Archive for October, 2010
Written by Larissa Cox
Many of you already know that I am a stickler for proper fitting tack. I am always astounded by the number of people who feed their horses supplements, buy them the best blankets and yet use the same tack that they used for their previous horses thinking that all tack fits all horses.
Horses are amazing creatures as they have adapted so well to our human creations. Head discomfort most always goes unnoticed until there is a behavioral or physical problem. The most common behavioral problem due to head discomfort is that a horse will refuse to go forward. Unfortunately, when negative behavior occurs, the rider never checks their tack to ensure that it’s properly fit.
The horse’s head has more nerve sensitivity than any other part of his body. If the bridle is too tight, your horse is less likely to be able to think, breathe, and perform.
Your horse’s head should move easily when wearing a bridle so that the ear, jaw, lips and nose are not restricted. Tension or restriction on the head can lead to many negative behaviors, such as teeth grinding, biting the tongue, tension in the poll and/or neck, restricted movement, headaches, breathing restriction, loss of smell and general discomfort. Horses that are occupied by pain cannot think or perform well they just react trying to rid themselves of pain.
The nose band, also called cavesson, was designed to hold the horse’s jaw closed while racing across the battlefield so the horse would not bite it’s tongue with the extra weight of the armour claddened rider. Nose bands should not rub, press or irritate. A nose band should allow for at least two fingers worth of slack, anything less is too tight.
The sole purpose of the brow band is to prevent the bridle from being pulled back over the ears and down the neck. It is very important that brow bands shouldn’t rub or pinch and must allow the ears should be able to move easily.
The cheek piece plays an important role for the bridle since it determines the level of communication that will exist between your reins and the bit. If the cheek piece fits too loosely, the bit will rest too low in the horse’s mouth, causing the bit to hit the front teeth. A cheek piece that is too tight will cause the bit to rest too high in the mouth. This will cause the bit to dig into the cheeks causing it to pinch. Cheek pieces shouldn’t rub or press on protruding skull bones.
The purpose of the throatlash is to hold the bridle in place and prevent the horse from rubbing the bridle off it’s head. The throatlash should not fit tightly that it constricts your horse’s breathing. The common rule for proper throatlash fitting is three fingers width.
Even if the bridle fits your horse perfectly, without the proper bit size, you may encounter negative horse behavior. Please see my article, “Is your bit the right size” to get more information on some of the negative behavior that your horse will give you with an improper fitting bit. Earlier this year, I also wrote an article on how to fit a snaffle bit. This article will hopefully give you some pointers on how to choose the right snaffle bit for you and your horse as well as how to properly fit that bit!
Good luck and happy riding, Larissa
Written by: Laurie Cerny, editor and publisher of Green Horsekeeping Guide
1. Winterize the barn: This means repairing or replacing broken windows and doors, and making sure that they can close completely to keep out cold winter air and drafts. If you have a bathroom and/or heated wash rack, wrap the water heater with an insulated blanket. Hot water pipes can also be wrapped to help save energy. Refill under stall mats where needed, or haul in fill in stalls without mats. Remove anything that’s not used during the winter like fans (blow off fan and motor with an air compressor), and any liquids that might freeze in an unheated barn like fly spray, hoof black, fence paint, etc.
2. Harrow pastures. If you don’t have a harrow, use a pitchfork and break up manure piles.
3. Spread manure and compost on hay fields and on pastures that are resting for the winter.
4. Drain hoses and water tanks: Drain hoses of all water, roll them up, and store indoors. Unused water tanks should be drained and cleaned with dish soap or a bleach mixture – then turn them upside down if left outside. A run-in shed or a horse trailer that isn’t going to be used during the winter is another good place to store water tanks.
5. Clean and store show tack: Give your show tack a good cleaning and bring it indoors for the winter. This will protect it from the damaging effects of extreme temperatures, as well as prevent potential damage from mice and other critters and insects that might over winter in your barn.
6. Wash fly sheets, fly masks, stable sheets, and unused halters. Repair any tears in blankets, masks, and leg wraps. Store these items in a sealed container like a tote.
7. Clean out horse trailers after their last use: If you don’t plan on using the trailer over the winter, either store it inside, or tarp it – making sure to cover the tires. Empty perishable items from tack compartment, dressing room, and living quarters. Remove anything that could get damaged if the roof or windows leak. Put a couple handfuls of mothballs inside to help repel mice and other pests.
8. Fix fences: Make sure that fences are in good repair including working electric. Replace rotted boards and posts. You definitely don’t want to be digging postholes in the frozen ground.
9. Paint gates: Gates seem to rust quickly in seam areas, as well as areas damaged by use and by horses. Use either sandpaper or a wire brush to remove rust, and then follow up with a coat of primer and then with a rust deterring paint.
10. Stock up on staples: Filling the barn with hay for winter goes without saying, however, stocking up on other things like bedding, stall freshener products, salt blocks, de-wormers, etc. helps to eliminate unnecessary trips to the feed or farm store.
By: Larissa Cox
How many of you have looked at your horse knowing that he’s just quite not right, not able to bend, is slightly “off” and wondering what may be the cause. I am sure that this has happened to each and everyone of us….now if only horses could talk!
Just like us humans, horses too suffer from sore, tense muscles and depending upon what discipline you are riding, often the same muscle groups are affected. Let’s quickly review the discipline stresses that can be placed on your horse’s muscle groups. Below is a list of particular disciplines, along with the muscle areas most impacted in that competition.
- Hunter/Jumper - poll, shoulder, T-1
- Dressage – neck, shoulder, point of hip
- Arabian/Saddlebred/Morgan – poll, tricep, stifle
- Thoroughbred Race Horse/UK - right shoulder, left hind
- Thoroughbred Rac Horse/USA – left shoulder, right hind
- Standardbred Trotter – left shoulder, right hind
- Standardbred Pacer- left side
- Driving/Pleasure/Competition – deltoid, pectoral, gluteus
- Western Gaming Horse – serratus thoracis, semimembranosus
- Reining Horse – entire top line
- Endurance Horse – shoulder, back, semimembranosus
- Three-Day Event Horse – all of the above
Above you’ll see an image of the muscle groups and in the chart below, I have provided a brief explanation of those muscle groups with their purpose, cross referenced by number.
|1. Rectus Capitus Lateralis||Allows the head to flex and incline side to side|
|2. Splenius||Allows the neck to bend|
|3. Multifidus Cervicus (deep)||Allows the neck to flex and the head to rotate to the opposite side|
|4. Brachiocephalicus||Permits the neck to bend, and move the shoulder forward|
|5. Trapezius/Rhomboids (deep)||Allows the shoulder to raise, and permits the scapula to draw upward, forward and backward|
|6. Supraspinatus (deep)||Permits the shoulder joint to extend|
|7. Infraspinatus (deep)||Allows the foreleg to rotate outward|
|8. Deltoid||Permits the shoulder joint to extend|
|9. Tricep||Permits the shoulder joint to flex|
|10. Bicep & Anterior Pectoral||Permits the foreleg to extend|
|11. Serratus Thoracis||Allows the trunk to be at the proper level when legs are planted|
|12. Posterior Pectoral||Allows the foreleg to draw backward|
|13. Extensor Carpi Radialis||Permits the foreleg to bend and flex|
|14. Latissimus Dorsi||Permits lateral bending|
|15. Longissimus Dorsi||Allows the back to extend, and permits lateral bending|
|16. Intercostal||Supports the rib cage and aids in respiration|
|17. Oblique||Allows the hind leg to draw under|
|18. Rectus Abdominus||Supports the back|
|19. Gluteus||Allows forward movement and hind end action|
|20. Semimembranosus||Permits the hock to extend|
|21. Semitendinosus||Permits the hip and the hock to extend|
|22. Bicep Femoris||Allows for extension of the hind leg and hock, and bends the stifle|
|23. Tensor Fascia Latae & Fascia Latae||Allows the stifle to extend and the hip to flex|
|24. Long Digital Extensor||Permits the hind leg to flex|
Now that we have basic understanding of what the muscle groups do, remember that 60% of the horse’s body weight is muscle and that muscles respond to stress or injury by hypercontraction. This may also result in unnecessary stress on an opposing muscle or joint. Just like us, horses anticipate pain and their way of going becomes short and choppy which can result in uneven gaits.
The longest muscle group of the horse is the Longissimus Dorsi/Latissimus Dorsi and it would also make sense that this muscle is the one that often becomes sore either from poor rider posture, improper saddle fit or improper riding techniques. So what can we, the rider do to help our equestrian friend? According to Mary Schreiber “The How To Manual of Sports Massage for the Equine Athlete” and founder of Equissage, this muscle group can be addressed by this simple massage technique:
With one hand on the thigh as shown on the picture above, place your thumb behind the shoulder and using moderate pressure slide down to the tail, keeping your thumb two to three inches from the spine. Next with one hand on the thigh, apply percussion starting behind the shoulder with light percussion. Avoid percussion on the kidney area by staying a hand’s width away from the rump. Percuss back to the shoulder with light percussion, repeat with moderate and heavy percussion, two passes at each level. Make sure you avoid the kidneys!
Next, do the back rub! The back rub consists of six passes at Moderate to Heavy pressure from shoulder to rump. Do this in a back and forth motion, using the heels of your hands or your finger tips. I find that the horses really like this pressure and heat generated from the back rub!
Draw some large circles, again starting behind the shoulder and going to the rump and back. These are done with light pressure. Then, do medium circles with medium pressure followed by little circles with heavy pressure. Everything but percussion can be used over the kidney area. Starting behind the shoulder again, do a heavy zigzag stroke along the back, approximately two inches from the spine. If the horse is too reactive, add some extra percussion in order to desensitize the area and loosen up those knotted tissues.
Next, rest your open hand on the kidney area. With this laying of the hand, you are actually creating heat between your hand and the horse. Leave your hand here for about 15 – 20 seconds. Then, close off with heavy percussion, going back to the shoulder and then towards the rump, stopping just in front of the kidney area. This above routine is done on both sides of the horse and should loosen back muscles before/after your ride.
If your horse has had the benefit of a full massage, walk your horse at a fairly brisk pace for at least five minutes. The horse may pull back at first, as he may still be anticipating pain. That resistance, however, should last only a few strides and he should then begin to move forward easily. Walking your horse after a massage is an effective way to prevent after massage stiffness. Do not delude yourself into thinking that immediately turning your horse out to pasture after a full massage is a good substitute for walking the horse. It isn’t!
For those of you interested in horse massage, I would encourage you to read as much as possible on the massage techniques or even take a course. Along with the book I referenced above, which is a wonderful step by step manual, there are many that provide you with the instruction and steps necessary to give your horse the benefit of an equi-massage.
Good luck and happy massaging!
By: Larissa Cox
Every good athlete knows the benefits of an effective regular stretching routine. But what about your performance horse? Horses are athletes, too, and according to new research, they need that stretching just as much as their human counterparts do.
According to Ava Frick, DVM, CAC, veterinary medical director at the Animal Fitness Center in Uion, Mo., proper stretching can increase flexibility and range of motion (ROM), relieve certain kinds of joint and muscle pain, improve performance, and help prevent injuries. Muscles and connective tissue naturally tend to stiffen if they are overused or underused, Frick said. “Stiffness can result in injury, lead to inactivity, and eventually speed up the aging process of the musculoskeletal system. To remain supple, the connective tissue and muscles need regular stretching.” Stretching also provides a pain-relieving effect, which might be due to an increased pain threshold or simply because the muscle becomes stronger. Through a regular stretching program, muscles become stronger and thus able to absorb more energy, which also reduces injury. “The more energy muscle can absorb, the more resistant the muscle is to injury,” Frick said.
Despite the benefits of a regular stretching routine, unfortunately our horses will not stretch on command, so it is up to us, the handlers, to help out. According to Mary Schreiber, founder of Equissage, the ideal time to perform stretching exercises is after a workout, or after a massage when the muscles have been thoroughly warmed. Schreiber warns that cold muscles should never be stretched.
Before you venture into the barn and start yanking on your horse’s limps, be aware that overstretching can cause injury. If the horse reacts as if there is pain, you may be stretching that muscle a bit too far. Hamstrings in particular are very prone to injury through overstretching. So, before the few stretching exercises are described, it is important to review a few points.
- Never stretch beyond the normal range of motion.
- Never wear rings, especially if the horse is shod. Put on those gloves before going to work.
- Never stretch on slippery footing.
- Yes, it is okay to do a partial or modified stretch
- Only stretch if you feel safe and comfortable, and
- Be very careful especially when stretching the hind legs as this can be somewhat resistant for the horse.
The Stretching Sequence:
Pull the foreleg backward. When the horse resists, release the tension. This exercise should be done three times with each time increasing the range of motion.
Elevate the shoulder by rotating up and back and up and forward.
For the girth stretch, pull the leg forward for a total of three times. Again, when the horse resists, release the tension each time and then increase the range of motion.
The full extension may be a bit difficult so, when the horse resists, release and return the hoof to the ground.
One common stretching exercise is the Forward Pull-Hind Limb Protraction or the Hind Leg Stretch, in which the handler holds the hind leg just above the pastern and gently pulls forward. This flexes the hip and extends the hamstring while engaging the lower back.
The Quadriceps Extension-Hind Limb Retraction exercise also results in an extension of the hip area by working the quadriceps group of muscles. The handler holds the back leg at the pastern and just above the hock, pulling directly backwards. This also causes the lower back to flex.
Regardless of the exercise, handlers need to remember that the goal is not to stretch as far as you can but to lengthen out the tissues and “put just a little healthy tension on them.” Never ever force the issue and never stretch a cold muscle. By reading the techniques and/or obtaining some training, any owner can help their equine athletes benefit from the many advantages of stretching.
If you would like to read more on the study, ” Stretching Exercises for Horses: Are They Effective?” it can be found in the January 2010 edition of the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science (abstract) and provides the scientific background for Frick’s book, Fitness in Motion (2008, The Lyons Press). As well, there are many good books available to you describing the stretching sequences for your horse.
Good luck and happy stretching
By: Larissa Cox
The season is rapidly changing and many people consider dry skin unavoidable during the winter season, there are several easy ways and techniques to protect your skin, prevent it from becoming itchy and ashy, and keep it moisturized.
I have had so many positive comments on my Tack and Talk article Freshen Up At The Barn: Tips To Go From Horse-mom To Dinner-party Ready While at the Stable, and many questions on what to do about cold weather barn skin, I’ll share what I do to protect my skin from harsh winter riding.
Dry skin is the result of low moisture. I’m sure you have listened to the weatherman talk about low humidity, the scientific term for a shortage of water in the air, while preparing for your venture out to the barn. That dry climate translates into dry skin. In order to avoid having dry skin, you need to take measures to control the humidity in your environment and keep it locked into your skin, something barn people find difficult to do as they always subject themselves to nasty environments to take care of their horses.
I don’t know about you, but my hands suffer terribly from the winter weather. It is very difficult to always wear gloves, and as a result, I come home often with dry, chapped hands. BeautiControl makes an amazing product named BC Spa Manicure Instant Manicure. As soon as I walk in the door, I wash my hands with Instant Manicure which softens and moisturizes my hands and cuticles while removing all that barn grunge. The Dead Sea salts in this product gently exfoliate all the dead skin cells leaving my hands very soft. Now, for the upcoming holiday season, they are offering this product in a chocolate flavor, called Chocolate Indulgence! I don’t know about you, but anything chocolate is okay in my books!
A vital part of your skin care regimen, throughout the year and especially in the dry winter months, should be moisturizer. Lotions and body creams provide a protective layer on the skin, helping to hold in the water that keeps it supple. If you normally use a light body lotion, switch to a richer formula when the temperature drops. Doing so will feed thirsty skin and keep out the drying effects of the cold with a thin oily layer. Incorporate moisturizing into your daily routine, applying it directly after you have toweled off after bathing. I use baby oil on my legs to help control itchy winter legs. Choose an appropriate lotion for your face as well, both to keep it moisturized and to fight the signs of aging that come with thirsty skin. Wear chap stick, especially when going outdoors, to keep your lips from cracking in low humidity. Again, BeautiControl offers kits for different age groups and I typically switch to a richer product during the winter months, for example during the summer months, I use the 20s product switching to the 40s kit for winter.
Consider purchasing a travel kit to keep at the barn. I use BeautiControl’s 30s travel kit as the cleanser is a foam product that doesn’t require water to clean the face. I use the toner applied cotton ball to rinse and then the moisturizer throughout the day at the barn. Then my face doesn’t get that red, chapped look after winter riding. I find that I use the barn travel kit on a regular basis at the barn and keep one in my tack box at all times.
By following a good winter moisturizing skin care program, you can almost guarantee that your skin will never again suffer from extreme dryness through those cold, windy winter months at the barn. Replenishing vital moisture will keep skin supple even in the bitterest cold.
Happy cold weather riding, Larissa
Written by L.A. Pomeroy (Holistic Horse)
Breast, ovarian, prostate and testicular cancers are common in humans. Do they occur in horses, too?
October is breast cancer awareness month and, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among US women. Behind skin cancer, it’s also the most fatal. The CDC also notes that, other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among US men and seventh in leading causes of death nationally, just behind the mortality rate (fifth) for ovarian cancer. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America say testicular cancer is not only the most common cancer of young men ages 15 to 35, but has more than doubled in incidence worldwide over the last 40 years.
What does any of this have to do with equine health? Horses, unlike humans, do not have advocates like CBS’ Katie Couric, actress Christina Applegate, or athletes Scott Hamilton and Lance Armstrong urging greater awareness of these very public diseases.
Horses do get breast, ovarian, prostate, and testicular cancer, and like these celebrities, star status does not assure immunity. On March 30, 2005, McQuay Stables in Tioga, Texas, put down possibly the greatest reining stallion ever, NRHA $4 Million Sire, Hollywood Dun It, when the beautiful, 22-year-old, buckskin American Quarter Horse lost his battle against testicular cancer. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to put another horse in that stall,” said a grief-stricken Colleen McQuay.
While such cancers are relatively uncommon in equines, for the horse owner facing a positive diagnosis, just one case is one too many. Oncologist Dr. John L. Robertson, with Biomed Sciences and Pathobiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, suggests that the most fascinating aspect of equine cancer is not where it strikes, but how often it does NOT strike.
SIGNS AND CAUSES
What is cancer? It is a state of cellular growth occurring when normal cells become abnormal, and continue to grow abnormally, characterized by the ability of those abnormal cells to subdivide and grow while limiting the ability of normal cells to do the same.
“Cancer,” says Bennie Jean Kuehnle, director of the Animal Institute of Holistic Health, and co-director of the International Alliance for Animal Therapy and Healing (IAATH), in Marietta, Oklahoma, “has been called by some researchers ‘a disease of civilization.’ It is rare in nature.”
Naturally speaking, given the horse’s status as a prey animal on the food chain, where signs of weakness or unsoundness attract a predator, cancer is also a discreet disease.
Kuehnle continues, “The horse’s survival instinct is a major roadblock to the healing process. As a prey animal, a horse will continue to perform while his innate sense of hiding weakness takes over. The very ability to mask symptoms and pain can often delay diagnosis of illness and treatment. There are documented cases of horses that showed no visible signs until the advanced stages. There are more than 70 types of animal cancers, and horses are susceptible to most, including the same types in humans involving the reproductive organs. The number of horses with cancer is growing and often remains undiagnosed.”
Kuehnle points to some half dozen theories currently seeking to explain the potential causes of cancer: from oxygen deficiency at the cellular level (Dr. Otto Warburg); or distortion of cell growth, at a microscopic level involving electron behavior (Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi); to the negative affects of stress or a lack of natural sunlight. Dr. Hedwig Budwig, an expert on the therapeutic uses of oils, believes cancer is a fat-protein problem involving the underproduction of interferon by the body, while the late Professor Dr. Brauschle’s Hospital for Natural Healing sees it as a fungus whose growth can be halted or diminished, while strengthening the immune system, through herbal formulas.
BREAST AND OVARIAN CANCER IN MARES
Breast cancer, or more correctly, mammary neoplasia (tumors), in mares is uncommon in comparison to rates among women. Abbatoir studies (cited by Equine Disease Quarterly July 2008) report an incidence of barely 2%, and less than a dozen published case reports are known to exist. But of that compilation, all but one were malignant. And the results of necropsies, conducted between 1994 and 2008 by the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center at the University of Kentucky on 11 mares diagnosed with malignant mammary neoplasia (cancer), have also concluded that equine mammary cancer is “much more likely” to be malignant than benign and carries a “poor prognosis” for long-term survival.
Albeit rare, but often fatal, conventional treatment of such cancer has a familiar ring for anyone whose wife, sister, mother or loved one has faced this disease: total removal of mammary tissue and any accessible lymph nodes. The equine ability to mask illness is the greatest challenge toward early diagnosis.
“Unfortunately, by the time a definitive diagnosis is made and surgery performed, metastasis to regional and distant lymph nodes and tissues has most likely occurred,” says Dr. Maria Shank with the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center. Such diagnosis is possible through microscopic biopsy, depending on the tissue sample and its proximity to the neoplasm.
“Surgery is not recommended except in the most critical situations, as it does not prevent tumors from coming back,” says Kuehnle. In fact, surgery can accelerate growth of neoplastic cells, due to “incomplete excision of cancerous tissue, scarring, or a depletion of organ function.” Most mares seem to do well shortly after surgery to remove diseased mammary tissue, arguably buying a beloved friend more time, but inevitably suffer a recurrence at the excision site, or metastasis elsewhere, like the lymph nodes. Ensuing deterioration inevitably leads to euthanasia.
Mares also have a higher incidence of ovarian tumors (granulosa-theca cell, cystadenoma, dysgerminoma, teratoma) than other domestic animals. “While the percentage of ovarian tumors is reported to be 2.5% of all equine cancers, this particular location is significant,” says Kuehnle. “Mares with ovarian tumors, specifically granulose-theca cell (the most common type of equine ovarian cancer) tend to have reproductive dysfunction and be aggressive.”
Other veterinarians put ovarian tumors at a higher incidence percentage – as much as 6% – of all neoplastic (abnormal growth) conditions in horses. Granulosa-theca cell tumors occur most frequently in mares ages 5 to 9 years. Those exhibiting stallion-like behavior commonly show high levels of testosterone, because the tumor’s abnormal cell growth occurs in cells that naturally produce sex hormones and thus, can cause overproduction of estrogen, testosterone, etc.
You’d be cranky, if not downright aggressive, too, if suffering from the same painful conditions as this type of tumor can produce. Mares may show signs of lameness, or appear uncomfortable or irritable when performing, when in fact they are reacting to the pull of a tumor on their ovarian ligaments. As the tumor grows, it can place pressure on the broad ligament that suspends the ovary from the roof of the abdominal cavity. “Horses respond adversely to their tumor’s pull on this ligament,” says Kuehnle, “and may be reluctant to move forward. This causes gait problems and pain in the flank.” Poor performance could be more than just ‘mare-ishness.’ It could indicate a much more serious condition.
Other, more rare cancers include cystadenoma, a usually benign tumor that affects one ovary, producing multiple cyst-like structures within the ovary that do not spread, and can be corrected by surgical removal.
Teratomas are usually benign but uniquely unsettling. Tera, Greek for “a wonder or monster,” alludes to the strange character of these tumors, which contain “germ” cells – the genetic material for all components of the body. Teratomas can contain cartilage, bone, hair, and even teeth, but because they do not secrete sex hormones, have no negative impact on reproductive performance. Such odd tumors are often discovered incidentally, during a reproductive examination or rectal palpitation.
Equally rare, but less successfully treatable, are dysgerminomas, which can metastasize from one ovary into the abdominal and chest cavities with little to no outward signs of disease (other than symptoms akin to colic) until the cancer has irrevocably spread.
PROSTATE AND TESTICULAR CANCER IN GELDINGS, STALLIONS
“Male horses have prostate glands and are susceptible to the same cancers, conditions, and issues as humans, with not-so-rare cases of death” says Kuehnle. “It is becoming more of a problem as horses are exposed to abnormal internal, and external, factors. Despite the wonderful benefits to horses’ lives today, dependence on man has presented a Pandora’s box of issues that would seldom be encountered in their natural state.”
C. Edgar Sheaffer, VMC, a holistic consultant who operates Clark Veterinary Clinic in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, has observed the most cancer incidences not in the prostate, but in the sheath, penis, and glans, as small, cauliflower growths. “In a stallion, the primary growth is on the sheath, as a sarcoma, or occasionally, a sarcoid or melanoma.” Its presence can be insidious long before it is detected. “In breeding or semen-collecting situations, it may be detected earlier but most laypeople would not detect any changes until it was obvious. The next step, if it is a valuable animal or stud, would be unilateral castration, especially involving testicular tissue.” In such cases it is possible to collect semen in advance to store for future breeding seasons before performing the castration. His patients begin with surgery, at his eminent neighbor, the New Bolton Center of the University of Pennsylvania, followed by homeopathic prescriptions for what he describes as deep-acting, miasmatic disease (miasm meaning, “chronic by nature”).
“We see chronic conditions,” Sheaffer says, “become suppressed in the body elsewhere. Deep-seated disease then manifests as growths or tumors, on the sheath, scrotum, etc., so there is no one remedy or medicine. It takes a whole study of the animal to approach the condition.”
Squamous cell carcinoma, a common cancer in older horses, can also affect the perineal area beneath the tail, and the penis or prepuce of male horses. The most proactive steps against this cancer are to have your veterinarian conduct a thorough exam of the penis and sheath, once or twice annually while your aged gelding or stallion is sedated, to check for tumors.
FRANK SENSE AND FRANKINCENSE
Continued study is required to find new ways to combat equine cancer. Some of the most exciting research is coming out of Virginia Tech and its College of Veterinary Medicine. Three years ago, Dr. Robertson began conducting clinical trials of injectable, and topical, medical-grade frankincense oil into 42 horses diagnosed with equine malignant melanomas and squamous cell carcinomas. The trials concluded in 2007.
Frankincense, or Boswellia serrata, is an Indian herb credited with anti-inflammatory properties and its healing oil has been in use since 2300 BC in Egypt. The oil used in this study was “extremely high grade and concentrated,” and grown and distributed by a certified organic farmer in the Republic of Somaliland. “We have seen in some horses that application of frankincense will destroy portions of the tumor. Most of the tumors we see here are very large and advanced. We have not cured any horses, but can continue to study this as a potential therapy for tumors. Much more publishable research needs to be done, and we are doing it,” says Dr. Robertson.
“We intend to use frankincense as the only medicinal. There are over 200 organic compounds in this mixture, and our hope is to use it directly as a chemotherapeutic. The bottom line,” he says, “is there are lots of herbal old farmers’ tales out there about what helps horses. It’s our job to find out which ones work, and how, and why.”
“To reduce the impact of cancer,” says Kuehnle, “the horse has no greater ally than an educated owner. If your horse has been diagnosed with cancer of the reproductive system, or you suspect it, please seek to build a qualified team to help you and your horse with the healing process. Find someone to help you identify environmental factors and make adjustments. Find qualified individuals who can help with a nutritional plan. Since stress is a contributing factor, it is crucial not to panic and start adding everything you can find on the Internet or from well-meaning folks at the local vitamin shop. The horse’s body, under normal circumstances, will naturally eliminate what it doesn’t need. But a horse under stress can get overloaded and have negative reactions from detoxification. Healing cancer depends not only on the destruction of cancer cells, but in correcting the underlying causes.”
Equine cancer may not yet have celebrities promoting the need for more research and education, but with dedicated researchers and healers continuing to study and approach an old scourge in new ways, horse owners can draw hope.