. We’d descend on the parks in droves, and our dogs would play in wild, joyful abandon.

The first time I took the little Shambalah for a walk, unleashed, she got up ahead of me a bit. She was approaching a street corner, and I, not wanting to frighten her into running across it, just calmly said, “Wait,” never expecting that she actually would. But she did. She was only a few months old, and had no training. She wasn’t even housebroken. But when I kindly asked her to wait, she did. That day and for the next 15 years.

A few weeks ago, I took on the care of an aged, neglected pony. I began him on what for him was an odd diet (a wonderful, healing diet; see Vita Royal on my Website for more information), which included a mash (not bran) and a liquid that helps to heal the gut (Nutrient Buffer). He wouldn’t eat the mash with the Nutrient Buffer in it, so I had to dose this liquid with a syringe before each meal.

He never fought me, but he wouldn’t let me easily tip his head back, either. One evening, I realized I was straining my arm and my back doing this. Caring for him was very labor intensive—playing with different consistencies of the mash, so he would eat it rather than either kick it over (too wet) or store it in his cheeks for hours (too sticky); bathing his crusty eyes each morning with calendula; picking his thrushy feet and spraying them with apple cider vinegar. Sharing the huge amounts of Reiki he kept asking for. Well, that part was fun.

Actually, it was all fun and very rewarding, but that evening, I was cold, and my arm and back hurt, and he had his head in lock-down position when I wanted to dose his Nutrient Buffer. I tried once. Ouch. Then I looked him right in the eye and said, “Look, mister. I don’t have time for this. You need to take this stuff twice a day for three weeks before you eat. Then we’re done with it. I’m doing my best to take care of you and make you feel better. So give me a break.” I did not shout, but I spoke loudly. I was not angry, but I was extremely irritated, and I let him know it.

I swear to you that pony relaxed his neck and allowed me to easily dose the liquid, no strain to my arm or back. And it hasn’t been a problem in the two weeks since that night.

Evenings, I’ve been putting my gelding, Fuersti, and my mare, Tara, into the arena with Davey so they can get used to each other. Eventually, I’m going to put Davey out with them, but he’s too fragile right now. My two are young and feisty. As of this writing, their paddocks and track (a kind of circular dry lot around the four-acre pasture) are too muddy for the old guy to safely navigate (since he’s used to being alone on grass), and I don’t want him to get hurt.

The first few times they were all together, Davey—who has lived alone for the past 10 years—would run into a corner of the arena every time my Fuersti would approach him. I was surprised. I’d seen them groom each other over a gate, but face-to-face Davey acted like a scared rabbit. As the days went by, Davey got more and more brave, standing about 10 feet from Fuersti, who was nibbling hay. Then he began to allow Fuersti to gently move him around the arena without running into a corner. My mare, Tara, Ignored Davey completely.

One night, after about a week of this. I heard a ruckus in the arena and went to see what was going on. Fuersti was chasing Davey around the arena—no problem there—but Fuersti’s his ears were laid back (not quite pinned), and he was getting ready to take a good-sized bite. This was just horseplay. I know my Fuersti. He’s a kind an gentle soul, but he likes to play hard.

But to my mind this was a bit too hard in such a small space. Davey was having trouble making the tight turns. Out in a field, OK, but not in here.

Just as Fuersti was opening his mouth to grab flesh, I poked my head over the gate and said loudly, “Hey, HEY, HEY!” I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting Fuersti to stop dead in his tracks, whirl around, and face me. “What?” he seemed to be asking.

Quietly, still on the other side of the gate, I said, “Fuersti. That’s too much. Take it easy.” And that was that. He hasn’t done it again in the weeks since.

Do animals understand English? Sure, they understand some words. I’ve recently heard that scientists have discovered that dogs can recognize several hundred words. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. In writing these stories today, I realized that in each case, I spoke to my animal friends the same way I would speak to a human: honestly, clearly, respectfully.

That’s how I’ve always been with my animals. Most of the time. The handful of times I’ve allowed myself to become angry, I never get the results I want. My little Elika dog absolutely refuses to come to me if I have anger in my voice; she sits and stares at me. My horses ignore me.

But if I address them with honesty, clarity, and respect, they always seem to understand what my heart is saying to them.

Give it a try. And if you’re up to it, drop me an email and let me know what happens.

Until next time . . .

Be well,


P.S. I have begun a Facebook group called Healing is Possible. All are welcome to join to share stories about healing (and they don’t need to be about Reiki). I hope to see you there.

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in October, 2009.

© 2010 by Pamela Sourelis



Happy Holidays everyone!

I first shared this column with you in December of 2007. This has been a very challenging year for all of us, and I wanted to share it again.

The season of gift-giving is upon us. Some of us will frantically search for just the right gift, the gift that says just the right thing, expresses just the right emotion, the gift that shows us off in just the right light. We will plan and shop and prepare. We will spend far too much money and far too much energy and will end up feeling depleted and sad.

Others of us will give as little thought as possible to the chore of gift-buying and will speed down department store aisles mere days before our family gathering or our office gathering or the gathering at our place of worship, grabbing at whatever—they can always return it if they don’t like it—and paying extra for gift-wrapping. We will spend far too much money and far too much energy and will end up feeling depleted and sad.

Several years ago, a woman in one of my Reiki classes shared this story. The year before, she had been on vacation in Costa Rica and had been swept off the beach by a riptide. Her neck was broken in two places. She was told she might never walk again.

The woman, a successful groomer and dog sitter, always had a house full of dogs. She told of coming home from the hospital and being immobilized for weeks, her bed surrounded by dogs, both hers and other people’s. When her husband would come to check on her, he had to pick his way over and between the pack because they refused to move. She told us, her voice heavy with emotion, that she was certain it was the energy and love of these creatures that made it possible for her to walk again.

Later, with the aid of a walker, she was able to take daily walks to the corner. She would take several dogs with her. “They only needed one walk,” she said, laughing. “It took all day.” She took four at a time, two leashes in each hand, inching her way down the sidewalk. She said, “I would take a step, and they would take a step. I would stop to rest, and they would sit and wait. I would take another step, and they would take another step. I would stop, and they would sit.” The woman who was told she might never walk again told us she was soon able to walk on her own. What greater gift than this?

Giving is second nature to the creatures in our lives: the dog who teaches us about loyalty and unconditional love, the cat who teaches us about independence. Giving is second nature to the horse who hears our confessions and our prayers, who lets us bury our face in his strong, sweet neck, who nibbles our hair, who carries us on her strong back down a snowy trail, who looks us in the eye with fierce pride.

I think the animals have much to teach us about giving.

Perhaps this gift-giving season some of us will strike a better balance than we have in the past, taking our cue from the creatures in our lives. Perhaps we will fret less, enjoy each other more, give freely from our hearts.

Until next year . . .

Be well,


P.S. I have begun a Facebook group called Healing is Possible. All are welcome to join to share stories about healing (and they don’t need to be about Reiki). I hope to see you there.

*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in October, 2009.

© 2009 by Pamela Sourelis