No Magic Bullets

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One night I had a wonderful dream about a magic potion that cured all equine ailments. From colic to foot abscesses to a subtle but perplexing lameness, one pill did it all. You didn’t need a trainer, veterinarian, farrier or anyone else. You just gave the horse the pill and went on. Then I woke up and reality hit.

Maybe this dream was prompted by the unexpected death of a friend’s horse, who wasn’t moving right behind. He was ridden without problems, although he wasn’t enthusiastic. He was eating fine. He never did drink much water and — hindsight being 20-20 — his stall was cleaner than normal. His age and poor stifles were blamed, and no one thought much more about it — until he came in from the field weak and shocky. Heroic efforts failed to save him. The clues to an impaction colic were there, but they were overlooked until the pieces were put together afterward.

In the last several issues of Horse Journal, we’ve tackled some complex problems that require intense owner involvement. For instance, in the insulin-resistance article in this issue, it’s clear that focusing on just one symptom or treatment won’t cut it.

Our June 2002 trials with LaminaSaver, an incredible product for laminitis, emphasized that this supplement — when combined with intense care by a competent farrier — makes a difference. But a couple scoops of supplement alone isn’t going do it any more than a tight martingale will cure a chronic headshaker. The trial drove home the fact that it takes a whole-horse approach to turn around a foundered horse.

When you’re faced with a perplexing problem, approach it systematically. Write down any recent changes in stable routine or the horse’s behavior. If you keep a stable diary, you’re already halfway there, as you can pinpoint changes in feed, exercise or anything else. Think about tack, turnout buddies — even new brushes — and note differences. That unusually touchy back may be due to a sore lumbar vertebra — or it might be an allergic dermatitis due to a new saddle pad or washing detergent.

Experienced horsemen spend a lot of time watching their horses, looking for clues and rearranging them in their mind. They know that the only way to find that “magic bullet” is to put the pieces together in the right order. While you need to consult professionals and educate yourself through research and reading, remember that no one knows your horse better than you do. You may be the person with that last clue that completes the picture.

-Cynthia Foley