Getting under the (drum) skin

With the spring arriving and the diary starting to take its bookings for the year I wanted both to share some more of those experiences as well as findings from my own readings around the shaman and his/her drum.img_5720

I am blessed by friends and colleagues who have invited me to visit their horses, also some unmet names and faces from the depths of social media. My drum has become something of a “ticket to ride” or passport over the years.

2015-07-20 09.35.52To start with I want to offer one little synchronicity from this liminal world……….. To the Shaman of the Soyot people (on the eastern edge of Siberia) the drum is the called the “shaman horse” as its beats represent horses hooves as it carries the shaman on his journey between upper & lower worlds.



Michael Harner observed in Cave and Cosmos (2013) the “until present century shamanism was practised on all inhabited continents”. The journey of the Shaman originally was always associated by western observers with local brews made from hallucinogens.

Sámi_mythology_shaman_drum_Samisk_mytologi_schamantrumma_087It was then realised that the hallucinogens may have been employed for initiation type experiences but not as a daily engagement; it was most commonly the drum (or similar percussive instrument) which facilitated day-to-day shamanic work – what the academics started to call auditory driving. The proliferation of drum recordings available these days over the internet and their frequency of purchase or viewing provides a very strong testament to at least the practical acceptance of their benefit.



A couple of short quotable researches: Andrew Neher in the 1960’s researched the effects of drumming on brain wave patterns, he concluded that it produces unusual changes in the central nervous system, in particular: the many frequencies and harmonics contained in drum beat stimulate multiple sensory and motor areas of the brain, and the low frequency emissions which carry great energetic value, this frequency is less damaging than higher ones emitted by other instruments or in nature, and are therefore more accessible.

This was built upon by Wolfgang Jilek, who in the 1970’s established the relationship between drum beat frequency and the creation of trance inducing theta-wave brain patterns.

And so back to the horses.

At its simplest level we are talking communication – what occurs between horse human and drum is communication. It is a common experience shared between sentient beings. The sound and the vibration is a shared moment, unencumbered by constraints of tongue or language, it is a gentle and meditative coming together.

The horses’ reactions to the drumming – whilst often initially curious – usually calms and img_5428they lower their heads, soften their eyes and still themselves – to the observer, they are almost meditative. They come, they take what they need and move on. When I have drummed in herds (i.e. those in turn out fields, not wild or feral) there are often ones who stand transfixed but remain at a distance – still close enough to absorb the vibration and the supported intent in their energy field. These horses are led to trance by the auditory drive – releasing what they need to release – then moving on. One horse stood quietly behind me for 10 minutes then retreated to the arms of his owner where he essentially fell asleep. Another time in a stables whilst drumming for one horse, a second became increasingly insistent that I join him, only silenced when I actually went to sit with him.

Whatever the horses obtain it is deeply personal; often waiting “their turn” to come to the drum – like some of the other observable herd dynamics. When done they so often lick and chew or yawn before moving off – or move away and quietly release it their own space.


In discussing drumming, Dion Fortune outlines how it can be used in ceremony, as an energy raiser, as a voice of spirit, as an invoker and as a gift to the spirits. It can be used in healing, to shake and raise the vibration of a person or area, to clear and energise, dislodging stuck or energy.

Those that practice energy healing practices such as traditional Chinese medicine or Reiki will recognise a theme here.

drumming2Our bodies often hold onto the emotional scars – be they from physical, mental or emotional traumas. Horses are no different – in fact they are more susceptible. This is made worse because of what they resolutely endure in the name of human engagement, they end carry many such blockages – from early weaning to poor saddles to limited or inconsistent herd life. Now I am not suggesting this is intentional or that we should not work with or ride horses but these are unavoidable by-product of the lives they live and the work they do; ours is to acknowledge and as there keepers acknowledge this and find ways to help them heal or release. Let me explain by observed difference.

A couple of years back I had good fortune to drum for feral horses in the New Forest, whilst there was no question of them accepting it, the physical engagement (muzzles against the drum), trances and exaggerated releases were missing. These are animals that live as closely to as nature intended; in the company of other natural healers, and free to roam their measured territory.

For me there is something worth investigation about the relationship between emotional damage and distance from natural habitat – and I do not limit this observation to horses. The wild otto-no-writinghorses were just decent enough to show me. Often the only direct engagements were stallions coming over to check things out – perhaps assessing the risk or threat from my presence. The rest continuing herd life largely as normal around me.

The Talking drum website talks about rhythm healing for humans whereby they engage with “the natural law of resonance to restore the vibrational integrity of body, mind, and spirit.” They continue “The drum pattern projects onto the body a supportive resonance or sound pattern to which the body can attune. This sympathetic resonance forms new harmonic alignments, opens the body’s various energy meridians and charkas, releases blocked emotional patterns, promotes healing, and helps reconnect us to our core.”

This is exactly what the horses are engaging with. And we can sharpen this – we can deliver intention: love, healing, compassion etc.; we can also introduce crystal healing to amplify that vibration.  There is also the option to target – i.e. specific areas of the body.

Let me provide an example, a friend’s equine osteopath asked me to drum for her horse as the resonance from the drum could provide vibration and stimulation to deep muscles in a horse’s hind quarters that body work could not reach – the result less stiffness and free movement through the quarters.


Drumming works. Period.

Traditional societies across the globe all engaged with their healer or Shaman and his drum.img_5454

It does not follow that one has to believe in fantastical journeys or other parallel worlds.  One can simply engage with the value of the vibration to shake free the energetic and emotional blockages that we carry in our bodies – and for “we” let us include the living world around us, and so our horses.

This is not a gimmick or party trick. This gives something to our horses – I never force it upon them. We do not always have to offer science. Horses select whether to engage or not. For me this is a very tangible healing modality which can be offered and freely accepted or declined as required.

I was asked to drum for a mare who was in foul, as I drummed she turned her hind quarters to drum and stood with patient silence, I returned months later after the birth of her foul, the foul came over laid down beside me as I drummed and after about 10 minutes rolled over and went to sleep, all under the quiet watchful eye of her mother – these are special, unique moments. Moments of profound humanity. Profound life.

This is a profoundly intimate and personal experience. There is much more about life, and the potential of our own lives, that we have forgotten (or have chosen to forget) than we like to think that we know now.

I finish with one short example. I was drumming in a field and the horse lowered her heard to the drum, touching it softly with her muzzle , her eye softened and she pressed her forehead against mine. In that moment we were not just there in the field at a specific time, one energies blended and we were everywhere in the known universe at all time. Temporarily we were life itself.


(c) the Mindful Horse (thanks to friends for the attached photos and illustrations)


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