One sunny morning this summer, Debbie Rosse led her horse, Jack, out of his stall toward his grassy pasture.
The 1,650-pound, 12-year-old Percheron/paint cross took a few steps, collapsed, and struggled to get up. When he got to his feet, he was walking like a drunken sailor.
Jack was rushed to Tufts’ large animal hospital in Grafton, where his condition deteriorated rapidly, requiring him to be stabilized in a full-body sling suspended from the ceiling. After weeks of tests and prodding, but no significant improvement, veterinarians gave the dire news that it was unlikely he’d leave the hospital alive.
“There was nothing I could do; he was a diagnostic mystery. I had lost hope,” recalled a teary Rosse, who owns Darmore Farm in Rowley. So she sought help from a different kind of specialist — James Salvia, an intuitive energy healer. Via cellphone, he “read” Jack. The horse communicated to James that he felt fine, there was nothing wrong with him, and he was more concerned with Rosse’s emotional turmoil following the recent deaths of loved ones, including her mother.
Relieved to be told that her horse was not concerned about his own illness, Rosse found new hope that he’d beat the odds and recover. Now, 2½ months later, he’s home and nearly his old self again.
“It’s not me, it’s spirit, it’s energy,” said Salvia, a self-described animal communicator, energy healer, and specialized kinesiologist from Natick, who helped Rosse persevere while Jack got on his feet again.“I’m just a vessel.”
You might call him the “horse whisperer,” but that name’s already been taken.
What Salvia does through his practice, “The Whole Body,” is a mixture of science, mysticism, and a bit of the unexplained.
Much like Monty Roberts, who promotes the concept of natural horsemanship by learning a horse’s language, and Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for the novel and film “The Horse Whisperer,” Salvia says he communicates with animals with a goal to clear, tune, and balance their energy patterns, and remove “blocks.”
Using kinesiology — a form of muscle testing — various essences, crystals, and the intuition of his hands, he seeks to identify harmony and disharmony, balance and imbalance, and works to actuate, encourage, or disrupt energy flow in both animals and their two-legged counterparts.
Still, when asked, it’s hard for the soft-spoken and contemplative Salvia to find words to explain precisely what he does, or how. It’s intangible, more of a feeling.
“I wish I could tell you how it works,” said Salvia, who also is employed in a much more grounded and clinical (but similarly healing) profession, as a paramedic for the city of Boston. “I just have to trust it.”
It’s an intuition he has fostered for years; he said he’s long felt he had a sort of gift, an ability to feel, sense, and know things about animals and other people.
But it wasn’t until the late 1990s that he began looking into alternative forms of healing (initially for himself), such as natural essences, crystals, and the Seneca philosophy taught by the Native people of western New York — based on identifying a person’s purpose on earth, unique gifts, and talents – and specialized kinesiology.
First, he practiced what he learned on people – or “two-legged animals” as he likes to say – but soon expanded to horses, dogs, and cats. Through various sessions (over the phone or in person), he helps animals and “their people” — he doesn’t like to use the term “owner” — get through various physical and emotional issues.
He recalled one horse that he worked with: Her human caretakers wanted her to be a show horse, but in “talking” with her, he learned that she wanted to be a mother. She’s since been a successful broodmare.
In another instance, with a different horse at Rosse’s farm, he homed in on an orthopedic issue with a forefoot, which he saw as “black.” It turned out to be ringbone, extra-bony growth near the hoof that was so small, it could not be detected by the eye.
Just as humans do, animals like to have a job, a purpose, something to believe in, he said, and his work — although he acknowledges that some think it’s “crazy” — is about “honoring the animal.”
Where that can get stuck is in the unintended transfer of stress and anxiety.
“Animals are very clear: We’re the ones who tend to bring in the baggage,” Salvia said as he sat outside Rosse’s barn, tucked away on more than 20 acres off a windy Rowley road. “If we don’t take care of ourselves, it’s sometimes hard for them to take care of themselves. They can mirror our own issues.”
Throughout Jack’s ordeal, he was held standing still in a full-body sling in the isolation ward, and given numerous tests. The vets at first thought it was Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, a neurologic disease, but they also tested for Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis.
Ultimately, it was believed to be a sudden-onset neurological issue that was not definitively diagnosed, Rosse said. It was a long and difficult six weeks of 70-mile drives from Rowley to Grafton to see her once robust horse and talk with the team of veterinarians, who she said stretched all their knowledge to make him well.
“I was so emotionally distraught,” she recalled.
Desperate, she contacted Salvia.
To help Jack, he told her, she had to take care of herself, and she could not be responsible for her horse’s life.
“When we take care of ourselves,” he said, “we can take care of others.”
“Calmness, that’s what you gave me, the chance to breathe deeply,” Rosse said, thanking Salvia. “It really helped me let go of what I had no control over.”
Veterinarians have told Rosse she should be able to ride Jack again one day.
The horse continues to get readings from Salvia, as was the case on a recent bright fall afternoon. After a bit of exercise, Rosse led the gentle giant with his black-and-white-splashed coat to the side of the barn.
The tall and thin Salvia stood at his side, rubbing his hands over the animal’s muscular withers, shoulders, back, flank, and hips; at certain spots, he fluttered his fingers in mini-circles in the air. Jack shifted, pert ears scanning.
Other horses fenced in nearby snorted, whinnied, and kicked, seemingly jealous of the attention, while a quiet and shy rescue hound named Flora explored the grounds.
Salvia turned to a box of small tubes full of liquid, then held his hand out for Jack to lick (it was an offering of lymphatic energetic essence).
Seeming to understand that his part was done, Jack moved along to start chomping on tufts of grass.
“It’s a nice way to be a voice for them,” Salvia said. Animals of all kinds can “offer an amazing insight into our world.”