What do you do when your horse is sick? Do you run and grab every homeopathic remedy, feed supplement, drug, new horse feed, and bodywork manual on your shelves? Do you drive your horse straight the vet and hope the bill isn’t going to kill you? Do you call up every horse-loving friend you have and ask for advice?
In short, do you throw everything but the kitchen sink at your horse and hope that SOMETHING works?
Horse Health Care: The Beauty of One Thing at a Time
When I first began working with holistic veterinarian Dr. Madalyn Ward and learning about subjects like herbs, homeopathy, nutrition, and bodywork, one of the first lessons she taught me is this:
“When treating a horse for any condition, try one thing at a time otherwise you won’t know what works and what doesn’t.”
That’s a really hard lesson for horse owners to learn, especially when it comes to their own horses. We all hate seeing our horses in pain, whether it be from hurting hooves, an ouchy ulcer, or an oozing abscess. We want it fixed and we want it fixed now!
But often times throwing every remedy but the kitchen sink at your horse only confuses the situation… and ends up costing you more money.
A Weight Loss Example
For instance, suppose your horse is losing weight this winter. This could happen for a number of reasons, including:
- he’s not getting enough food
- he’s not digesting his food well because of ulcers or other issues
- he’s shivering off all the calories you feed him
- he’s not getting the right kind of food
- he’s in with a group of horses who move him around too much
This is just a short list. There are all kinds of other reasons in the horse health care sphere that could explain why he is losing weight, but this covers the basics.
So everyday you go out to feed this horse and he’s cold, he’s lost weight, he’s shivering, and he looks totally miserable. I’ve known people who react by doing all the following:
- blanket the horse
- feed him more grain AND more hay
- add beet pulp and corn oil to his diet
- stop riding him
- move him away from other horses
- put him on Stomach Soother or Succeed in case he has an ulcer
Wow, that’s a lot of “doing”! It does cover a lot of horse health issues in a “just in case” kind of way, but it’s a costly way to do things. Instead of doing all of the above, it makes more sense to figure out why the horse is losing weight, then make one or two changes at a time and see what happens. You can ask yourself some questions to help you figure out what’s going on. Here are some examples.
1. Is the horse being pushed off his feed or moved around all the time by other horses?
If this is case, then putting him in with another gentle horse who shares well can help your horse get more feed and conserve more energy. Often times, older horses or horses with a quiet disposition make good companions.
2. Does the horse eat his feed well or does he take breaks in-between to just stand or to lie down?
This usually indicates an ulcer of some kind. If this is the case, you can try adding a natural ulcer supplement like Succeed or Stomach Soother to his diet to see if this helps. Acidophilus, bifidus, and enzymes are also good options.
3. Has he had his teeth floated recently?
If it has been more than a year since he’s had a float, you might consider taking him into the equine dentist. A horse with sharp points and hooks on his teeth is likely to develop ulcers in his mouth, making eating painful. This often accounts for weight loss.
4. Does he shiver in the cold?
If so, add fiber rather than grain to his diet. Fiber is digested in a horse’s hindgut and produces a lot more warmth than grain, which is digested in the small intestine. If your horse is quite thin, putting a blanket on AND adding more hay to his diet is probably a good combination.
5. Is he in pain?
If you have ever had to deal with an abscessed tooth, migraine headaches, or any other kind of chronic painful conditions, then you know that pain can eat up your body’s physical resources faster than running a marathon. If your horse is in undiagnosed pain, he may be using up all his calories just to deal with pain. If your horse has a stoic personality, he may not tell you he is in pain (learn more about horse personality types on the Horse Harmony website). Consider taking your horse to the vet to get a once-over before making a decision about what and how to remedy the situation.
Horse Health Care and the Conservative Approach
In an article of this length, it’s not possible to cover all the questions that you might have to ask yourself about your horse to figure out what’s wrong, but you get the picture. If you have a hard time figuring out what’s going on in your horse’s body and brain, check out these two websites:
Holistic Horsekeeping (has a wealth of horse health care resources)
Herbs and Animals (a great animal communication site)