The Colic Pump – Palpation, Massage Technique for Equine Colic

I have used this Colic Pump technique effectively on four different horses at various stages of colic. I first came up with this technique when my friend’s horse had a rock hard belly, no gas sounds, not eating or pooping, and was going down to roll. Within 30 minutes he was normal, eating and happy. The mildest case I’ve treated using the Colic Pump is my horse Montaro – featured in this video – whose symptoms were: tender belly, kicking/nipping at belly, bloated, and we had seen 2 diarrhea bowel movements in quick succession. So not critical, but gut distress that could head towards an emergency over time, if not addressed.

For example, as you’ll see in the video, if the very dry, fibrous poo he passed had remained in there and impacted over the next week, that could cause colic. So the best way I think this technique should be employed is before a horse is actually colicking. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to shoot a detailed instructional video and demo on a few horses for you:

Signs of Impaction Colic

Impaction refers to a blockage of feed material in the large colon. Here are some signs of intestinal discomfort or distress to watch for – the sooner you can do the Colic Pump, the better!

  • Tail-slapping
  • Looking at sides
  • Nipping at sides or belly
  • Interrupted eating or resting (ie. all of a sudden stops eating to walk around, or suddenly jolts out of resting)
  • Frequent, deep abdominal stretches
  • No interest in food
  • Pawing at ground
  • Rolling
  • Decreased manure production
  • Kicking at belly
  • Belly is swollen, hardened, or tender to the touch
(c) EQUUS Magazine/Source Interlink Media

You can see from this anatomy picture how the Colic Pump is working directly on the large colon and can stimulate that wave-like peristalsis.

I encourage you to practice the Colic Pump technique on your horses while they are healthy to build your fluency for when you need it:

  • Place your hand above the region to be pumped/palpated and ask the horse’s belly for permission
  • If your horse keeps walking away, ask for permission to work energetically; using your energetic hand (just imagine it). Feel for what distance away feels good to the belly, maybe far away, maybe touching the fur.
  • Try to feel for, or imagine, the rhythm of your horse’s belly, or, try to sync your hand pump movement (physical or imagined) with her breathing.
  • Trust your intuition, or any pictures your horse might send you, and follow that guidance.
  • As you pump gently, imagine the movement creating rocking waves throughout the horse’s intestines; and that movement acts as a massage, or stimulant to encourage or support peristalsis (normal rhythmic contraction of the intestine).
  • Work unhaltered so your horse is free to express himself to you, and also free to move his body however he needs to, to unwind the tension, stretch, walk, or roll, as needed.

Which brings me to my next point: Somehow everyone thinks you must never let a horse with colic roll – as it could twist their intestines. With my background in natural healing for digestive diseases, this just did not make logical sense to me! So I went looking for ‘proof’ of my suspicion and found it fairly quickly. This article by veterinarian David Ramey is a pretty good guide as to why the only time it’s a good idea to stop your horse from rolling is if he’s rolling so violently, he’s hurting himself. He also debunks the myth about not letting them lie down to rest.

Thoughts on colic prevention

I had 3 horses for over a decade as a child and not one of them colicked. None of my herd now (knock wood) have colicked. Both herds were kept on pasture with trees (forage, not just grass), with plenty of movement, no grain, with herd members they liked/loved, no vaccinations, minimal de-worming, tooth care only if needed (and then hand float only) and only ridden for pleasure – mostly when they wanted to be ridden and the horse and I took turns choosing where to go. So no competing, no trainers, no crowds, or any other totally unnatural elements.

As stress is a big component of gut issues, I can see how a traumatic trailer ride, or separation from loved ones, pressure to perform/compete, or an unnatural/difficult element introduced could set the stage for colic. Also, I don’t think our human idea of “plenty of land” correlates to the horse’s idea, or the horse’s historical behaviour/need to move 20-30 miles per day, so I’m pretty sure that lack of natural movement (lunging around an arena does not count!) affects digestion and gut health.

Also, what’s the worm burden in the pastures? Are we managing worm burdens, or relying on drugs that are hard on the GI tract?

I have toxic plants all over my fields, but the horses leave them alone. Although, horses do use small amounts of ‘toxic/poisonous’ plants to self-medicate from time to time. So again, do we have a ‘doctor garden’ set up for our domesticated horses? Or can we offer free choice herbs?

It would be interesting to see a study comparing the rates of colic between stabled, schedule-fed horses (horses fed a rationed amount of hay, 2-4 times per day); and horses on a minimum of 2 acres per horse with 24/7 slow-feeders for their low-sugar hay. I think we’d see a huge difference in colic incidence from those two parameters alone.

In my opinion, the top priorities for colic prevention are food, movement and lowering stress:

  • Make sure your horse has at least 1 other herd member, with an absolute minimum of 1 acre per horse; unless you set up a Paddock Paradise walking track – then you could get away with less land.
  • Have low-sugar and forage-type hay available in slow feeders 24/7 (all day & night, every day of the week)
  • If you must compete or go to shows, make sure your horse at least likes it. If they don’t, look for another activity, or another type of competition you could both enjoy. For example, maybe your horse doesn’t enjoy jumping in arenas, but likes jumping cross-country. And maybe you have a deal that after the cross-country course, your horse gets to hand-graze for half an hour before getting in the trailer and a bodywork treatment the next day. If you balance the activity with things your horse loves and that support their body, hopefully it will be less stressful for them.
  • If you’re in a temporary situation where your horse must be kept in a stable or paddock, then at least have a slow feeder with 24/7 low sugar hay for them. And take your horse out for hand-grazing daily. Instead of riding in an arena, maybe you ride on trails, letting your horse stop to graze whenever they wish, or at least at certain points.
  • Lastly, I would never use Bute with my horses – wild oregano oil, cold hosing or cold packs, white willow bark, and energy healing (Reiki) are all better pain treatments than Phenylbutazone, which damages the gut, and sets the stage for ulcers, colic, and possibly tumours. Give probiotics regularly and avoid wormers, vaccinations, and other drugs as much as possible. See Holistic Horsekeeping by Madalyn Ward, DVM for guidance.

Please share your feedback!

After you’ve had a chance to practice and use the Colic Pump technique, I would love to have your feedback on how it worked (or didn’t work) for you. It would be GREAT to amass a pile of data so we can determine how effective this technique is, can anyone perform it just from watching the video instruction, if used proactively does it reliably avoid colic, and so on?

Since I’ve only used it on a handful of horses, I can’t actually make any claim for what this technique can reliably do. That’s why I’m throwing it out there for you guys to test and let us all know what happens. It sure would be nice to have a DIY colic remedy that anyone can use to bring their horse relief, or apply at the first sign of GI (gastrointestinal) distress to prevent colic from occurring!

Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Freedomite. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.

The Colic Pump – Palpation, Massage Technique for Equine Colic

10 thoughts on “The Colic Pump – Palpation, Massage Technique for Equine Colic

  • February 3, 2018 at 8:11 am
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    So glad the site is back…like a long lost friend coming home. Such comfort from this site. Anyway I am hoping to never have to try it under colic circumstances but will practice with all three of the geldings and see how they interact with the idea? The article from the Dr really turns colic myths on there head. If I am being honest it was really scary to read, because it goes against all the long ingrained ideas of colic. I had mentioned to you on FB that Dreamer colicked last September and the vet that came out administered pain relief I don’t know if it was Bantamine…but I think it was ( & it did seem to help so quickly) and said because of the weather change she had so many colic calls. I guess I need to look into a holistic vet and see if there is one in my area? I have not done so because I don’t use vets on a normal basis. No annual vaccines and no power floating. So I don’t really need one unless there is a problem. Of course when Dreamer colicked I went into traditional colic protocol and haltered Dreamer up and kept him walking so he would not continue to roll and hurt himself? Honestly if it were to happen again In would be hard for me to watch him roll so frantically I would worry about him hurting himself. Also because in the past with my other couple of colic experiences when I walked them and when they finally pooped they were better. I guess I don’t know if I had left them to there own choices if they would of worked it out on there own? Lastly like I said before the horses do have a lot of sand around and the vet thought it was a sand colic (sand in the feces) so I have been back to my Metamucil once a week to try and prevent it…so reading that it doesn’t help either is upsetting to me? I use to live on all sand and that was my protocol for those 5 years. Well that’s my two cents. Lots to ponder here? Hoping others will chime in with there experiences and circumstances so maybe we can all learn different perspectives and ideas? As always you keep my brain working and put my intuition on notice to keep getting stronger and more focused.✌🏼️❀️🐴

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    • identicon
      February 3, 2018 at 9:04 pm
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      To be honest, I have had websites since 1995 and I have NEVER had a site down as long as this one! And yes, I had backup files in 2 locations. It was pretty crazy, but all good now thank god!

      I think the walking thing is usually good though – if you see Montaro, he kept walking and when he asked to go in the unfenced area at the back, I felt like he needed something invigorating to free him up. You know how when you’re sick and just lying in bed non-stop and then you move to the couch or the porch and it breaks you out of that mindset and you feel possibility opening up again? I think it was like that. So AGAIN the importance of intuition. Maybe your horse not only wants to be walked, but out on the road – needs to go somewhere to take his mind off the pain and give his body a reason to move. And in that movement, the intestines can get going again.

      Likewise with the metamucil – which is essentially psyllium. I gave him ground flax seed in the video for the same reason. Who cares what a vet says? The horse’s gut (and my gut connected to the horse’s gut) know better! So again, the more you practice your gut intuition (by connecting and then ACTING on whatever you receive), the stronger it gets and the more reliable it can be, even in stressful situations.

      And regarding the sand, I would look at many of the BLM horses who live in sandy, desert climates. Compare the way they eat to how yours are eating – do some research, as I know nothing about it! Are they eating close to the ground/sand, or are they only clipping the tops of the plants? I’m assuming you’re feeding off the ground – either in slow feeder boxes or hay nets with a rubber mat underneath. Are they just picking up sand from grazing in the pastures? Then maybe you need to cross-fence and let the grass grow up higher? Ah, read this!

      http://www.horseforum.com/horse-health/sand-desert-horses-752122/

      So I think we’re back to, surprise, surprise, the holistic approach.

      Reply
      • February 4, 2018 at 7:25 am
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        Yes, yes & Yes. I also feel the walking is a good thing. I know when I have had major stomach pain in the past moving around will sometimes free up what is bothering me and it can really help. Like you said sending Montaro in the back I thought was a smart idea because it creates extra excitement and movement for him. I had that exact same feeling the couple of times I dealt with colic like I needed to get them excited to help that poop come out. Kind of like me and Aude with the trailer…Lol. Regarding the sand…I don’t actually live on sand anymore…but my neighbors own a sand pit and trucking company so they supplied me with a lot of free sand. Which was so great to help with not slipping in the slime & of course horses love rolling in it and Big Acea needed a soft spot to roll (because he was so old) so it was so appreciated & Who can say no to free? The bad thing is I should of just used it in certain places and not in their covered area, where their slow feeders are. (But that’s where I was most slipperyπŸ™) I have mats but the sand just builds up on them. Since it’s not raining in California 😑 I will just start hanging there slow feeders in different areas like I do in the summer. Also now that the major projects are mostly done on the property I am going to start having pea gravel brought in to start replacing or covering areas with the sand around where they feed. I should of done that from the start but money can only go so far. I do know horses in certain areas live on sand so I will research a bit and also keep up with my Metamucil protocol because my gut says yes to that. Again always appreciate your time and thoughts. ✌🏼️❀️🐴

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        • identicon
          February 8, 2018 at 5:22 pm
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          That all sounds like a good plan Michelle πŸ™‚ The pea gravel is great – you will love it!

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  • February 5, 2018 at 5:34 am
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    Thank you for sharing this info! We have 2 Haflingers and I totally agree on most of what you share. The only thing is with our breed we can not feed on slow feeders all day as they are very easy keepers and really chubby if we do that…so during the winter we put hay bags all over the pasture forcing them to walk an search like in the wild 2 times a day. Other months we spread the hay throughout the whole pasture some in the middle, edges, even in tree stumps. Like an Easter egg hunt! HA! Anyway, just a note if you have any thoughts on this. Thank you again!

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    • identicon
      February 8, 2018 at 5:27 pm
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      Oh Lee, if you are able to spread it around like that, that is BEST! Horses are so playful and curious and they would so much rather ‘find’ their hay. What a gift!

      But just so you know, if you make sure the NSC is below 10%, you could do 24/7 slow feeders and they would likely be fine (after the first month of gorging themselves). BUT if they are not prone to exercising themselves, then you would still want to spread those slow feeders or hay nets around to encourage movement. You could also buy (or make, with canvas and hockey net) a stack of these and toss these round your pasture:

      http://www.listentoyourhorse.com/hay-pillow-ground-slow-feeder-review/

      Reply
  • February 15, 2018 at 6:38 pm
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    After watching you on the video I had a really good idea how to work with him. It was quite similar to your horse’s reaction. Too much pain to accept actual contact so I worked a few inches away and visualized. He turned his head and pointed to the colon area. As I gently pumped he raised his tail and expelled some gas. Gas was the symptom I had been noticing plus he was farting every morning. He walked away from me and I waited a moment then followed him. I had a hand on his back side then felt guided to stroke his butt cheeks and under his tail. He likes that. I went back and forth from rubs to pumping lightly and switching sides from time to time. If felt that it was mostly on the one side and I felt a difference from one to the other side. I did this for maybe 20 minutes and then felt he wanted to be left alone. I went back later and we did some more. I did some Reiki just holding my hands out at his side and he looked back and then moved a bit forward and it aligned my hands with the belly area where the pumping is done. He expelled more gas and then he seemed ok. It was over a couple of days that I did this on and off and now he seems fine. He is getting a massage tomorrow morning for the first time so I am interested to see what the massage therapist says about him.

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    • identicon
      February 15, 2018 at 6:56 pm
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      Wow!! That is fantastic! I can’t imagine it going better. Just like when we do colonic massage on ourselves, when you get the gas, you know things are moving πŸ™‚

      Thanks so much for posting here and letting us know what happened. I’m sure your story will encourage others to give it a try. Please let us know if the massage therapist says or notices anything interesting…

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      • February 16, 2018 at 10:45 am
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        The massage therapist was quite interested in the colic pump. I am going to forward this article to her so she can see it. MC had a lot pain in the back end that as a non-ridden horse she was surprised he had. She worked a good 50 minutes just that area and the rest was his face. He had face bone out of place and she asked if he had hit his face on something. I’m not aware he had in my care anyway. She said that for the amount of pressure she was putting on him some of the time he was being a real gentleman. Usually they kick. He was moving around in the isle and trying to move away from some of the pressure but the massage therapist was really great and knew just how to get him through the painful parts. He was licking and chewing and yawning when things were finally released. I stood at his head while this was going on and he kept throwing his head into me. His way of getting through the discomfort but still allowing her to work I guess. The best part of it all was when I told him that she was coming (and she or any massage therapist had ever been there) he stood at the back door of the barn and waited. Normally he would never come into the barn through the day without being lead but when she arrived and I opened the barn door he walked in. This is the same horse that I practiced the colic pump on. He seems to be feeling much better and now I will watch and see if he still pulls off to the side, stops eating and shifts his back feet. I suspect he won’t as it was his sacrum area for one that was worked on.
        I was a little worried about Gonzo as he is a high strung Arabian and I wondered if he would be too jumpy. He had tightness along his belly and it was actually bulging. She worked on him there, into his groin area and also worked on the tightness in his neck. He was so well behaved and she felt he was thanking her. It was a wonderful experience like I have never had. Her name is Chrystal Woodhouse. Part of what she did was cranial sacral work also. Awesome person. Both horses were so good.

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        • identicon
          February 16, 2018 at 11:59 pm
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          Very cool. I love massage therapists who are also trained in craniosacral – they bring that extra level of ‘listening’ to the work. And it’s very interesting to know the parts she treated – especially with MC.

          Now that you know your horses like and trust this massage therapist, you might want to consider working unhaltered, out in the field, where they are free to move around and really participate in their bodywork. I have my equine chiropractor, Ainsley Beauchamp (also does Reiki, massage and Psych-K) work this way and she has been amazed how the horses know what needs to be done and will also move into pain when required. When Montaro was a stallion, he had put his shoulder out from repeatedly mounting Zorra (and going through a fence) and it was an incredibly painful adjustment – yet at the point of highest pain, he moved into the adjustment, helping Ainsley to put his shoulder back in place. All of this was done unhaltered in a field.

          It might take a few sessions for Chrystal to get to know your horses and feel safe working unhaltered, but the way I do it with Ainsley (and all other practitioners) is instead of booking per horse, I book her for 2 hours of her time. That way, whichever horses want to be worked on, for however long, they come on over. Sometimes one might ask us to close the paddock gates, so the others don’t interfere with their space/time and when they’re done, they walk over to the gate to say, “Ok, open up”.

          Other times, a horse will be worked on for a bit, then leave, go walk around, or even meditate to integrate, and then come back for the next piece. I also assure Ainsley that if no one wants to be worked on, that she will be paid for her time regardless. This allows everyone to be relaxed and open to whatever wants to happen. Of course, as they are the ones that ask me to book Ainsley, it has never happened that no one has wanted treatment! Although, at times, some of the horses have just wanted Reiki or Psych-K though, rather than manual work. It’s pretty magical. πŸ™‚

          Reply

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