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The Hot Horse; Proper Herbal and Food Therapies

Excess heat in the horse can be a major problem for many horse owners.  In part one of this article, I discussed the concept of the ‘hot’ horse, which can present many different ways clinically from sore feet to attitude issues.  While it is imperative to get your horse back into balance physically and reduce that internal heat accumulation, the solutions are not always as straight forward as you’d like them to be. Through looking at your horse in his or her entirety, the causes or contributors do become more evident and thus can guide you to choosing correct solutions.  The solution is always there, but it can take time, patience and understanding to reach the goal of recovery for your horse.

The Hot Horse and Herbal Therapies
The Hot Horse and Herbal Therapies

In the first part of this article series I outlined the concept of ‘heat’ in the horse and clinical implications. Additionally, I discussed four major pathways in which this high internal heat can accumulate, and thus create problems in your horse.  This concept of ‘heat’ in the horse is very important as it contributes to many health and lameness problems in the horse, especially during the hotter times of the year.  If you have more problems with your horse during the late spring and summer, then high internal heat could be a major player and a better understanding could lead you to more complete solutions.

Herbs and whole foods provide many opportunities to help rebalance your horse and improve their health with correct usage.  Each herb and whole food has an inherent energy to them and even organ systems which they target and especially benefit.  Herbs and whole foods generally have five energies to them including; cold, cool, neutral, warm, hot.  An herb or food can be seen as clinically beneficial in research, regarding health, but in viewing the energy behind that food, it may not be applicable to every horse or person in usage.  As an example, there are some warming or heating foods and herbs, such as ginger or other hot spices.  These may be beneficial in a horse or person that is cold-natured, but would likely create harm in the horse or person that is running hot, agitated and has clinical gastric ulcers.

Not every food or herb is applicable to every horse!

I will review some basic approaches in this article when managing the ‘hot’ horse, but for more details, application understanding, and clinical doses, I would encourage you to read the book, “Herbs and Whole Food; Repairing the Horse.”  Additionally, I do offer personalized consultations for the horse owner to aid in further understanding and creation of an approach for each patient.

Let’s jump into it, taking each step in the horse one by one.

The Hot Horse and Qi Stagnation

In the first article of this series, I discussed Qi stagnation which is essentially pent up or bound up energy in the horse’s body.  Energy being energy, there is heat associated with it and when bound up or blocked, the heat can accumulate and overwhelm the horse’s overall balance.  This pent up or blocked energy is often emotional based, as all emotions impact normal energy flow in the body.  It can also be associated with an injury or other health problem, either directly or indirectly.  It is not uncommon to have a horse with an injury develop emotional issues, which then further add to the stagnation or blockage in the body and heat production.

Qi stagnation can be a primary issue in the horse, such as when only emotions are involved, or it can be secondary.  In some cases, if you support or improve the primary problem, the Qi stagnation will resolve or improve on its own.  An example of this would be a horse with a tendon injury and pain, resulting in secondary Qi stagnation due to emotions and discomfort.  Resolve the tendon issue and the Qi stagnation will improve.

Therapies for Qi stagnation in the horse include:

  • Daily exercise (hand walking, turnout, socialization)
  • Daily stretching exercises
  • Massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic therapy

Herbs and whole foods to target Qi stagnation in the horse include:

These herbs are discussed in more detail in the book mentioned above, along with dosing in the horse. Keep in mind that some of these herbs directly impact energy flow (Qi movers), while others benefit the liver in some fashion and then indirectly impact energy flow in the body.  The liver is the main organ viewed as being involved with proper energy flow.

Specific herbal formulas to directly benefit Qi and blood stagnation in the horse include:

In these formulas, potency or ability to ‘move’ Qi or energy is based on the volume or dose of ingredients contained within the formulas.  Some formulas are just stronger in their action than others due to the dosage contained in the herbal blend.  Also keep in mind the energies associated with each formula and herb mentioned above.  Qi and blood moving herbs and foods are often warm in nature, which can seem counterintuitive to a situation in which there is a ‘hot’ horse.  While this is true, many do benefit from the warming aspect as long as other areas of the diet are modified to reduce heat, or other herbs are utilized to aid in further cooling down the horse’s body.

The Hot Horse and Yin Deficiency

Yin and yang must be in balance within the horse for optimal health and soundness.  The yin component is the cooling and moisturizing aspect of their being, so in times of excess heat, there can be a deficiency in the internal moisture, or if the horse was deficient to begin with, it can push them over the edge and create a ‘false heat’ of sorts.  This heat, due to a yin deficiency, is relative to the now existing excess of yang in comparison, which creates warmth in the body.  In cases of primary heat, the heat can literally dry up moisture in the body, which can then make matters worse.

Yin foods and herbs help to resupply moisture and a general cooling effect to the horse’s body.  The one problem area that can develop in use of these yin foods and herbs is that many are heavy in nature and can challenge the digestive system in some horse with a pre-existing digestive weakness.  Many true yin foods and herbs are high in complex carbohydrates, which can serve to bind water and aid in retention within the body, while generally not complicating metabolic concerns.  If there is a digestive weakness in the horse, the use of yin foods and herbs can make them sluggish and often quiet in nature, usually due to dampness formation.  Additionally, in some horses, the yin foods and herbs can create loose stools when there is digestive weakness.  In the end, it is not uncommon to supplement digestive herbs along with yin foods or herbs to aid in their digestion and assimilation.

Herbs and foods used to tonify or supplement yin in the horse include:

The main two yin tonics that we use routinely are marshmallow and aloe gel powder, which are combined in the Cur-OST EQ Stomach formula.  While this formula is targeting yin deficiencies associated with the stomach and hindgut, the herbs can benefit the entire horse from lungs to tendons and feet in deficient states.

There are other ‘blood tonics’ which are not really the same as ‘yin tonics’, which can benefit yin on a lower level and aid in cooling the horse’s body down.  These include:

The Cur-OST EQ Cool Down formula mentioned above is actually another unique approach which is utilized heavily especially in the anhidrotic horse.  This blend combines two liver or blood tonics (blueberry and artichoke) with a yin tonic (aloe gel).  It is a nice blend to tonify yin and cool the body down in the horse, while also benefiting digestive health due to natural prebiotics present in some of the herbs.

The Hot Horse and Dampness Concerns

Dampness in the horse is very common, just as it is in people.  Dampness (Ama) is an accumulation of toxic fluid-like debris in the body as a result of poor digestion.  For most horses and people, this is an accumulation over time, being many months to years, but in some it can be a more acute issue.  Impaired digestion in the horse results in poor food breakdown and assimilation, resulting in decreased nutrient extraction, inflammatory changes in the bowels, and a fluid-like accumulation in tissues throughout the body.  This fluid accumulation or dampness then can impair the normal flow of energy, contributing to Qi stagnation and heat accumulation in some, but not all.  Dampness can also be associated with coldness in the horse, but for the sake of this article, I will be focusing on the heat aspect.   This ‘damp-heat’ is discussed in more detail in the prior article and in the book “Herbs and Whole Foods; Repairing the Horse.

The goal is to reduce dampness and support digestion in the horse.  Dampness is like a sponge soaked in oil and thus, it can be hard to get rid of and definitely takes time in most horses.  This is especially true for the over weight horse or specific breeds such as warmbloods, Quarter Horses, and similar breeds.  These breeds have a predilection to carry more weight, which is dampness, and are often compromised for long periods in regards to digestive health.  A leaner horse, such as a Thoroughbred, can accumulate dampness, but generally it is easier to resolve for various reasons.

Damp dispelling herbs are used in these cases and aid to rebuild and support digestive health, while removing fluid or toxic-debris from the body either through urine, feces or the skin.  Thus, it is not uncommon to have a horse demonstrate foul smelling urine, feces or even have a body odor for a short period as they ‘detoxify’.  Keep in mind that some herbs are much stronger in their action than others and can have a significant drying effect upon the horse’s body, so use caution in cases where there is an underlying yin deficiency.

The main herbs to aid in resolving dampness in the horse include:

Dampness can be difficult to resolve in some horses, and generally these herbs are used in combination which helps to lower their overall dose and combine benefits of others.

The main formulas that are utilized include:

The Hot Horse and Yang Excess

Yin and yang must be in balance for optimal health and soundness.  The yang component is characterized as being warmer and more drying in nature.  It is very possible and truly common to have a yang excess situation in the average horse, especially the equine athlete.  This is a situation in which the owner is feeding or supplementing something which is heating by nature and adding to the yang component within their horse, thus creating more internal heat.

Common offenders in adding more yang in the horse include:

  • Grains (all types and formulations)
  • Synthetic based vitamin-mineral supplements and ration balancers
  • Heating or warming herbs

These are the three main culprits that are seen in most horses.

Grains are heating by nature and are not appropriate for every horse.  In the wrong horse, despite good intentions, they can easily influence the yang component and upset balance.  Additionally, in most of those horses, the grains are negatively influencing the digestive process, creating dampness and more inflammation.  Thus, grains are usually the first thing to go in all heat associated inflammatory problems in the horse.

Synthetic based vitamin-mineral supplements and ration balancers are often warming if not heating to the horse’s body.  This is due to their synthetic base, not being in the natural whole-food form, in addition to added sugars or flavoring enhancers which are often found in high volume to make the products more palatable.  Despite good intentions on paper, once again, these are usually removed from the horse’s regimen and alternative pathways for nutrient provision is put into place, mainly focusing on whole foods.

Heating or warming herbs are the final culprit.  In most of these situations, owners or trainers simply do not understand that each herb has an energy to it and they are used inappropriately.  This is most commonly found in cases where there is a desire to enhance performance on some level.  This is often done using warming or even heating herbs.  Performance is generally enhanced by creating or restoring balance in the horse, thus cooling herbs can enhance just as well as warming herbs.  Choose the wrong herb and you could push your horse further behind the eight ball in their health.  Combine that with an excess of grain and high usage of synthetic ration balancers and the problem becomes even greater.

Even the routine usage of mildly warming herbs, such as curcumin and boswellia, when used inappropriately or not in balance with other herbs can create problems and a potential heating situation in the horse.  Thus, it is important to use them in balanced blends, generally not isolated by themselves.

The Hot Horse; Summing it Up!

Confused?  Don’t be as it really is quite obvious when you take the time to step back from your horse and look deeper.  The hard part is finding the regimen that works, at least for now, and realize that in truth, there are usually many factors involved in the hot-natured horse.  The goal is to slowly remove the layers and then tonify and support the horse overall to maintain health and soundness.  Keep in mind that nothing is permanent and everything is ever changing.  Seasons come and seasons go, and with them, they will influence the nature of your horse, creating some problems while resolving others.  While this can be frustrating, there is a true inherent beauty to it all when you step back to appreciate it.

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Author:  Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN




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