In the first part of this article series, I discussed the concepts of ‘root’ problems in the horse, which in truth are not much different than in you and I. If your horse has a medical or lameness concern, then the answer regarding choosing the right supplement, is to target the underlying or root problem. This is the means to an end if you are truly seeking to resolve that issue. In the first article, I discussed these underlying problems. Now, in the second part, I will go into a deeper understanding with more focus on choosing herbs to aid those issues so that your horse can get back to a state of health and soundness. That is the goal, right? Health and soundness?
In the first article of this series, I mentioned seven root or underlying problems in the horse. These are the seven most common issues that I see in equine patients, which then lead to imbalance in the horse and open the door for health or soundness issues. These seven areas are the areas that need to be targeted when choosing a supplement for your horse.
These seven root problems include:
- Qi or energy stagnation
- Blood stagnation
- Qi deficiency
- Excess heat
- Moisture deficits
- Cold accumulation or excess
A state where your horse is unhealthy or unsound, for whatever reason, is an indication that their body is out of balance. This is extremely common and in truth, it is hard to find anybody or any horse where their body IS in balance. We have disease in our horses and we have unsoundness issues because of this fact that many are out of balance. It is common for a trainer or instructor to tell their student their body is out of balance in the saddle, that the saddle is out of balance for their horse, or even that maybe their forefeet are out of balance with one another, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. That may just be one small facet of a much larger problem.
Life, including health and soundness, is all about balance. Become out of balance and there is a weak point which can develop. This may be a compromised immune response and EPM development, or it could be a joint which begins to degenerate. Getting the body back into a state of balance is the key to resolving any medical or lameness concern in the horse, but this is not always easy. Sometimes there are many root issues present and we have to ‘peel’ them back one layer at a time, which can take time. In other instances, the root problems are so deep, going on for such a long period of time, that they can be a little stubborn in their correction.
How to Regain Health Balance in the Horse; Supplement Choices
Let’s take a few examples. The situations that I’d like to address, which are the most common include joint pain in the horse, tendon or ligament issues, and metabolic concerns including laminitis. I will outline my thoughts and approaches for choosing a supplement in the horse.
Joint Pain in the Horse and Herbs
Joint pain and stiffness are generally associated with the two main root problems of Qi or energy stagnation and blood stagnation. These two factors can contribute heavily to inflammation and degeneration of tissue in the body on many levels and are both extremely common. When we have pain which is dull and tends to move around, from joint to neck or to the back, or even from one joint to another, that is generally Qi or energy stagnation. It is energy that is not flowing properly. This may be due to a host of factors including emotions, lifestyle, diet, conformation, foot balance, and even rider contributions. If this energy is not relieved and allowed to flow smoothly, blood will begin to accumulate in those areas or be deprived to those areas, which is blood stagnation. Once blood stagnation develops, the pain is stabbing, more acute, and focused on one point or another. This is the horse with arthritis of the hock or pastern region as an example. The alterations in energy distribution and blood flow alter the cellular pathology and soon the joint begins to degenerate.
There is always a reason for why that Qi stagnates to begin with and then the blood. Something is creating that, whether if it is emotional, conformation, or even foot balance. In truth, that is the root problem and the stagnation is secondary. But, for right now, the main issue at hand is the Qi and blood stagnation. Your job, to benefit that joint, is to get energy and blood flowing properly. You have to get things moving. This, in part, is why some horses with arthritis actually get better with physical work and are worse when stalled. The exercise can ‘move’ that blood and energy, while the stalling causes more stagnation.
My approach in these cases, at least for the first 30-60 days is to use potent anti-inflammatory herbs which help to move that blood and energy. So, our primary action with a supplement in the joint pain horse is to target and move energy and blood.
The two that I rely heavily upon are Curcumin (Turmeric) and Boswellia, in combination and often in higher doses. The main supplement I will personally utilize is the Cur-OST EQ Pure formula or second runner-up would be the Cur-OST EQ Inflammend. Both contain high levels of these herbs along with secondary herbs to support inflammation and cellular health.
As I use these formulas, I am also seeking the primary root cause of the stagnation, so I am inspecting their feet for proper trimming and balance, maybe assessing saddle fit and rider balance, looking at the diet, and the lifestyle. I am trying to see what else can be corrected to aid the recovery of that horse.
In most cases, after 2 weeks of supplement usage and addressing other issues, the horse is improving nicely. Then, after the 60 day period of supplementation, I will generally graduate the horse down to a less potent formula, being the Cur-OST EQ Plus or Cur-OST EQ Total Support, which contain these ‘blood moving’ anti-inflammatories, but at a lower dose and in a more balanced formula for longer term usage.
Tendon Injuries in the Horse and Herbs
Tendon injuries, including ligament injuries, in the horse both involve Qi and blood stagnation, as mentioned above in managing joint issues. However, here, there is usually a deficiency state that has opened the door for the problem.
Think of a river in your mind. If there is a lack of water coming downstream, the river can stagnate and pool in areas. This is the same for blood and Qi stagnation. We need energy and blood to keep blood and energy flowing. If there is a deficiency in either, then we can accumulate and stagnate.
So, in the tendon injury cases, a vast majority of them are painful which indicates Qi and blood stagnation, but they are really deficient in moisture for a variety of reasons. Tendons and joint require moisture to keep them lubricated and functioning. Just like a piece of leather, if it becomes too dry, it will crack and break. Same situation here with tendons, ligaments, and even the hoof capsule. They are drying out and thus, are more likely to be injured. Then, when an injury occurs, most therapies are just anti-inflammatory in nature, along with stalling the horse, which does nothing for the primary problem. In fact, often stalling leads to more imbalance in the body due to the development of emotional issues and heat, which further dries things out.
One thing to be mentioned here. There is a difference between a Thoroughbred with a tendon injury and a Quarter Horse or even a Warmblood with that same injury. Both groups can have moisture deficiency, but the later group is more likely to have underlying digestive weakness which is contributing.
So, why do they have a moisture deficiency? Many reasons which usually stem back to a poor diet, excess heat production in the body, or simply a weak digestive system which is incapable of extracting nutrients properly.
My approaches in choosing a supplement include:
- Average Thoroughbred will be put on the Cur-OST EQ Plus along with the Cur-OST EQ Topline to address stagnation and aid in moisturizing the body with protein, which will benefit tissue repair.
- Average Quarter Horse or Warmblood will be put on the Cur-OST EQ Total Support along with the Cur-OST EQ Topline.
The difference is that the EQ Total Support benefits digestion at a higher level than does the EQ Plus and these heavier breeds tend to benefit from that. The EQ Total Support has a mild diuretic effect, which is a positive for the heavier breeds, but in the Thoroughbred, it could result in more drying to the body, if they are lean.
Most of these horses are doing well within 2-3 weeks, if other contributors including diet and foot balance are addressed, and they can be maintained on those formulas indefinitely to help maintain overall balance, often at a reduced dose daily.
Metabolic Issues in the Horse and Herbs
Metabolic issues in the horse are complex or can be because there are often many ‘root’ problems present, or those root problems are very deep seated. If we are dealing strictly with an overweight and insulin resistant horse, the main root problem is dampness or digestive weakness, often associated with the diet and lifestyle. If we have a metabolic horse that has laminitis and foot pain, then we have Qi and blood stagnation, along with the digestive weakness and dampness. There are many approaches to the metabolic horse and it really depends upon how many factors are at play, what contributing factors are present and able to be modified, and how long the condition has been present.
As a general rule, metabolic horses take more time to respond. In most, you can see physical improvement in just a few weeks, but in terms of regaining balance to their health, it can take 6-12 months. It is heavily dependent upon how much the owner is willing to change things like diet and lifestyle, which include developing an exercise program.
My approaches include:
- Metabolic/Insulin Resistant Horse with no laminitis- I will use the Cur-OST EQ Total Support along with the Cur-OST EQ Meta-Support. These two supplements together will help to move blood and energy (Qi), along with supplementing nutrients for moisture, and benefit digestion on many levels, aiding to resolve dampness.
- Metabolic/Insulin Resistant Horse with laminitis – I will generally use the Cur-OST EQ Pure supplement to help move energy and blood, aiding to improve comfort. This can be used along with the Cur-OST EQ Tri-GUT to benefit digestion on a higher level along with dietary changes, lifestyle, and foot balance/trimming.
As the laminitic horses improve, after 60-90 days, I will try to move them to the regimen used for the ‘non-laminitic’ horses. Some can make this transition, others cannot. Many reasons for this and chronicity is the main issue at hand.
One last thing to keep in mind here. Many horses in all three categories mentioned above are on a host of other supplements from glucosamine to vitamin/mineral blends. These supplements can be discontinued in most cases because they are generally not doing much for the root problem, which is your area of concern. In some cases, these other supplements are adding to the root problem, especially if there are digestion issues present. Evaluate the diet first and foremost and change it. Don’t add vitamin/mineral supplements, use real food, whole foods. This will do much more for your horse than any vitamin/mineral supplement on the market.
I know this is a lot of information and I apologize. Health and soundness are really not as complicated as we make them out to be. In truth, if we sought after balance in our horses every day, our problem list would be much smaller.
We are here to help if you have questions.
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN