Horses Hide Their Pain

Full article below or click here for link to abridged article in Holistic Horse


by Laura Bedford

Grazing peacefully on the grassy plain, relaxing endorphins flow into the lowered head of the lead mare of a small family of wild mustangs. Though at peace in her grazing, she feels a stabbing throb in her right hind leg. Intuitively, she knows to hide her discomfort from her herd and from any lurking predators. If she shares her discomfort, her family will worry about her capability to keep them safe, and the pack of wolves that has been traveling nearby, and occasionally stalking the herd, could sense her weakness. This mare is not ready to be dinner for another family, and her own family depends on her leadership. The adjustments she is making in the way she carries herself to compensate for her discomfort are only faintly detectable, even to her.


Veterinarian Rachel Heart Bellini, DVM shares with me that, while horses process pain differently than we humans do, horses are “unbelievable pain hiders.” She says this instinct and intuition[1] is deeply ingrained in equine DNA because a horse knows to be weak is to die. Their natural intuition is to hide their pain profoundly well. The difficulty becomes that to disguise pain causes a being to carry its body incorrectly. Physical misalignment can lead to lasting imbalances that affect the functioning of the mind-body, such as mental and emotional response capacity. A hurting horse may have a short temper or a decreased ability to sense danger.

Observe a horse in motion and notice where their power seems to be flowing and where and when it seems blocked. Humans are very similar in how we flow and block our body’s energy. Observing Dr. Bellini’s work confirmed to me that horses can hold stress in the same areas we do.


Domesticated[2] horses are subject to stresses that are not part of life for a wild horse, and they have adapted admirably. Wherever he finds himself, a horse survives because he is aware of his environment. Whether wild or tame, an unaware animal rarely lives long. The instinct is to remain alert, ready to protect or move at all times.[3] A hurting horse may not be able to escape or fight off a predator or captor or be able to assist herd members. For survival, a horse hides its pain beyond what humans might imagine possible. Such awareness can translate directly into how we support and care for horses living among humans.

The adventure is that, for any species, pain is carried in places that are not wired for holding it. As in humans, equine necks and shoulders can hold an unbelievable amount of tension. With proper training and core strength building exercises, horses cared for and ridden by humans can remain mentally relaxed, aligned physiologically and can be supported and trained to release tension forward of their midline. Massage, kind voices, and gentle, soft, slow movements around a horse will help him to relax. Learn how to look at the form of a horse at rest and in various forms and motions.


Horses love to run and to be free. They know how to care for their bodies naturally. Says Dr. Bellini, “For proper alignment, vital for effective, core-based motion and stillness (stillness is very much a part of the flow of life and movement), a horse needs to be able to extend fully through its lower body and hind end.” Core strength, originating from its hind end, hip and pelvic area—its power center—is essential for a strong, balanced, healthy horse. Notably, this area, like all areas of the body, is aligned with highly refined frequency and more dense, yet still refined, oscillating wave-particles that comprise any body. (Bodies are frequency, comprised of energy meridians, ki and chakra centers.[4]) As with all life forms, a horse’s energy field extends within and far beyond its form and can be felt, and, with a trained eye, seen. Supporting baseline core health energetically and physiologically is vital for horses, humans and all life in the wild and in captivity, whether or not we remember or feel these frequencies in any given moment. Sensitivity to energy flow and stillness increases with awareness. There are many practices to expand human sensitivity, and it is vital to observe and restore balance to the whole being.


As we know, discomfort and pain is helpful information. It can also interfere with the flow and transference of electro-magnetic and high frequency signals, so core balance on many levels is vital. Dr. Bellini shared with me that some horses in captivity barely feel their core. While providing therapy to one of her patients, she said she could “drive a stake” into a particular area on the horse’s back and the horse would barely feel it—prior to being worked on therapeutically. I don’t know about you, but bringing this to my attention felt transformational. Observing one horse after another respond to Dr. Bellini’s comprehensive treatments—she often spends at least an hour with a horse using a variety of healing modalities, such as standard vet care, whole body chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, acupressure and energy healing—I viewed first-hand pain relieving effects, collaborative willingness and expressions of gratitude coming from the horses.


When I felt prompted to write an article about how horses hide their pain, I remembered a dream from a few years ago. Imprinted into my mind was a living image of woefully suffering horses lying in hospital beds. Upon waking, I realized a powerful message was being shared, yet, while being a horse and animal lover, I am not a horsewoman. I didn’t know where to begin, so, I began at the beginning, which is how I came to find Dr. Bellini and other aware physicians and practitioners. I researched horses and learned they have long been journeying among and serving humanity, in ways we are generally aware of—in agriculture, war, industrialization, transportation, entertainment, racing and hunting, and as friends and companions. And, among those who recognize the exceptional sensitivity and consciousness of this gentle species, an emerging field called equine assisted therapy or horse wisdom is rising on the list of ways horses help us.[5]


Humans have lived with and worked side by side and on top of horses for millennia in ways our western mind might find captivating and sweet. Bedouins and Native Americans honor the equine race, sometimes even sharing their tents with their four-legged friends.[6] Mares have given birth in family dwellings.


Through my research, I began wondering, how well do we know our equine brothers and sisters? Happily, with a long history of respect for this wise, helpful and gentle species, we are expanding our capability to support horses experiencing stress and pain. We are learning to assist their minds to relax, and to observe and feel them as conscious, energetic beings. Horse folk observe that horse skin is so sensitive that landing flies are felt. When grooming, we are becoming even more sensitive to their sensitivity. Whether moving or standing still in a field, a round pen or hillside or in a stall, a horse feels everything. Deeply. Even in its feet.

In fact, a horse’s hooves are its life. What happens if a horse’s foot is not strong? A healthy hoof is strong and capable of withstanding phenomenal forces on terrain that would have some humans weeping. A painful, cracked or rotting hoof means an uncomfortable or horribly suffering horse that may not live long. Likewise, shoeing horses is controversial, and needs more research. There are reasonable considerations for shoeing a horse, but shoes should not be a given for horses all the time in all conditions. If this is a subject on your heart, inquire of those doing research and ask your horse what would best support him or her. You might be surprised by what you learn and sense.


And, like we experience sore feet and headaches, horses get headaches. In fact, horses hold much, including strain and pain, within their enormous heads—an extremely sensitive area often bound by humans. Dr. Bellini shared with me that many horses have chronic headaches, which we often mistake for being head shy. They don’t want to be approached or touched because they hurt. Horses feel energy before physical contact is made. Imagine (you might not have to imagine!) having a permanent headache. Thankfully, tack is becoming more humane and appropriately fitted. Also, our awareness is expanding for leading a horse when mounted or side-by-side within the friendship zone, next to their shoulder, rather than pulling on the reins while walking ahead of them.


We do well to remember that horses are prey animals. They serve as food for other species. To remain alive they feel and respond to their world as individuals and as a collective, as a tuned instrument, which helps everyone thrive and escape danger (hopefully). An attuned animal may sense a living presence before it hones in on a particular life form because they are aware of energy, of subtle vibration. Observe horses at liberty to see if this seems accurate.[7]

While it is a bit challenging to gain a full sense of this, when a domesticated horse is at liberty (roaming free or relatively free) travel a distance away from them, perhaps 100 yards—if you can see well from that far away. Hang out for a bit, doing your own thing, then—slowly—move toward the horse as a gentle, relaxed, respectful presence. Keep your hips soft, bent slightly inward so your torso is slightly in front of your hips. Perhaps turn your body to the side so you appear less predator-like in eternal pounce position, and approach at an angle. If you are at ease working with your own energy field, mentally and with a felt sense of gratitude, which sends a much stronger frequency signal, invite the horse to connect with your energy and to join with you if they would like. Give the horse the choice to join or not to join. They will feel this choice energetically, and may be less inclined toward taking flight. (A horse is more likely to flee than to fight, unless you are incredibly close and obviously challenging her life. Many, and perhaps most, will not fight, even under dreadful circumstances, though their body language may convey self-protection. They will clearly indicate whether they feel safe or threatened by your actions, your energy and your body language. Likewise, if you are at peace, they feel this.) As you softly approach a horse, notice how he grows more interested in you. An ear, and much more of him, may move away or in your direction. Gently take a step back. Move out of “the zone” of his field and notice what happens. An action of this nature denotes respect for his presence, “Let’s get to know each other first.” Notice his ears moving independently, like radar. Equine ears tune into multiple sounds and in more than one direction. A raised, alert head and a tail held high signal adrenalin coursing through the body, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it intends to flee or fight for its life. This means readiness. Likewise, a lowered head allows relaxing endorphins to flood his brain. When a horse’s head is low, he is in relative peace. A horse wants to know if you are a safe place and will give clear indications of what he senses. He knows how we are feeling by how we are moving. Horses are remarkably kind toward those who are honest feelers,[8] especially children. Horses are sensitive beyond imagining.

A tame and confined horse’s life span is thought to be significantly less than that of a wild horse, as much as twenty years shorter.[9] Because horses are so effective and genetically pre-disposed to disguising physical discomfort and serving their human herd, there is much we can do to help them feel at ease. As we gain their trust, they begin to tell us their stories through how they respond and move (or don’t move).[10] Horse eyes and facial expressions are astonishingly clear indicators of their present comfort level and state of mind. Due to the work of powerfully aware, enlightened humans, we are quickly moving beyond unfeeling methods into the language of knowledge: Slow, peaceful observation is taking us to astounding places within ourselves and with horses.


 (Copyright 2012 Laura Bedford)


Horses Hide Their Pain author contact information:

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[1] Explore intuition, which is subtle energy awareness, and the felt sense we all have. Animals are more aware of subtle energy than most adult humans. Human babies and those with highly sensitive nervous systems (often classified as autism) are more sensitive in this way. All life is energy and refined/finer frequency that is deeply attuned to the flow of energy and frequency. This sort of awareness is beyond human emotions, which are dense thought forms. Beyond emotion is subtle energy, light that is more refined that what many humans generally think of as light.


[2] A fast, gentle, humane approach to making friends and establishing leadership with horses (rather than breaking a horse’s spirit using abusive, painful and fright inducing tactics) is called Join-up, a term and technique by Monty Roberts, author of The Man Who Listens to Horses.


[3] A newborn foal can run with its herd within hours after birth.


[4] Western science and eastern martial arts, healing modalities, yoga and breathing techniques, and light/spiritual/mystical approaches to Life concur regarding the existence of the quantum (invisible) world of awareness beyond ego (personality, duality/us/them/me/fear-mind/forgotten connection to all Life) and physical bodies as oscillating patterns and energy that respond to mind/consciousness of the inhabiting Life force. Beyond dense energy lies higher, more refined frequencies of quality (quantity is an aspect of quality). Research the work of Robert Gilbert,; Quantum Touch by Richard Gordon, a healing practitioner who lists many research sources in the book; Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness by Itzak Bentov, a scientist and medical innovator of extraordinary ability; also research astronomy, cosmology, quantum science and other sources for information on Life force energy, dark energy and dark matter (light beyond the human visual spectrum).


[5] Horses support humans with autism, highly sensitive nervous systems, behavioral challenges, substance abuse concerns, self-confidence issues and alternative learning capabilities to calm, build confidence, develop empowerment and effective communication strategies for healing painful issues and for self-image and interpersonal relations.


[6] and


[7] The first time I experienced the following demonstration was at Animals as Natural Therapy, a non-profit in Bellingham, Washington that serves empowers youth and adults to thrive and to create stronger bonds with people and animals in a safe and nuturing environment.


[8] A horse is reading our body language and our energy, not our human opinions (all the stories we tell ourselves) about how we are feeling. If they sense we are afraid they may withdraw, as much as departing out of their own uncertainty. Likewise, horses are aware of many things at once, so don’t take it personally if a horse makes a choice to depart. Learn horse language. Horses are kind and curious. Exploring together is wonderful! Horses are excellent mirrors and teachers for us because of the honesty of their response.


[9] Healthy horses in the wild can live beyond 40. Domesticated horses have an average life span between 20-30 years.


[10] A powerful technique for joining with a horse, becoming a trusted herd member and, ideally, a leader is called Join-Up. Monty Roberts, author of The Man Who Listens to Horses coined this term and approach that is aligned with what enlightened humans have been doing with horses for eons.