How you approach the management of your horse’s health depends very much on individual filters. Every situation requires individual assessment.
For example, I may get two requests for a supportive program for a horse with laminitis.
Horse 1 is in extreme pain and under the care of veterinarian as well as a hoofcare specialist. The herbs I suggest to support the healing process need to complement and not be in opposition to the prescribed veterinary care. To philosophically insist that all veterinary prescriptions be ceased and the horse wholly rely on herbs and essential oils could challenge the owner’s mental wellbeing, and the owner’s stress would undermine the effectiveness of the program I am asking them to adhere to. For this horse it is best to work with what is in place.
Horse 2 may have chronic laminitis that the owner has been managing but needs advice on a sudden acute flare up of the condition. With this owner, as they have a higher level of trust in natural therapies so supporting them rely on herbs with the caveat that they have their veterinarian on standby if required, is empowering for them. For this owner to be completely reliant on pharmaceutical drugs for recovery could cause distress and their concerns could block the effectiveness of both the drugs and herbs.
Drugs and herbs do not need to be exclusive of the other, and the best approach on the day is the one that supports both the horse and owner in a way they can experience the least amount of stress and feel safe in their decisions.
In some countries, owners will not have a choice. It is legislation that determines who can assist the horse.
With ongoing chronic issues such as arthritic joints, herbs and essential oils, homeopathics and bodywork are much easier on the horse and body systems. Then if there is an injury or a painful flare up of the condition your veterinarian can intervene and once the nasty aspects are manageable again you can resume ‘naturally’. This is having the best of both approaches.
The same occurs with parasites. Over the years we have overused or used the wrong worming products. No single approach can guarantee you the best coverage with parasite management. However, sensible practices can limit the reliance on drugs. Using herbs that make the gut less hospitable to worms, then checking the worm count before worming helps in reducing the frequency you worm and to select the most effective product, when needed.
Stomach ulcers can be managed with natural products but if a stressful event causes a flare up a return to the proprietary product the horse has previously been responsive to can help restore a balance and then herbal maintenance can resume mending and strengthening. Using nervine you are supporting and strengthening the nervous system so that the horse is less and less reactive the stressors, and with time the gut is less irritated and you no longer need the herbs or the products.
Endocrine issues can be difficult to work with as once the horse is on a pharmaceutical product that regulates reproductive cycles or endocrine diseases, the herbs that would be appropriate could clash within the body with these medications and these are medications that need veterinarian supervision if discontinuing. The pharmaceutical approach is not completely exclusive as to what herbs you can use to support secondary issues, but you have to be very careful what herbs you do choose.
With the competition horse prohibited substances and the possibility of herbs and essential oils testing positive or being deemed unsportsmanlike, the competitor has to rely on substances that have a defined withholding period so as not to be disciplined or affect their professional reputation. With herbs available information is anecdotal not reliable, and even with available drugs the studies have been conducted on small numbers of horses, but at least documented for veterinarians to rely on.
Pharmaceutical companies are investing less in acute relief and focusing on the chronic conditions where they get more of a financial return for their research dollar. Bacterial strains becoming resistant to current antibiotics and fewer new antibiotic products being developed means strengthening the immune system with herbs is a sensible approach for both human and horse.
Simple ‘preventatives’ can assist. One favourite for horses is to attach an Aromawearable tag to their collar so that they inhale immune system enhancing or digestive essential oils with their evening feed. Or for the nervous agitated horse travelling home with a tag impregnated with calming aromatherapy. Both options have the horse more settled and less vulnerable to physical issues.
It is a juggle between which approaches to take, what is important to remember is that both are appropriate if you understand and consider all options so that you can sensibly decide what is best with you and your horse.