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.