There are many approaches to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but the Five-Element approach is unique in that it includes the idea that each of us, animal or human, represents a “constitutional type,” exhibiting certain physical and emotional traits that are specific to that type. Viewing the individual from this perspective can also be applied to horses, thus facilitating a better understanding of any given horse’s nature and needs.
Body type, physical characteristics, health challenges, and personality are all considered in determining a horse’s underlying Five-Element type. Knowing your horse’s constitutional type can help you make dietary and lifestyle choices for him that will best support his overall needs on an ongoing basis. If you are looking for a new horse, Five Element typing will aid you in selecting a horse that is well-suited for your lifestyle, the specific activity you wish to undertake with him, or a particular training style.
The Five Elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine are Water, Fire, Wood, Metal and Earth. Each element has a connection to specific organs and energy pathways (meridians) in the body, as follows:
Water: The Kidney (KI) and the Bladder (BL)
Fire: The Heart(HT) and the Small Intestine (SI); the Pericardium (PC) and the Triple Heater (TH)
Wood: The Liver (LIV) and the Gallbladder (GB)
Metal: The Lung (LU) and the Large Intestine (LI)
Earth: The Spleen (SP) and the Stomach (ST)
According to TCM tradition, when your horse exhibits health problems, they are likely to be related to the organs and meridians associated with his constitutional type. For example, a metal horse might have chronic respiratory troubles (lungs) and/or problems in the front legs (because that is where the path of the lung and large intestine meridians run).
Each element is associated with a Yin and a Yang organ, with the exception being the Fire element, which is associated with two of each. Yin organs are generally solid, like the heart or kidney. Yang organs are usually hollow, like the small intestine or bladder. Exceptions are the paired Fire organs: the Pericardium and Triple Heater (neither solid nor hollow).
In TCM, the organs of the body are considered to have expanded functions over those attributed to them by Western medicine. For the purposes of this ebook, therefore, when the TCM function of an organ is being considered, the name of the organ will begin with a capital letter. When the Western meaning is being considered, the first letter will be in lower case.
An example of the discrepancy between these two views would be that in Western medicine the heart is considered to pump the blood, and its connection to the emotions is not readily recognized or even acknowledged at all. But in TCM, the Heart is considered to actually house the emotions, or Shen,” so an imbalance in the Heart would cause emotional instability along with problems of the physical organ itself.
Each element has an extensive set of relationships like emotion, climate, season, color, sense organ, and body tissue. For example, an Earth horse would be most negatively affected by a damp climate, have worse symptoms in the late summer or during a change of season, have yellow discharges, experience problems around the lips, and have weakness in the muscles. These types of relationships help us recognize constitutional types.
Another important aspect of TCM is the idea of Excess and Deficiency. Within any given constitutional type, the subject can manifest entirely different patterns depending on the overall level of energy in his system. For example, if you have a Wood horse who is manifesting excess signs, he might be very pushy, even to the level of being dangerous or uncontrollable. If, to the contrary, your Wood horse is in a deficient state, he might be lethargic, stiff, and have a dull hair coat and weak hooves. Same type horse, opposite levels of systemic energy.
Personality also plays a large part in determining the Five-Element type. Care must be taken, however, in typing based on personality exclusively, as the environment a horse is raised in can have a strong influence on his personality. This is especially true when typing older horses. For example, a Water horse could be very calm and confident when he is living in a safe place and trusts his handlers, but panicky and impulsive when handled poorly or when he is feeling insecure. Similarly, a normally friendly Fire horse could become very anxious and fearful if treated roughly and without compassion.
In addition to the five pure constitutional types that are based on each of the five elements, there are six other recognized temperament types that are combinations of more than one element. It is these six types that will be discussed in this ebook. These temperament types relate to paired organs and meridians, are named accordingly, and there is a Yin and a Yang pair for each combination. Each combination has its own set of personality and physical traits. The six additional temperament types, as listed in their correct pairs, are:
Yang : Shao Yang (GB/TH) and Yin: Jue Yin (LIV/PC)
Yang : Tai Yang (SI/BL) and Yin: Shao Yin (HT/KI)
Yang : Yang Ming (LI/ST) and Yin: Tai Yin (LU/SP)
In my experience, horses who fit well into one of the pure Five-Element constitutional types are generally predictable in their behavior and physiology, whereas horses falling into one of the six combination temperaments are much more challenging to understand and manage.
Whether your horse is a pure type or one of the combination temperaments, identifying his Five-Element constitution will help you better understand and care for him and thus ease the to-be-expected challenges of any relationship between horse and human, whether it be in training, health, or behavior.
Here is a short summary of each type:
Fire Horse: The Perfect Show Horse
Fire horses love to be at the center of attention and they want to be adored. They make excellent hunters and dressage horses, as well as good pleasure horses. They need to be told that they are loved. They enjoy grooming and bathing because it makes them beautiful.
Wood Horse: The Ultimate Competitor
Wood horses love physical challenges and must be kept active or they will develop bad habits like kicking and biting. Wood horses make excellent jumpers, barrel racers and cutters so long as they understand the rules of the game. Don’t try to subdue or overpower a Wood horse but instead reason with them.
Earth Horse: The Dependable Lesson Horse
Earth horses love two things: respect and food. They are solid citizens who want to be appreciated for the good work they do, and food treats often go a long way toward keeping them happy. They make perfect school horses and work well with children. They develop bad habits when their daily routine is upset.
Metal Horse: The Hard-Working Ranch Horse
Metal horses enjoy order and control, and can stand up to some of the toughest working conditions. They do their jobs perfectly but otherwise desire very little interaction. They can be found in all disciplines and are often found in working-horse situations like ranching.
Water Horse: The Arab Park Horse
Water horses need safety and a trustworthy rider. They can be brilliant show horses but panic easily. They perform well in events that call for animation and excitement, and are motivated by cheering crowds. They need steady riders to help them through scary situations.
Tai Yin Horse (Yin Earth/Metal): Consistent Hard Worker
The Tai Yin horse often bonds to a single person and will work very hard for that person. They crave respect and routine. They excel in events that call for consistency rather than flash. They tend to be slower moving and have heavier bodies.
Yang Ming Horse (Yang Metal/Earth): Good Horse for Beginners
Yang Ming horses want to be treated fairly. They will withhold respect and affection until they are sure their riders are fair and respectable. They are athletic enough to go into any discipline and often win based on their consistent performance. They tend to have long and lanky bodies.
Shao Yin Horse (Yin Fire/Water): A Good Kid’s Horse
Shao Yin horses like attention and social interaction as well as figuring things out. They are fairly laid back and make excellent western pleasure and trail horses. They have good presence in the show ring but lack the personality to do speed or endurance events. They seem to be the easiest of all types to train.
Tai Yang Horse (Yang Water/Fire)
Tai Yang horses have the highest energy of all the types and they love to show off. They need supportive riders to help them through scary situations and tend to be suspicious of new people. They excel at jumping and endurance and also do well at competitive driving. They need to be taught to relax and thrive on praise.
Jue Yin Horse (Yin Wood/Fire)
Jue Yin horses are highly mercurial and work well only when they want to. Working with these horses can be a real exercise in patience and if they are not “in the mood” to work, it’s best to delay training to another day. These horses do best in low pressure activities such as playdays, trail rides, clinics and schooling shows. Desensitizing them with exposure to flags and tarps can make them much safer to handle.
Shao Yang Horse (Yang Fire/Wood)
Shao Yang horses are the supreme competitors. They are agile, coordinated and athletic, but can take aggressiveness to an extreme. Shao Yang horses need handlers with the same level of will and strength. These horses excel at racing, cross country, stadium jumping, reining and cutting, but lack the focus to do dressage, pleasure or hunter classes.