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Detox and Tonic
Many people chose for their general health to do some kind of cleanse or detox at least once a year. Have you considered doing the same for your horse? Horses are subjected to the same environmental toxins we are. Plus, the traditional approach to animal health care in the United States and many other countries means our horses are subjected to many more medications – vaccines, wormers, tranquilizers – than most people regularly are.
I'm not a licensed veterinarian, nor do I hold credentials as an herbalist or homeopath; therefore, I cannot diagnose your horse nor tell you what you should do to build and support your horse's immune system and overall health. But people often ask what I do for my own horses, and I'm happy to share what I have decided makes sense after much thought and study.
If I'm starting out with a horse whose history medical history I don't know much about or one who I know has had the routine rounds of meds most of his life, I might start with a dose of one of the homeopathic remedies commonly used for vaccinosis (vaccine reactions), Thuja occidentalis. Though there are other remedies that can also be appropriate for some forms of vaccine reactions, that's the most commonly recommended one and the one I have always used. My horses get very few vaccinations, but I do give a dose of Thuja the same day I vaccinate. Vaccinosis is an interesting and controversial subject, and you can find a lot of information on the web. Here are some interesting articles on the subject:
And Thuja is a very useful remedy for a number of issues, including one we face in the Arizona sun – sarcoids. If you're concerned about vaccinosis, sarcoids or warts, you might do some reading about the remedy and see if the profile matches your horse. Here's an example from the Boericke materia medica (though aimed at diagnosis of a human, so some of the information won't be relevant or available about your horse).
I believe nutrition is of of the absolute essentials for maintaining health, and that means paying attention to the quality of hay and other feed items your horse eats. I have used the same vitamin/mineral supplement for more than a decade now. It's called Triad Concepts and it's made by a small company in Phoenix. I chose it because of the quality and bioavailability of the ingredients and because the company doesn't spend big bucks on marketing, so it is a good value. I think there's a lot of junk out there being sold as supplements, so do your homework when you're choosing what to feed your horse.
Along with the Triad supplements, my horses get a variety of herbs in a program aimed at supporting good immune health. I feel that if the immune system is strong, the horse won't be susceptible to all the little illnesses that go around a barn – the coughs, runny noses, skin irritations – or the more serious contagious diseases such as strangles, pigeon fever and even West Nile.
I have a cupboard full of herbs for various uses both at home and at the barn. Many of these could be appropriate choices if you decide a gentle detox or a periodic "tonic" would be good for your horse.
The first three are generally rotated one week on/three weeks off. My older horse gets nettles three weeks on/one week off and the young horse generally gets them one week on/three weeks off. And I have recently added rosehips one week on/three weeks off to both horses' diets. Along with salt and a monthly weeklong addition of psyllium, these are the basics. Throughout the year, I include the following herbs in my horses' diets for special conditions:
Burdock Root - liver tonic, skin issues
These are given as needed for specific issues, generally for one or two weeks out of a month, and sometimes repeated over several months. All these herbs have many other medicinal qualities; I have just included the main one for which I have chosen to include each one in my health program. I find herbs to be both an effective and inexpensive way to take a proactive approach to keeping my horses happy and healthy.
On a practical note, I generally buy herbs in bulk from one of two trusted online resources. While many health food stores and even some grocery chains carry herbs, you'll pay a premium. That works for an herb you mightwant to try when you can buy a few ounces and only need to use a few times. For those you'll use more regularly, you'll find the online stores a much better value. For example, if I were to buy echinacea locally, the health food store's per-ounce price would mean paying about $60/pound for the powdered form of the herb. From my online source, I pay less than $20.
I haven't been fortunate to live in an area where there is a holistic large-animal vet, so when I'm facing an illness or lameness issue and want to provide the body with a bit of extra support, I generally return to my reference books or to the Web and I almost always find a needed property in an herb I'm already feeding or find an additional one that fits in well.
Here are some examples of the online resources you might consiult as you explore whether adding herbs to the diet is appropriate for your horse:
And for those of you who are paying especially close attention to your horse's nutritional intake or have a special-needs case like one of my clients who has an HYPP-positive Quarter Horse, here's an interesting site that tells you about the nutrients available in many of the common nutritional herbs.
In addition, I refer often to two excellent books for detailed information about herbs and what is recommended to address specific issues in horses. I also follow these guidelines when deciding which form of an herb to feed and how much to use. A Modern Horse Herbal is written by one of the founders of Hilton Herbs, a company familiar to many horse owners. And I had the pleasure of "meeting" Catherine Bird on a listserve years ago and found her to be incredibly knowledgeable (and generous about sharing.) I recommend her book to all my clients looking for a good practical reference on a variety of complementary modalities. Read her informational article about planting Herbs for Horses to get a preview of her accessible writing style.
For general information about herbs, not specific to horses but still very useful, the following are some of the most useful references in my library. Magic and Medicine of Plants has the most detailed and beautiful illustrations, and Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants is an excellent overall reference. I hope you enjoy learning about the medicinal uses of herbs, and your horses enjoy the new flavors in their food and the healthy benefits of these plants.
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