Archive for September, 2011
By Larissa Cox
Spinal manipulation, massage therapy, herbal remedies, electromagnetic fields, acupuncture – the term “alternative medicine” has been applied to a number of modalities for both human and equine alike. In the past, the selection of an alternative treatment implied a choice that ruled out conventional medicine. However, research during the past decade shows that some “alternatives” work very well with the traditional treatment and now “complementary” medicine is being used for those techniques used with the traditional treatment options.
During the month of October, we will be exploring some of the “complementary” options available to the horse owner today.
On 1972, prior to Richard Nixon visiting China, James Reston, a New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, traveled with Henry Kissinger to China on a scouting mission. During that trip, Reston required emergency appendix surgery, and acupuncture was used for post-operative pain. Acupuncture, relatively new in the equine field, has been embraced by the Western culture and is very popular today to treat a number of equine problems. Visit Tack and Talk on Monday, to read about acupuncture as an equine therapy performed today.
By Larissa Cox
The Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, loved this herb! Vervain was considered sacred, magical and a “cure-all” by many cultures throughout the ages. Used by Medieval, British/European, Greek, Italian, Chinese and the Native American Indian healers for centuries.
Vervain has a tonic, nerve restoring and lifting quality, combined with its ability to improve liver and digestive function, makes it well suited to those, human or horse, who are convalescing from chronic illness. Many horse owners top dress this herb on their horses who are on stall rest. As a nervine relaxant and antispasmodic, it can assist horses who are tense and sensitive by relaxing the gut, peripheral nerves and muscles, allowing them to perform without “burning up” their energy through anxiety. Used both internally as a feed supplement and externally as a poultice, it can also relieve itchiness in those horses whose tension is expressed through overly reactive skin.
In addition, vervain is a diaphoretic supplement (promotes perspiration) and is valuable in managing fevers. It’s antispasmodic effects also applies to coughs, asthma and headaches. In addition, it is galactogogue – encouraging lactation!
Again, as with any supplement program, your veterinarian should be contacted. Vervain should not be administered to pregnant mares without first consulting a qualified equine herbalist or your veterinarian as research has shown that verbain can stimulate uterine contractions.
By: Larissa Cox
Acepromazine or acetylpromazine, known as ACP or Ace, is commonly used in the equine industry today as a sedative with its principal value in quietening and calming the anxious horse. Used by many, but truly understood by few.
Acepromazine or Ace is a phenothiazine derivate antipsychotic drug which was first used in humans during the 1950s and now is frequently used in horses, dogs and cats. Its potential for cardiac effects can be profound and as such, is not recommended for use in horses that are geriatric and those experiencing anemia, dehydration, shock or colic. Tranquilization with Ace does make the horse more obedient without significantly affecting learning performance and as such, it is a tool that has been used frequently by the less skilled handlers on testy horses to perform mildly aversive procedures such as trailer loading or clipping, while allowing the horse to learn to tolerate this training. Unfortunately, at times, Ace is sometimes administered prior to showing or sale inspections misrepresenting the true temperament of the horse. As Ace is so often used unnecessarily in the equine world, one really needs to consider animal welfare. Is the use of Ace for the benefit of the horse or the trainer?
Ace accumulates in the body. If a horse is given a daily dose of this drug, eventually he will need smaller doses for the same effect. Ace is a prohibited Class A drug under FEI rules and its use is prohibited or restricted by many other equestrian organizations. Ace can be detected in the blood for 72 – 120 hours, although repeated doses may make it remain present in the horse for several months.
The side effects are not common, but the use of Ace in intact males is cautioned as it may cause the penis to drop, which can result in paraphimosis, a rare permanent paralysis of the muscles that retract the penis. Heart and circulation are also affected by Ace, causing a drop in blood pressure. Horses dewormed with piperazine should not be administered with Ace.
However, Ace can be very effective for the safe performance of medical procedures that cannot be accomplished by any other method of restraint. An injured horse that has been stall bound for a prolonged period of time is a good candidate for Ace as proper tranquilization, under the watchful eye of your veterinarian, facilitates handwalking and lessens the chance of injury to both horse and handler. Emergency situations can call for the use for of this drug, but the risks and benefits need to be carefully weighed and your veterinarian must be consulted.
The bottom line is that low dose use of Ace can help with an immediate, urgent problems but should not be used repeatedly as a substitute for proper training!
The ancient Greeks called the small daisy-like flowers of chamomile “Ground Apple” because of their smell but was most noted for their calming, relaxing effects on both the digestion and the nerves. Chamomile, though, has a wide range of actions in the body… it is well documented as having anti-inflammatory activity and is also beneficial in reducing allergic responses as it contains a number of anti-histamine chemicals. In addition, it is recognised as being ulcer-protective through its healing effect on the mucosa of the gastro-intestinal tract.
Chamomile can be especially helpful for the tense, restless horse prone to nervous colic. Indeed, it has an affinity for relieving digestive tract and organ spasm and pain (more so than the muscle aches and pains associated with physical exertion). It supports the body’s skeletal structure through its calcium phosphate content, and in the case of skin allergies it can be applied externally (as a ‘tea’ rinse) to help reduce itching and irritation. Chamomile is mildly anti-microbial, assisting the body to destroy or resist pathogenic (disease-causing) micro-organisms.
Interestingly, bunches of chamomile were once consistently hung in stables to deter flies.
There has been occasional hypersensitive reactions observed in the human population (those who are allergic to members of the ragweed family), however this type of sensitivity is extremely rare.
A very common ingredient in many calming supplements is L-tryptophan but does this supplement really work? There is also much confusion as to what is the tryptophan supplement. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which horses are unable to manufacture themselves and require this amino acid in their diet. The horse’s body uses tryptophan to make serotonin. Increased levels of serotonin in the brain have been associated with sedation, increased sleepiness, reduced aggression and reduced fearfulness.
The reasoning behind of giving “extra” tryptophan” to the horse is that it should lead to an increase in serotonin level in the brain, which in turn, should have a calming effect to the horse. However, it’s not as simple as it seems because there are a number of factors that can influence the uptake of tryptophan by the brain, including the type and amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates in the horse’s diet.
A diet containing low levels of fat would reduce the availability of trypotophan, and conversely horses on a high carbohydrate diet may be more likely to take tryptophan into the brain. It can also be argued that horses who are on a high carbohydrate diet can tend towards being more excitable in behaviour, so if the tryptophan would have a calming effect, it would be more noticeable in these horses.
In a behavioral study where commercial tryptophan was fed at the recommended rate, it resulted in a no calming effect on horses, which were subjected to a standardized fear and handling test. (J Malmkvist, JW Christensen, App Anim Behav Sci (2007) 107, 361- 366). Tryptophan has been shown to have a somewhat calming effect in some species, however, there is little documentation or scientific evidence that it is actually effective in horses.
In a test of 28 – two year old Danish Warmblood horses wearing heart monitors and separated from their horse buddies while they were fed individually unfortunately showed that the single dose of tryptophan, at the recommended dose, had little calming effect on the these horses. No significant differences were noted between the control and placebo group. All the horses received similar diets and exercise except that some of the horses were fed the recommended dose of the commercial tryptophan supplement while others received a placebo. These horses were tested 2-3 hours after being treated where two experiments were carried out. The first test was a response of stallions to white noise to see if they were put off their feed by having a CD player close to their feed container. In the second test, the mares were introduced into a pen that had a red and white plastic curtain close to the feed container. The heart rate and behaviour was recorded in both tests. (Calmatives for the excitable horse: A review of L-tryptophan. A Grimmett, MN Sillence. Vet J (2005) 24 – 32)
The little research conducted up to 2005 on giving tryptophan to horses finds that at doses lower than those contained in commercial tryptophan supplements, horses actually become mildly excited. Whereas high doses of tryptophan also produce undesirable effects. They reduce a horse’s endurance capacity. Furthermore, high doses can be toxic if given orally, causing acute haemolytic anaemia where a metabolite in the hindgut causes red blood cells to be destroyed.
Until experiments establish a safe dose for horses, the scientists advise using non-chemical means to calm excited horses.
By Larissa Cox
This herb was named by the Spanish explorers because the beautiful white and pink/purple flowers reminded them of The Passion of Christ. This flower was widely used in native North and Central American herbal traditions as it has a sedative and tranquilizing property.
It is best known, however, in bringing relief to insomnia. Widely acknowledged as a good remedy for anxiety, tension and irritability, Passion Flower can be of benefit to horses who are generally nervous and apprehensive as well as those who are distressed and restless due to a current illness.
In addition to its directly calming effects it also has analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-spasmodic properties and can be useful, often in conjunction with other herbs, for the moody mare and the horse who has tight, sore muscles due to constant tension.
One of passionflower’s phytochemicals – passicol – fights a number of bacteria, moulds and yeasts. High doses of this flower during pregnancy must be avoided. Before switching to any herb, please consult with your veterinarian or equine herbalist.
By: Larissa Cox
During the month of September, I will be focusing on calming supplements for horses. I will be explaining some of the more common used supplements, the history and use of each. Hope you enjoy Calmers of September.
One of the oldest medicinally used herbs, Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis), was commonly used in medieval times to treat a wide variety of conditions earning the name of “all-heal.” While us humans find the pungent aroma of the root powder very unpleasant, cats and rats are quite enamored of it and one version of the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin lured rats to their deaths not only with his music but also by enticing them with valerian! This herb was widely used during the first and second World Wars to prevent shell shock in troops and to reduce civilian stress during the many air raids of WWII.
Valerian, a herbal remedy, has become increasingly popular due to it’s ability to relieve many stress-related symptoms. Insomnia, nervous tension and anxiety, mood disturbances, pain, headache, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, palpitations have all been reportedly treated with valerian with success. European research has verified valerian’s facility for encouraging restful sleep in both the ability to fall asleep as well as sleep quality and lowering blood pressure. It seems to help to calm the excitable and over-active mind as well as relaxing muscle spasms. In addition, valerian is non-addictive.
This root is one of the most widely used herbal nerviness for calming horses. When correctly applied and dosed, it can relieve anxiety and excitability without reducing the horse’s mental faculties or their physical ability to perform. Some experiments have actually shown that valerian increases coordination and concentration abilities.
Valerian should not be the “quick-fix” for your horse’s nervous problems, but it can be helpful for treating stress-related issues. However, please note that valerian is considered a banned substance by most equestrian competition associations, so this herb cannot be used before or while in active competition. As valerian has a very strong aroma, there may be a need to slowly build up to the appropriate dose for your horse and should be introduced gradually to the horse’s feed. Too much valerian can have a laxative effect, so please do not administer this herb to horses prone to loose manure without consulting your veterinarian. Do not administer valerian to pregnant mares or in combination with any form of pharmaceutical tranquilisers without consulting both your veterinarian and equine herbalist.
By Larissa Cox
Magnesium (Mg) plays a number of important roles within your horse’s body, some of which may be very surprising to us. In muscles, if Magnesium is not present, the muscles would not be able to generate energy to carry out any functions. Magnesium also plays a very important role in your horse’s blood by acting as an activator of many enzymes throughout his body. But did you also know, that Magnesium regulates nerve fibers and controls the central nervous system and helps with glandular function?
Also known as the “nerve mineral”, each time your horse gets excited, its body uses magnesium to calm down and relax. The lower the magnesium level, the higher the chances that your horse will become increasingly more sensitive to stress.
- Does your horse have a very tight, sore back which is not related to activity, fitness level or saddle fit?
- Does your horse never relax?
- Is he cranky about being brushed or palpated especially over the back and on either side of the spine?
- Is he cranky about being blanketed?
- Does he have a history of tying up?
- Are there muscle tremors or all over trembling not related out outside temperatures?
- Does he require long periods of lunging before being able to focus on work?
- Does he not tolerate work well and works up, not down?
- Bucks shortly after workout beings, seems fine at first then bucks or balks
- Is he described as thin skinned or hypersensitive to touch?
- Chiropractic adjustment, massage and body work just does not have lasting effects?
- Has difficulty getting round or picking up his back under saddle, moves hollow?
- Has a poor work ethic and has difficulty focusing on work.
- Can’ t be still, repetitive movement, weaving, pacing, head bobbing?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you horse may deficient in this very important mineral.
So what actually contributes to a magnesium deficiency? The number one factor is stress! Training, competition, lack of turn out and a busy barn environment all add to the stress levels of your horses. Physical exertion, sweat, diarrhea, electrolyte imbalances also play very important parts to the loss of magnesium. Diuretics, suck as Lasix, which is given routinely on the track and to speed event horses, also causes this deficiency as well as a calcium rich diet. Interestingly to note that horses with a magnesium shortfall often crave excessive amounts of salt, have increased urine output and therefore increase the amount of magnesium excreted.
Does your horse have a cresty neck?? Magnesium supplementation has been advised by veterinary surgeons as it serves not only to re-balance the diet of low magnesium but also to help combating fat deposition in overweight animals, such as cresty necks. Opinions vary widely on the dosage of magnesium supplements as it depends in part on whether the soils on which a horse is grazing show deficiency in this element. That is why, it is very important to speak to your veterinarian about changing your horse’s supplemental program or if you are thinking about introducing magnesium into his diet.
So before you think that you horse has major behavioral problems, try a little nature’s best nerve mineral, Magnesium!
How often have you seen a rider take a saddle off one horse and put it onto another. This happens far too often and people never consider saddle fit when it comes to the horse. If your horse is showing negative behavior, pins his ears or objects to being saddled and/or girthed, perhaps he is trying to tell you that the saddle, where it sits, or how it fits hurts his back. Listen to your horse.
According to Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM and recognized saddle fitting specialist, 23 out of an average of 25 horses, have at least moderate back pain which is related to their saddles.
Here is how you can check if your horse has back pain.
- Just behind the withers, rest your fingers on your horse’s spine and reach your thumb down to the hollow just which is about 4 – 5 inches down on most horses. That’s the starting point of the acupuncture pathway which will be your testing line to the rear end of your horse.
- Along that line moving towards the back of your horse, press into the muscle every inch or two inches. If he feels tense or tight, he’s sore; if he “splints” or stiffens his back, he’s really sore; if he collapses, he unbearably sore!
Now check your saddle for symmetry by turning the saddle upside down. Look at the panels, are they the same shape and fully stuffed?
- Turn your saddle right side up and look at it from the front to see if the tree is symmetrical. It should be even on both sides like a perfect triangle top.
- Brace the back of the saddle against your thigh and look down at your saddle. Make sure that the buttons are parallel (if not, the tree is twisted) and that the flaps are straight (if not, the tree may be twisted).
Check your saddle’s position on your horse. In my opinion, most horses in every sport wear their saddles too far forward. To place the saddle properly on your horse, put it up to his withers and then slide it back where it stops naturally which will depend upon your horse’s conformation. Resist the temptation to place the saddle too far forward! If you use this natural saddling technique, this will get the tree off his shoulder blades and will leave your horse to “step out” and will not restrict his movement. To check to see if the saddle is in the right place, look for that flat area of your horse’s underside just in front of where his stomach starts to widen out. Typically this is about 3 to 5 inches behind his elbow. If the girth crosses this spot, then the saddle placement is good.
Here’s a neat trick I was shown using dressage whips to test the saddle tree by Dr. Joyce Harman. It provides a great visual concept when looking at your horse’s saddle tree.
- With the saddle positioned correctly on your horse, lie one dressage whip against your horse’s whither and one along the line of the tree, the seam of the saddle. If the tree fits your horse, the two whips won’t cross.
- If the two whips cross above the withers, the tree is too wide and this is a problem that may be resolved with corrective padding.
- If the whips cross below the wither, it is too narrow and no matter how much padding you put on your horse, it won’t correct the problem. A new saddle is the only solution.
When you put your hand underneath a correctly positioned saddle and slide your fingers along the panel, it should feel equally snug from front to back. The places where it is tighter will be the sore spots on your horse.
On a properly positioned saddle, there should be adequate clearance over the spine and connective tissue throughout the channel of the saddle. A channel that is too narrow may impede your horse’s movement. The saddle should rest on the, longissimus dorsi, long back muscle of the horse and not on the spine/connective tissue. The saddle should be stable and not shift from side to side or from front to back. Also, the saddle should never go behind the 18th thoracic vertebra (the vertebra corresponding with the last rib) as this is the weakest, non-weight bearing area of the back.
Correct saddle fitting is as important to the equine athlete as the correct shoe fitting is to the human athlete. Also keep in mind that horses change depending on their physical condition and training therefore your saddle should be examined on a frequent basis. Be prepared to change your saddle as one saddle will rarely fit your horse for the rest of his life.