Acupressurist focuses on four-legged patients
It was cold where Anita Read was working on her patient, but at least the wind was blocked. A gray sky hung low over the building where her next client waited as Read ran her hands along the patient’s legs and scratched his head when he turned to give her an inquisitive look.
Read’s patients on this day, a paint gelding named Skeeter and a black mare named Gypsy, are on the larger side of her clientele. As a nationally board-certified canine and equine acupressurist, Read treats patients ranging from small dogs to large horses, working to restore harmony and balance in their bodies and promote health and healing.
Acupressure is one of many alternative or complementary forms of medicine that is gaining momentum in the animal world. While traditional Chinese medicine has gained ground among humans in the Western world, these forms of treatment have been slower to be used on four-legged patients.
Skeeter is a big horse, 22 years old and with some arthritis but acting much younger than his age. His owner, Nancy Hawley of Decatur, said he has some tendon and ligament issues but worked mostly in the English discipline of dressage when he was younger.
“He was a do-anything-I-want-to-do horse,” she said. “I’d ride him dressage five days a week and take him out team penning on the weekend.”
Hawley has four horses in her small stable, and Gypsy has a history of treatment with Read.
When Skeeter becomes antsy, Read stops the treatment and moves on to Gypsy, who flinches when Read applies gentle pressure to a spot just to the left of the spine, halfway down the horse’s back. In the past, Gypsy was badly kicked on the left front leg, and Read said she has paid attention to Gypsy’s opposite diagonal leg (in this care, the right hind leg) because animals tend to overcompensate for injuries, throwing off their balance and causing extra stress.
Whoever the patient is – or whatever the species – the acupressure approach is the same, Read said. Meridians, or channels of energy, run throughout the body, and focusing on moving energy, or chi, through the meridians promotes healing and wellness.
Comparing Western medicine to traditional healing methods shows that there are relations, Read said. The meridians mirror the nervous system, she said, and just as a nerve can affect different parts of the body at different points, meridians can affect various parts of the body. The goal of acupressure, which does not include the invasiveness of acupuncture needles, is to restore balance.
“There are layers of tissues,” Read said. “Everything’s connected in the animal’s body.”
Read, who grew up as a self-described Southern California beach girl, moved to Texas in 1988. She had dogs and cats, and about 15 years ago one of her dogs had arthritis, which prompted her to start learning about various treatments. She was working for American Airlines as a dispatcher, a job she said was mentally fulfilling but still left her yearning for something hands-on with animals, when she decided to pursue acupressure as a new career.
Learning to treat with acupressure is a lifelong pursuit, she said, but she started by going to Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute in Larkspur, Colo. The training included practical learning as well as online courses. She met Hawley several years ago. Hawley does dog agility training, and she also dabbled in alternative medicine for her animals in the past, including having acupuncture done on Skeeter (in Texas it can only be performed by a veterinarian) and using a chiropractor and acupuncture for one of her dogs.
“We reached the point where Western medicine couldn’t help her,” Hawley said of the dog. “She was 7 at the time and we weren’t sure she’d last to 8. She’s 12 and a half now.”
Acupressure has many benefits, according to the Tallgrass Institute. It can relieve muscle spasms, build the immune system, help chronic health issues and strengthen muscles, tendons, joints and bones while balancing energy to optimize the body’s natural ability to heal. However, if an animal has an acute medical need, it’s important to address that first before moving on to acupressure, Read said.
Most of Read’s treatments last an hour, and Gypsy’s response to pressure on the spot on her back lessens over several minutes. She drops her head and half-closes her eyes as Read moves her hands along the meridians.
Techniques such as a traditional form of Chinese massage can also complement acupressure, Read said. She’s continually reading and taking classes online and in person to expand her knowledge base.
“Acupressure and traditional Chinese medicine, it’s a huge field and I will be learning for years,” she said.
Most of Read’s patients come either from veterinarian referrals or from word-of-mouth, she said. She sees many patients regularly to provide help for chronic conditions or to promote general health. The American Veterinary Medicine Association’s website shows that vets are increasingly incorporating traditional medicine into their treatment plans. When asked whether any vets have expressed opposition to her practice, Read shakes her head.
“If they think that, they don’t tell me,” she said.
Hawley looks at Gypsy, who appears to be half-dozing, and says the results, to her, are obvious.
“The animals don’t lie,” she says. “…There’s a visible difference in them when they’re done.”