Reiki and Recovery: The Comeback of Marvelous Max
I first began treating Max, or Marvelous as he is known in the show world, with Reiki in March of 2005. It was at that time that my trainer, Alison, acquired him from a friend and dressage trainer. Little did I know the many obstacles Max had overcome in order to get to this turning point in his life. I only knew that he was extremely sensitive and responsive to energy, and therefore to the Reiki I offered.
Reiki is a Japanese system of energy healing, in which the practitioner (in this case me) channels healing energy from the universe to her client (in this case Max). Each treatment involves usually a combination of light hand positions directly on the body, and also sending Reiki from a short distance. In this way, the animal always chooses how to receive the Reiki that is offered. And so our relationship began, composed of weekly Reiki sessions and occasional pats during the week when I would see him out and about with Alison.
The first Reiki treatment I gave Max was interesting. I must admit that doing Reiki on a horse whose legs were as tall as my chest was a bit intimidating. But as soon as I entered his stall and asked for his permission to begin the treatment, he put his gigantic nose against my chest. He slowly began to take the edge of my t-shirt into his mouth to suck on. He really was like a gigantic puppy dog! As I began the treatment, I immediately sensed a great anxiety from him. To me as a practitioner of Reiki, this feels like tightness in my chest. Usually it will dissipate by the end of the treatment, as Reiki helps to release the feeling, bringing emotional healing to the animal.
Sure enough, as I moved my hands over his body, the feeling of anxiety lessened. Max seemed to appreciate hands-on Reiki, so I began the treatment with my hands lightly at his shoulders, and progressed down`his body on either side, ending on his hind legs. As I put my hands over his hind legs, he picked each leg up and stretched them high into the air and backward. I would later discover the difficulties he had faced regarding those legs. As I finished the treatment, Max's head had dropped, his lower lip hanging loosely in relaxation. He barely stirred as I thanked him and left the stall. He was deeply into what I call "Reiki land," a common state of deep peace and repose induced by a Reiki treatment.
Max is an 11 year old Dutch Warmblood, 18.2 hands in height. He was born in Holland, where he was destined for Grand Prix dressage, the very highest level of dressage skill in the world. Although he is gigantic, he is extremely well-proportioned and a wonderful mover. When Max was 5, Alison's friend went to Europe looking for a dressage horse to train to the Grand Prix level. She fell in love with him and imported him to California. She trained him in dressage for 5 years. In the beginning, Max was wonderful. He was fine in the basics of dressage, but as the difficulty of the upper levels progressed, Max began to refuse to work. The intense collection that was required at these levels was very difficult, and Max just didn't want to do it. He began to get anxious: he would threaten to rear and just get "stuck". Because he is so enormous, it was extremely intimidating. If the issue was forced, things began to escalate even further. Eventually, his person decided that it was hard enough to train a willing horse to do Grand Prix, and she just didn't want to fight with him.
So, Max's person began to ask the question, "What else?" She thought perhaps he could be a jumper. And so, she began to try him over a few jumps. It was winter and he had just begun to jump, when he got scratches on his lower legs. This kind of injury is very common in horses, especially in wintertime, but with Max, the scratches didn't heal but only got worse. They worsened into a bacterial infection that spiraled out of control. Overnight, his back legs swelled to 3 times their normal size. He was given a strong dose of antibiotics, but the wrong type of antibiotics, so the infection continued to grow in severity. Pretty soon he had a full blown systemic infection, lymphangitis, and a 104 degree fever. He was hospitalized for 10 days, where he was finally given the correct antibiotic and began to recover. After his return home, he was given stall rest and slowly he recovered. Finally, his person decided it was time to find him the right home where he would be happy in his work.
This is where Alison came into the picture. In late January, she first met Max when looking for a horse for some clients. Over the next couple of months, she visited Max several times. Although Max was officially for sale, his person had no desire to let go of him for just "any person." She wanted the right home and trainer for this special horse. After several interested parties just weren't "perfect", she decided she'd rather give him to the right home than sell him to the wrong one. She had known Alison for many years: Alison used to ride with her daughter when they were young. She knew what kind of training program Alison had, and her talent with horses. So, she asked Alison if she would take him.
By now it was March and Max had been basically out of work for 4 months. He really had no muscle and needed to rebuild his strength. Alison began riding him lightly but regularly to bring him back into shape very gradually. For 6 weeks, she continued to keep tight standing wraps on him all the time, except when riding. She was gradually able to wean him off these wraps as his legs resumed their normal size.
I continued regular Reiki treatments for Max from March through the present. As the months passed, I felt great improvement in his energetic balance. His behavior too, was different. The anxiety that had plagued him for so long in training was gone. He expressed a new happiness and interest in people, nickering at anyone who walked by. He would gently grab people's clothing or hats to get their attention. With the summer months in full swing, he was now able to be turned out in a large, grassy field to run and play. He moved to an outdoor paddock, out of the barn where he had lived all winter, and loved his new home. As he learned to jump competently, his confidence increased and personality emerged. He began to show an increasingly affectionate side: licking the sides of people's faces, playing with people's hair, and answering to anyone who called his name.
He began to like receiving Reiki treatments in a specific way: As I enter his paddock, he comes and greets me, pushing his nose into my chest and licking my palms or carefully pulling my hat off my head. Once I ask permission and begin the Reiki treatment, he walks into his 3 sided shelter and settles in for a nap. Each time, his head drops all the way to the ground as he yawns several times. He occasionally sways so much in his sleep that it looks like his knees are about to buckle! Respectfully, I keep the distance between us, treating him from about 15 feet away. Occasionally, he wakes up long enough to arch his back like a cat stretching or to lift his back legs into the air.
At the end of the treatment, he approaches me again and breathes deeply into my chest, before walking away and resuming his horsey activities (grazing, visiting neighboring horses, etc.). It is a lovely pattern of treatment that we both enjoy. He knows why I'm there and appreciates the healing energy, and I let him choose to receive the treatment exactly as he is comfortable to receive it.
In addition to Reiki, Max is receiving chiropractic every other month. His chiropractor says he's never been better! He also is receiving regular massage and his masseuse reports that he is stronger each time. The more fit he is, the happier he is: many days he absolutely can't wait to get to the next jump.
Another piece of this puzzle is what I call the "kid" factor. Max is now being regularly ridden by a very talented 12 year old. Although when she rides him she is in serious training, with goals to accomplish, she is also having a great time: having fun! This attitude of "playtime" rather than "worktime" is, I think, also a big factor in Max's enthusiasm and joy for his new career.
So what is in Max's future? He has come back from a serious illness and faced a change of "person" and training discipline. He has faced his new life and new challenges with humor, grace and courage. With the right combination of patient training, holistic healing, and awesome kids, I see Max's future as very bright!
Natural Horse Talk Magazine, Sept.-Oct. 2005, Volume 1, Issue 5