The rising tide of “back to nature” for horse care has some good points. It also has some potentially dangerous trends and some nonsense. Natural-therapy extremists even attack the practice of blanketing. An Icelandic pony with the coat of a wooly mammoth and a layer of fat like a seal may take ???40?° wind chills just fine, but a thin-skinned, selectively bred (not for hardiness!) high-performance horse can’t. It’s like caring for an African violet like a blue spruce.
Abandoning medications and traditional/“Western” therapies can border on outright negligence. Yes, echinacea may be a better approach to controlling some respiratory viruses than the heavy use of largely ineffective vaccines, and analgesic/anti-inflammatory herbs are better than long-term NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for chronic inflammation and pain. However, treating serious bacterial infections with garlic instead of antibiotics is inviting disaster.
While evidence is mounting that we probably overvaccinate our horses, the suggestion that you should substitute nosodes for tetanus or rabies vaccines is outrageous. The fact remains that the longer lifespan our horses enjoy is directly related to modern advances in control of infectious disease. It may be time to re-examine some old practices and beliefs but not by going back to square one.
Acupuncture, massage therapy and alternative-therapy devices have substantial benefits to offer our horses, probably even deserving equal consideration with existing therapeutic approaches to some problems, but they are not a cure-all. A horse with a damaged section of intestine from a twisted gut still needs surgery. No reputable acupuncturist or alternative therapy proponent will tell you otherwise.
Some people even claim that shoes only mask a horse’s pain, while the underlying condition worsens. Any good farrier would agree that letting a healthy horse go barefoot is good for overall hoof health, but he or she also knows sometimes shoes are a necessity.
I hope the interest in “going natural” continues. It forces us to take a hard look at treatments that were previously considered gospel. This is a tough concept for most people — impossible for some. Rejecting all “new” approaches out of hand is just as bad as throwing out the methods more traditionally held.
We all must sort through the options critically and not simply turn away. This goes for both the old and the new. We need an interchange of solid information presented without exaggerated benefits or risks. We must be open to having our beliefs challenged, old or new.
’Til Next Month,
-Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD