It’s no secret that as a responsible rider, you’d want what’s best for your riding partner. From knowing the basics of horse nutrition by heart to keeping him well-groomed, and even managing his riding behaviors–covering all bases is a must, especially if you want to keep your equine healthy for a long time. Aside from mastering these nitty-gritties, perhaps you’re wondering if there are other ways to ensure the health of your horse.
Maybe you’ve heard about holistic horse care before? As the word holistic suggests, “holistic medicine refers to the practice of treating the entire patient rather than just the clinical signs of disease.” By bringing together conventional and alternative therapies, it aims to prevent and treat disease while striving for optimal health.
Curious? We’ll help you understand holistic horse care better and who knows? You just might discover something you’d want to pursue for the benefit of your equine. In this article, we’ll talk about:
In this article, we will talk about:
- Benefits of holistic medicine
- Embracing the emotional complexity of your horse
- Natural hoof care
- Benefits of alternative therapy—equine massage, acupressure, and more
- The possibilities of herbal medicine
- Natural grooming practices
- Lifestyle changes
What is holistic medicine and why are veterinarians practicing it?
According to the American Holistic Health Association, holistic medicine refers to “the art and science of healing that addresses the whole person – body, mind, and spirit.” When applied to pets and horses, it falls under the classification of “complementary, alternative, and integrative veterinary medicine,” which in turn involves preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic practices that are not considered part of conventional medicine.
Simply put, it pertains to methods that are minimally invasive, mild, and not commonly used such as homeopathy, veterinary acupuncture, herbal medicine, and chiropractic work, to name a few. Aside from being gentle measures, these alternatives also prioritize the patient’s wellbeing, making sure he won’t get stressed during a procedure.
You might be wondering–when is the best time to consider alternative therapies? Remember that with your horse’s interests at heart, being open to the best way to ensure his health is a must. The important first step you need to make is to have your horse properly examined as a diagnosis can help determine the right treatment. Ed Boldt, a veterinarian based in Colorado, says that “more veterinarians are seeing the benefit of combining both modalities to help the horse.” While Western, conventional treatments remain top-of-mind, alternative medicine can come in handy in select situations.
Think of it as a synergy–if your four-legged friend goes through conventional treatment and still experiences a recurring problem, your routine vet can look into the possibility of going for alternative methods. In turn, your complementary practitioner must refer you back to the vet if the equine needs further diagnosis and traditional treatment. It’s a plus if your trusted veterinarian, who knows your horse’s medical history, is also certified to perform alternative therapies. If not, you can always ask for a referral and your vet can relay the history to the complementary practitioner.
Are you in touch with your horse’s emotions?
Developing a tight bond with your four-legged pal doesn’t just foster a successful riding relationship, it can also enable you to care for him properly. As an important element of holistic horse care, being attuned to your horse’s emotions helps you become more aware of his state of mind while giving you additional insight into his physical health since many health problems have an emotional source.
If you’re having a hard time leading your horse out of the barn or if he is not responding to your commands, chances are, your riding partner is experiencing tension which could stem from physical or emotional trauma. An equine with unresolved tension may not be able to perform at his best–making training more difficult. To help you understand your horse’s emotions better, it’s a must to know what makes them moody:
A result of exposing an equine to repetitive traumatic and frightening experiences, horse trauma often leads to dissociation, anxiety, and refusal to accept tack. Some of the common causes of trauma include aggressive shoeing, rushed riding, and forced weaning.
To deal with horse trauma, you need to identify what trigger sets off a negative response–it can be an equipment, an object, a place, or a situation like going to the vet. Once you’ve identified the trigger, it’s critical that you study his reactions to the threat, which could take months, then slowly reintroducing the trigger and forming a good association with it. As shown in a step-by-step process by Happy Horse Training, it can be a tedious process that will eventually pay off. If your riding partner is traumatized by ill-fitting saddles, keep in mind to invest in quality tack that will ensure his comfort during your sessions.
2. Stress and anxiety
Similar to trauma, stress and anxiety can be linked to stressors found in your horse’s environment. It can be difficult to pinpoint these stressors so noting behavioral patterns and keeping a journal helps. If left unaddressed, stress can lead to weight loss, gastric ulcers, an elevated pulse, and a weak immune system. To turn things around, you can consider keeping a daily routine, monitoring interactions, and creating more positive experiences that can uplift your four-legged friend’s mood.
3. Disrupted sleep
This happens when a horse gets less than an average of 60 minutes of REM sleep per day for a week which makes them sleepy, anxious, and irritable. Not getting enough sleep can be attributed to insufficient sleeping space and insecurity about the environment. To address this, make sure his stable is clean, has proper bedding, and is well-ventilated.
Keep in mind that just like you, your horse can also have bad days and mood swings. Instead of punishing him, remove the stressors from his environment, listen to his feelings, and reward even the smallest of wins – he will appreciate it.
How often do you check your horse’s hooves?
Given that it carries the weight of your riding companion, hooves also need proper attention that goes beyond barefoot trimming. As an integral part of your horse’s anatomy the hoof serves as an important part of the suspensory apparatus of the horse’s limbs and a shock-absorber between the horse and the ground.
If you’re looking for ways on how to keep your equine’s hooves healthy, you may want to consider natural hoof care, a system that allows horses to remain barefoot, which also helps them recover from laminitis or inflammation of the laminae of the foot.
Based on a wild horse’s hoof, which follows the internal structure of the hoof, the barefoot trim results in the hoof functioning and maximizing circulation to the inner structures of the hoof. While regular trimming can be done by a natural hoof practitioner, you can put into motion other means to help your horse maintain a healthy hoof like:
- Exposing your riding pal to the ground where he will be ridden on
- Help the hooves harden by covering gateway areas with rocks/gravel
- Walking your horse regularly to allow blood to circulate and let healthy callus growth
- Adding fiber into his diet
Have you ever considered treating your horse to a massage?
In more ways than one, your riding companion is just like you. After a hard day’s work, he can feel sore and tired. The best reward? A good massage! Equine massage therapy can do wonders for your riding pal’s nervous system aside from providing pain and stress relief, improved proprioception, and relief from restlessness and sleep disturbances, to name a few. Over time, massages can also improve hair coat, muscle tone, and recovery time from workouts. A properly trained therapist, who is well-versed in different massage techniques can be an important part of your horse’s care team. To keep you informed, here are the most common techniques used on horses to address different situations:
1. Basic massage
Often used to warm up the horse, basic massage involves applying firm pressure to the muscles and underlying soft tissues like the fascia. As the foundation of most equine massages, basic massage can pamper your riding pal or manage an underlying problem. Some of the strokes used involve gentle tapping, light to firm stroking, and applying deeper pressure.
2. Trigger-point therapy
Trigger points or muscle knots can be easily spotted by a therapist and applying pressure to these points can cause pain and spasms. Often caused by stress or injury, trigger points can be relieved by applying direct pressure to help relax the muscle and encourage blood flow.
3. Myofascial release
Trauma, disease, and hard work may cause the fascia, a strong tissue that supports the structures in the body, to become tight and restrictive. An MFR-trained therapist can help address fascia-related problems through stretching and other MFR techniques that release tension.
Proper stretching can improve flexibility and the musculoskeletal system. For your reference, keep in mind that there are two kinds of stretching – dynamic, with your horse involved about how far to stretch, and passive, which is done with a therapist who can guide the joints in doing a series of movements.
In addition to equine massage therapy, understanding acupressure also helps in maintaining your riding pal’s health. A non-invasive method, acupressure is based on traditional Chinese medicine and promotes the unrestricted flow of Chi, a life-promoting energy through your horse’s body. Best used as preventive medicine, acupressure’s goal is to achieve energy that’s in constant balance to avoid illness. As a horse owner, it’s a must be familiarized with the five points for health–the stomach, the gallbladder, the heart, the large intestine, and the bau hui or Heaven’s Gate.
Acupressure can be done by a professional, or you can try your hand at it, provided there’s a trained person who can assist you. Applying pressure to the acupoints is done with the soft portion of the tip of your thumb in 30 seconds. Signs that your horse is responding to the pressure and that Chi is flowing include exhaling, relaxing, passing air, and lowering the head.
Your equine doesn’t have to have a problem before you can consider these alternative methods. As a horse owner, investing in quality tack and gel saddle pads can also help in protecting your riding pal’s back while solving wither issues.
Should you add herbs to your riding pal’s diet?
Your horse’s diet contributes to his overall health. Apart from mastering the basic nutritional requirements of your equine and providing him with a good mix of pasture grass, hay, grains, and protein, you may also want to consider incorporating herbs.
Colic, a common problem experienced by horses, can be alleviated using herbs. Herbalist Cara Cooperman recommends the following:
- Peppermint – helps normalize digestion, alleviate stress
- Chamomile – has anti-inflammatory properties, considered as digestive relaxant
- Dandelion – works as a mild laxative and can boost digestion
Aromatherapy, on the other hand, aims to achieve balance in your riding companion. Some of the herbs used in aromatherapy for horses include:
- Basil – sharpens the mind and relieves spasm
- Bergamot – can relieve skin irritations
- Eucalyptus – works as a post-event muscle rub and can freshen up the environment
- Lavender – soothes heat and can treat inflammations
When working with essential oils, remember that these are for topical applications only and must not be ingested. Always use diluted essential oils as your horse’s skin is sensitive.
What natural grooming techniques can you try?
A striking horse can be more captivating if he is well-groomed. If you’ve already mastered the basics of horse grooming, we’re sure you know just what to do to keep his hooves, body, face, teeth, mane, and tail, clean and healthy. Like how you review the label of the products you use, it’s a must that you do the same for the products you use on your equine. If you’re unsure about the ingredients used on each, you can always do a quick online search to know more.
If you already have go-to products such as shampoos and conditioners, you can make these better by adding 10 drops of your chosen essential oil to each bottle. You can choose one or two you can add:
- Patchouli – anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiparasitic
- Eucalyptus – can address fungal conditions and dandruff (it’s recommended to use five to 10 drops due its strong odor)
- Ylang Ylang – strengthens the hair and can deal with split ends and dry hair
- Tea Tree – antiseptic, anti-allergenic (it’s recommended to use five to 10 drops due its strong odor)
Is your horse ready for a lifestyle change?
The idea of holistic horse care means examining not just examining the problem of your equine, but everything else that can affect its health–his environment, emotions, and diet. If you’re willing to explore this path for your riding partner, remember that taking baby steps is key. Here are a few holistic horse care tips that can get you started aside from the ones mentioned above:
If possible, consider resting the fields or grazed with sheep. Doing so improves pasture quality and the mix of grasses while reducing worm burden.
Consider having your horse’s manure checked by someone who offers worm-count service so you can determine if worming is required. Worm count, which is done every 12 weeks, can help you lessen the wormers being used. Who knows? Maybe your riding pal won’t need it, too.
The healthiest way to train your equine, natural horsemanship is a natural way of building a relationship with your riding partner. To do this, you need to be able to do the following:
- Understand the body language of your four-legged pal – He uses his facial expressions and how he moves his neck and tail to communicate with you. Familiarizing yourself with these can help make training easier.
- Start ground training with your touch – Getting him used to your touch establishes trust so do it gently and with respect.
- Know when to apply pressure – As a way of training your riding pal to move, you can apply pressure by gently pushing him with your hands or using a rope to lead him. When done properly, he will slowly learn these prompts.
As a responsible horse owner, you need to put your horse’s best interests at heart. Are these methods you’d want to try eventually? Before making a decision, consult with your riding partner’s care team or veterinarian. While there’s no harm in trying, it’s best to take a safe next step, especially when it comes to your equine’s health.