The best way to ensure optimum health for your performance or pleasure horses is to prevent problems occurring in the first place. From a holistic point of view this means looking after the whole horse, all the time…
The three points of the triangle affect the overall health of the horse at all times and often affect more than one body system at a time, as they are in a constant state of interaction. Maintaining all the body systems in balance and harmony is essential to good health and vitality – this is known as homeostasis.
A horse can be in a chronic state of ill health, have no named disease, basic tests may only show vague abnormalities, if any, or he may be in a state of bounding good health.
Learning how to read your horses and keeping them in a positive state of health, is one of the secrets of producing that super equine athlete or happy, healthy pleasure horse, most horse owners are striving for.
The holistic approach is essential whether prevention or healing is called for. The three points of the health triangle must always be taken into account and the whole horse treated for every aspect.
How the circumstances and environment affects each horse depends upon their personality and attitude. They all react differently. Reading each horse and responding appropriately to its individual needs is a vital part of preventive management.
The earlier problems and imbalances are treated the more likely they can be fully resolved without rearing their ugly head at a later date.
Just like the human athlete the equine athlete often succumbs to health problems at vital moments in their careers – before a big race, on the way to an important competition for example – just when peak performance is expected and has been carefully planned for. Prevention is easier, cheaper and more effective than cure.
It is keeping this balance between nature and the demands made by man of today’s sport horse that is essential if he wants a winner – a horse that is healthy in mind and body.
What’s Wrong with Your Horse?
What is wrong with horses can be the most perplexing of questions. Usually from a veterinary point of view, horses are considered to be either sick or healthy but from a holistic point of view, there are a great many variations in between the opposite ends of the scales.
Think of the degrees of health, or the degrees of illness, like a speedometer, with the top end of the scale representing complete health and the bottom end representing serious illness or disease. Anything from the above the middle and higher are the varying stages of health, while anything from the middle or below are the varying stages of illness.
A horse does not have to have a “named disease” to be in ill health. Imbalances in one or more of the body systems can cause changes in behaviour, energy levels and/or skin, hair and hooves for example.
So how do we find out what is wrong with a horse?
There are various diagnostic methods used by vets – blood testing, x-rays, ultrasound, nerve blocks, culturing bacteria, biopsies, endoscopic examination and so on.
The results of these tests are not on their own conclusive, it takes the skill of the experienced equine veterinarian to read these results at the same time taking into account his or her personal assessment of the horse. Everyone knows that often this may not be enough to produce a definite diagnosis and prognosis.
From the holistic point of view, when endeavouring to work out what’s wrong, the whole horse must be taken into consideration, including nutrition, health history, breed, temperament, behaviour, occupation, condition of skin, hair, hooves, appetite, feed conversion, water intake, elimination patterns, energy levels, movement, and the owner’s goals for the animal in question.
This is the basis of my consultations and how I teach my students.
You really have to be a detective to piece together all this information into a full picture, at the same time looking for causes of the symptoms.
A good example of this is anaemia which has a number of common causes. Very often this is treated with iron supplements which will not work if the horse is lacking in copper, which is very often the case. If the cause of the anaemia is for example a damaged gut possibly caused by worms, then unless this cause is treated, the anaemia will persist.
If the jigsaw does not come together as regards causes, then the horse has to be treated for the presenting symptoms, which is often successful.
One of the most commonly asked questions about herbs is “What herb is good for (name of condition)?” There is no definitive answer to this, because holistic treatments are always differential.
For example if two horses have gut ulceration, usually they will not both have the same symptoms. One may have scouring whereas another may have normal manure. Causes will also be different, and symptoms usually return at a later date if the cause is not treated. It is widely acknowledged that the most common cause of gut ulceration is inappropriate feeding, that is insufficient roughage with a high percentage of processed concentrates in the ration.
Stress is also a huge factor in this condition and many others. Most horses will have more than one body system which is going wrong at the same time. In the above example, gut ulceration, the digestive and nervous systems must be treated concurrently.
This is briefly what is meant by differential treatment which allows the whole animal to be treated as an individual compared with just treating the symptoms with drugs.
The observation powers of the owner or carer are tremendously important in holistic healing. Horses are very good at displaying how they feel, we just need to learn how to read them. And they are all different.
The philosophy of classical herbal medicine is to treat causes as well as symptoms, to achieve as complete healing as possible, by using the most appropriate herbs, dosages and treatment periods.
Quite simply herbs stimulate the body to heal itself more quickly and more completely than it would if left without support.
Ongoing maintenance is achieved through preventive nutrition using all natural feeds – the VF Natural Diet.