Feed your horse according to his personality type? Yes!
Most people think of food only in terms of its nutritional value, which many consider to be the same for every horse. However, when viewed energetically, the same food can have varying effects on different horses, depending on a horse's Five-Element personality type. When it comes to feeding, in addition to choosing foods suitable to each Five-Element personality type we should also consider whether to feed our horses differently during each of the four seasons.
THERAPEUTIC USE OF THE FIVE FLAVORS
When using the five flavors to balance a horse, it's important to first consider the Five-Element horse personality type, and then take into account the season. Never go to extremes with any flavor because too much of a particular flavor can create the opposite effect and weaken the organ you want to support.
- Bitter/Fire: heart and small intestine; yin
- Sweet/Earth: spleen/pancreas and stomach; yang
- Pungent/Metal: lungs and large intestine; yang
- Salty/Water: kidneys and bladder; yin
- Sour/Wood: liver and gallbladder; yin
(yin, cooling, moves energy inward; yang, warming, moves energy outward)
A particular flavor is associated with each horse personality type. If a horse becomes unbalanced physically, mentally, or emotionally, the flavor associated with this type can often be used to bring him back into balance. The same horse may need a different flavor to help him balance during seasonal changes.
The Bitter Flavor
Properties Horses who have excessive energy and impulsive behavior benefit from bitter foods because they have a centering effect and bring the energy deeper into the body. Bitter is also good for slow-moving, lethargic horses who have damp conditions such as stocking up, or are just generally overfed and under-exercised.
Uses The bitter flavor is very helpful for horses suffering from inflammations, infections, and damp skin conditions.
Organ Functions Bitter foods and herbs help support the heart and blood vessels by removing deposits, which lowers blood pressure. Celery is one such bitter food and can certainly be fed to horses. Celery and other bitter foods can also be given to help clear heat and inflammation out of the liver after overeating, which make them healthier snacks than the high-starch treats from the feed store.
Bitter foods help drain damp conditions such as yeast infections, parasites, moist skin eruptions, abscesses, tumors, cysts (including the aggravating ovarian types), and swellings. These foods also help with intestinal function by increasing motility.
In addition to the liver and gallbladder, the lungs and kidneys also benefit from the bitter flavor. Any condition that shows thick, yellow discharge suggests dampness and heat, and the bitter flavor is perfect to move them out of the body. Upper respiratory infections, uterine infections, and hoof abscesses are examples of damp heat conditions that can be alleviated by bitter foods.
Season Increase bitter foods throughout the fall and winter to pull in energy to protect the body from cold external temperatures. Bitter foods also help in any seasons when heat symptoms appear.
Cautions Horses who are weak, thin, nervous, and dehydrated should be given bitter foods sparingly.
Examples of Bitter Foods Bitter herbs include dandelion leaf or root, burdock leaf or root, yarrow, chamomile, hops, valerian, chaparral, Echinacea, and pau d'arco. Alfalfa is a strictly bitter food, while celery and papaya are bitter and sweet, citrus peel is bitter and pungent, and vinegar is bitter and sour. Blue-green algae is a highly-concentrated bitter food you can easily add to your horse's feed. Oats are primarily sweet but also slightly bitter.
The Sweet Flavor
While most of us have been indoctrinated against feeding our horses sweet feed, the sweet flavor does actually have its place in the nutritional program of certain horses.
Properties Sweet is a flavor that can be important in feed for horses if it is not overdone. The full sweet flavor that is found in most grains can strengthen tissues, and the empty sweet found more in fruits has a cleansing and cooling effect. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, sweet is a harmonizing flavor that helps slow and relax the body. Many people may find this odd since most horses fed significant amounts of typical "sweet feed" mixes are anything but relaxed. The bad rap that whole grains get has to do with the fact that they are concentrated sources of calories and not always balanced in micro nutrients. The extra calories, which are over and above the needs of the horse, combined with lack of nutrients creates a hyperactive horse with little ability to focus. Any flavor in excess can cause the opposite effect.
The sweet flavor in moderation can build the Yin of the body, which relates to the connective tissues and fluids, so it can build up a thin, weak, dry, deficient horse. The sweet flavor can moisten and lubricate the connective tissues and helps form a thin, healthy mucus coating on membranes in the respiratory and digestive tracts. The sweet flavor activates the amylase enzyme in saliva and stimulates insulin production by the pancreas.
Uses Whole grains in moderation can energize and relax the body. This may seem contradictory, but because the sweet flavor relaxes the nerves and supports good brain function, the energy from proper amounts of whole grains can give energy and still allow the horse to stay relaxed. Again the emphasis is on whole grains that include micronutrients as well as calories. The correct balance of sugar in the blood increases the amount of the calming amino acid tryptophan that is able to reach the brain. The abundance of tryptophan-based horse supplements marketed as calming products suggests that blood sugar imbalances are common in horses.
Organ Functions The sweet flavor strengthens the spleen and pancreas, and soothes aggressive liver emotions such as anger and impatience. It moistens dry conditions in the lungs and slows an overactive heart and mind.
Season The sweet flavor is good for any season and helps the body transition from one season to another.
Cautions The problem is many of our grains today do not have good mineral profiles because they are not grown organically, so they act in the body like refined sugars. Refined sugar that reaches the stomach creates an acid condition which consumes the body's minerals including calcium. Sugar without the minerals to aid in its digestion weakens the digestive system, and this interferes with all digestion and assimilation. This situation in turn creates a blood sugar imbalance and a craving for more sugar. The resulting acid system depletes the body of vitamins and minerals, allowing bone loss and arthritis to develop. You should avoid giving foods with the sweet flavor to overweight, sluggish horses, or any horse with excessive mucus or dampness (since Yin herbs can cause dampness if fed in excess).
Examples of Sweet Foods Several sweet foods that can be fed to horses include apples, papaya, carrots, celery, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, molasses, and grains such as oats, barley, and corn.
The Pungent Flavor
The pungent flavor is associated with the element Metal. This flavor includes foods and herbs that are acrid, spicy, hot, and aromatic.
Properties The pungent flavor stimulates circulation of energy and blood and moves energy upwards and outwards to the periphery of the body. It can also have a relaxing effect on the nervous system for horses that tend to be nervous or restless. The pungent flavor tends to disperse, often by opening the pores of the skin and causing perspiration.
Uses The pungent flavor stimulates digestion and disperses mucus. Specifically this flavor:
1. Clears mucus out of the lungs but should be used with caution if heat is present in the form of an active infection.
2. Improves digestion and expels gas from the intestines.
3. Warms and relaxes the kidneys, increases the production of saliva and sweat.
4. Increases circulation and supports the heart.
5. Improves sluggish liver function.
Horses who are sluggish, lethargic, and overweight or who have mucus/damp conditions of the lungs and large intestine can benefit from the pungent flavor. Conditions that would fit this description include chronic moist coughs or intestinal parasites.
Certain horses with wind conditions, such as nervous or restless behavior, are helped by the pungent flavor, which relaxes the nervous system. In addition, horses with digestive issues benefit from pungent-flavored seeds that improve digestion, including fennel, dill, caraway, anise, coriander and cumin.
Organ Functions Foods that have a pungent flavor can act on the lungs and large intestine, and are often used to treat the common cold. The pungent flavor nourishes the lungs, dispersing phlegm and mucous. Pungent foods that are also spicy affect and warm various organs in the body, and stimulate metabolic activity.
Season The pungent flavor, along with the sweet flavor, helps attune the horse's body to the spring season. Pungent flavors that are also hot, such as cayenne and fresh ginger, are helpful in the summer as well. Dried ginger and cinnamon can be used for overcoming signs of coldness because they warm the body for an extended period.
Cautions Very dehydrated or thin horses may not be able to handle much of the pungent flavor and you should avoid feeding these horses spices such as sage, cayenne, or any hot pepper. Foods with a hot pungent flavor should be avoided if heat conditions exist anywhere in the body, including abscesses or active infections of any kind. For example, cinnamon can help lower high blood glucose levels in horses with Cushings, but if that horse has an active hoof abscess secondary to laminitis, cinnamon would be contraindicated.
It's also important to be clear about when to use warming versus cooling pungent foods. If there are heat symptoms such as fever or thick discharges, use cooling pungent foods and herbs. If your horse has weak digestion the warming pungent herbs can stimulate digestion.
Examples of Pungent Foods Warming pungent foods that might be used for horses include rosemary, garlic, cinnamon bark, fresh and dried ginger root, cayenne, fennel, anise, dill, basil and nutmeg. Cooling pungent foods include peppermint and marjoram.
The Salty Flavor
The salty flavor is associated with the Water element.
Properties The salty flavor moves energy down and in, which helps center it deep within the body. This flavor moistens dryness, softens hardened lumps, and loosens stiffness. It also supports digestion and helps to detoxify the horse's body.
Uses The salty flavor is great for softening hardened lymph nodes, glands, and muscles. Salt breaks down toxins in the body, and stimulates appetite. Good quality salt or salty foods are best, especially since the overuse of poor quality table salt or cheap electrolytes can cause problems. Foods and supplements that are salty in flavor can also help calm thin, nervous horses.
Organ Functions The salty flavor supports healthy kidney function, and also strengthens the digestive function.
Season The salty flavor is associated with winter, since it brings the energy away from the surface and helps keeps the interior of the horse's body warm during cold weather.
Cautions It is best to avoid excessive use of salty foods, including electrolytes, for horses who are overweight, lethargic, or have damp conditions such as stocking up. If necessary, these horses should be fed salty seaweeds, such as kelp, because the iodine and trace mineral content support the metabolism.
Examples of Salty Foods Salty foods and supplements that might be fed to horses include salt, seaweeds, barley, and millet.
The Sour Flavor
The sour flavor is associated with the Wood element.
Properties The sour flavor has a yin, cooling effect, and although yin is usually considered to be moistening, the sour flavor has a drying or astringent action on the tissues. Think of the way your mouth feels when you suck on a lemon or lime.
Uses Horses who sweat excessively or have a tendency to retain fluid in the tissues, such as horses who stock up, can benefit from the sour flavor. Loose manure may also firm up when a bit of sour flavor is added to the horse's food.
Organ Functions The sour flavor helps support the liver, especially if the horse is on a high-fat or high-protein diet, since this flavor helps break down these nutrients. The acid content of most sour foods is helpful in dissolving minerals so that they can be assimilated more easily. The sour flavor helps to strengthen weak lungs, which is why most people have learned to reach for vitamin C when they suspect their horse is coming down with a virus.
Interestingly, the sour flavor can also help with mental focus.
Season The contracting quality of this flavor helps the horse prepare for the cooler months, so fall is the perfect time to add some sour-flavored foods to your horse's diet.
Cautions If you horse already shows signs of tightness in the body, such as constipation or tight muscles and ligaments, then use the sour flavor cautiously.
Examples of Sour Foods The most common example of sour foods for horses would be products containing vitamin C. Natural foods, such as rose hips, are the best sources of vitamin C. Hawthorne berry is a nutritional herb with the sour flavor that can be safely given to horses. Vinegar is considered sour and bitter, which makes it a good horse supplement for cleansing and tightening the tissues.
Apples are sour and sweet. Although I have not found a supporting reference, I suspect that aloe vera gel also has the sour flavor, based on its energetic properties of building the yin and acting as an astringent, especially in the digestive tract.