This is a commentary on an extremely recent (this month) piece of research on the use of acupuncture for horses. I should mention at the outset, that, to my infinite regret, I am not able to treat horses personally because in the UK, it is legally necessary to be a qualified veterinarian in order to do so. Having said that, traditionally this was not the case, and acupuncture for animals and acupuncture for humans developed in parallel and use the same theory and most of the same acupuncture points. And there are lessons to learn from animal acupuncture that are transferable to the treatment of humans, and indeed this paper is not published in a specialist veterinary journal but in a journal focused on human acupuncture.
This research was carried out on race horses, suffering from pain along the lateral aspect of the body. There were a total of 15 horses included in the study and all horses had significant pain relief within 30 seconds to 2 minutes of the commencement of the treatment (that is really fast- compared to “human” acupuncture anyway). It is further reported that, unsurprisingly, reduced pain resulted in a better riding performance from the horses. In order to find the location of the most severe pain, the entire body of the horses was palpated and it was found, in these 15 horses, that the pain was focuses along a line, on the lateral aspect of the horses body, that correspond to one of the “meridian” lines in traditional acupuncture theory. One interesting aspect of this study is that the needles used were not much thicker than the ones used for humans. I would have expected that the well-developed muscles of a horse would require thicker and longer needles but apparently not.
An average of 6 needles was used (3-12) On average followup of 5 days (1-8 days range) 12 of the horses were cured- no longer suffering pain and 3 of them were improved, neither did any of the horses, except for one, on longer term followup suffer recurrence of pain in that same region of the body. Finally, the researcher (she is a practicing vet) reports that not only did the horses display no stress reactions during the insertion or retention of the needles, but some of them behaved as if they had been sedated, as judged by their relaxed physical posture, their chewing behaviour, and the lowering of the head. Most humans (around 90%) report feeling very relaxed during acupuncture treatment, and apparently horses are no different.