Holistic Health For Your Horse
After 10 years in the real world of veterinary medicine, I have come to learn that there is much more to it than what they teach in veterinary school. My eyes have been opened to things that I never would have predicted. I am happy to give credit to my well-intentioned clients and their beloved animal companions. In this article I recommend natural health decisions that can positively impact the health of your horse.
It all starts with food. The saying for people "You are what you eat" applies to horses as well. Spikes in blood sugar after a meal can lead to laminitis (inflammation in the hooves) as well as other health problems. Laminitis is even more likely if the horse is shod. Laminitis can threaten both the quality and the longevity of the horses life. One way to help reduce rapid blood sugar fluctuations and their harmful consequences is by avoiding concentrates that contain molasses. Some people mistakenly think that only sweet feed contains molasses. They don't realize that some pelleted feeds have even more molasses than the sweet feed!
Over years, eating excess sugar increases the horse's risk of developing insulin resistance, diabetes, laminitis and Cushing's Disease. Older horses with lumpy fat pads along the crest of the neck and the top of the rump are usually developing insulin resistance. It is a warning sign that the feeding regime needs to change.
A healthy whole-food, vegan probiotic supplement that I give to my horse every day is called In-Liven. I put a pinch in his feed bucket twice a day.
> Learn more: How To Compare Probiotic Supplements
With all the latest talk about over-vaccination, many people are concerned. Adverse reactions from vaccinations are a gray area that is difficult to prove. Some people believe that vaccinations may be associated with a myriad of chronic health problems. Consider requesting vaccination titers from your veterinarian in lieu of vaccinations themselves. Titers costs vary but do cost more than the vaccination itself. For the long-term health of your horse, titers may be worth every penny.
I have owned and ridden horses my entire life. I spent 13 incredible years as a member of the United States Pony Club. Not until nine years ago did I learn that chronic lameness (laminitis and navicular just to name a couple) can actually be cured without drugs or special shoes. With proper barefoot trimming, the horse can cure itself!
In the summer of 2000, I was introduced to the barefoot trim. At the time, I had a Thoroughbred gelding, a Quarter Horse mare, and a Morgan/Quarter Horse gelding. I was apprehensive at first but have never been tempted to go back to shoes since. My initial apprehension partly stemmed from the fact that I was not educated about the benefits of a barefoot trim in veterinary school or in Pony Club. If it was so beneficial and was the prevention and cure to chronic lameness, why wasn't it taught to me?? I'm still not sure what the answer is to that question.
For optimal success with barefoot trimming, a few things need to be kept in mind. First, the trimming needs to be done by a barefoot specialist, not a farrier. The American Farriers Association trimming technique is different than what is optimal for barefoot success.
Also, the frequency of the trimming is vital to success. Depending on how frequently the horse is ridden and on what terrain, most hooves need to be trimmed once every four weeks. If you extend it longer you may jeopardize the horse's success. Chipping, cracking and flaring of hoof walls are all signs that the hooves are in need of a trim. Make sure the hooves are checked prior these warning signs. An overgrown hoof will be painful. With each breakover, the hoof wall will be pulled away at the white line feeling like bending back a long fingernail. Ouch!
During the transition from shoes to bare feet, exercise is very important. It increases the circulation to the hooves, bringing vital nutrients and oxygen while removing waste products. To make this transition more pleasant, "ponying" the horse without any weight on his back has helped many horses. Also, barefoot boots are extremely helpful during the transition. I have had great success with Old Mac boots. Horse Sneakers are another great option.
Some barefoot books that I highly recommend include Pete Ramey's "Making Natural Hoof Care Work For You." Pete Ramey's web site is HoofRehab.com. Other books that are extremely helpful are Dr. Hildrud Strasser's "A Lifetime of Soundness" and "Shoeing: A Necessary Evil?". Dr. Strasser is a German veterinarian who's views may be considered controversial and extreme by some, but I believe to be logical and inspiring.
A few years ago, I attended a debate between Dr. Strasser and a panel of horse professionals at Tufts University where I felt she was met with skepticism and resistance. I was thoroughly impressed by her professionalism, intelligence, perseverance, and knowledge. I admire and respect Dr. Strasser for the help she has bestowed upon our equine companions. Dr. Strasser's website is StrasserHoofCare.org.
24 Hour Turnout
Of vital importance to health is turnout time. Not only is it much healthier for the respiratory system, but it is healthier for the hooves as well. Each time the horse moves, circulation is improved by the pumping action of the hooves. Circulation increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the hooves, while removing waste products. This helps stimulate hoof wall growth and healing, while discouraging infection. The healthiest option is 24-hour turnout with access to a 3-sided shed.
Another holistic health decision for your horse is to avoid blanketing. The errector pili muscles of each hair raise and lower the hair to form a layer of insulating air around the horse. During cold weather, the hairs raise to decrease heat losses. During hot weather, the hairs lay flat to allow the heat to escape. As temperature fluctuations gradually occur, the errector pili muscles raise the hairs accordingly.
Unlike only two choices with a blanket (on or off), there are more available options without a blanket because the hairs can be partially raised and raise slowly with the ambient temperature. When a horse wears a blanket, the errector pili muscles can not do their job effectively. Consequently, the muscles atrophy (become smaller and weaker) and are unable to function optimally when needed (i.e., when the blanket rips, falls off, or gets wet).
Alternative to Pesticides
Pesticides are a real concern for many pet owners. Applied pesticides may adversely affect the health of your family. A company called Arbico organics sells Fly Eliminators which are gnat-sized, nocturnal, burrowing insects that do not bite, sting or harm humans and animals. They kill flies in the cocoon stage, eliminating the adult fly! This is a healthier option using most "non-toxic" chemicals.
This article is intended to broaden your education about holistic horse health. There is so much more that is beyond the scope of this article. I encourage you to educate yourself, talk to your veterinarian and make health decisions for your horse that you feel good about.
Beyond traditional veterinary medicine, alternatives including physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractics, and herbology have helped many pets. Don't be afraid to explore your options.
If you have any questions about our certified organic products, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
> View other Articles