A Better Alternative: Herbal essences

Herbs can be helpful, but but before you start dumping tiny baggies of all-natural “magic” into your horse’s grain make sure they’re safe and competition legal. By Liz Barnard.

From Liz:

Let me start off by saying that I am not an expert in herbs and herbalism. I am certainly not an herbalist. However, because I’m on the alternative end of the healthcare spectrum, I end up fielding questions about herbs. So, here’s my usual spiel on that….

Most of us are aware of the potential to use herbs for our horses. After all, people have been utilizing herbs long before we got to modern medicine. Maybe it’s for our moody mare who we would just like to get through a month of consistent rides, or our geriatric horse who needs something to ease his chronic aches and pains. Oftentimes, if a pastured horse has access to herbs in his environment he’ll self-medicate.

Plus it’s only herbs–they are all natural, right?

Please pardon me while I go on a short rant. It will be quick, I promise. For anyone anywhere who has the attitude of “it’s natural, so it must be good/OK/healthy,” what do you say to some nice Hemlock tea? Oh, you don’t want to commit suicide like Socrates did some thousands of years ago. In that case, please realize that natural does not automatically equal healthy or good for you. A major part of modern medicine has been an attempt (not always as successful as we would like) to isolate the helpful parts of long known herbal cures in an effort to make them more effective with fewer side-effects.

A horse’s digestive system is different from ours, or our dog’s or cat’s. Just because something is safe for us does not mean it’s safe for our horse. Depending on where you live in the country there are likely toxic plants to your horse? Guess what–some of those are also considered herbs. Remember the green Mr. Yuk stickers? There are a few herbs we should put those on for our horses.

If you compete with your horse and something shows up in a drug screen, you might be facing a suspension. You will want to know if these substances are prohibited by the overseeing agency you compete under.

That pretty well covers my view on giving herbs to your horse. They are helpful; I currently have a mare getting raspberry leaf and chamomile in her morning feed to level out her cycle, soothe her and help her be a bit more relaxed than she might otherwise be. I notice a difference, and both the raspberry leaf and chamomile seem safe to feed for extended periods of time.

The use of herbs is not very regulated at this point for horses, other than in competition. The only certification I have been able to find is from The Chi Institute for a Certified Veterinary Chinese Herbalist.  To get that certification you must first be a Veterinarian.

If you do choose to use herbs for your horse, please do your homework. Better yet, ask your vet. Be sure to purchase from a reputable source. Remember natural does not automatically equal good for you.

About Liz:  Like many here, I was always a horse-crazy kid.  After receiving my Bachelors of Science in Equine Science, I started training horses.  At some point it occurred to me that there were ways to make a living that were easier on my body.  So I changed careers and became a Licensed Massage Therapist and Equinology Equine Body Worker.  I love what I do.  Growing up riding in the Pacific Northwest I was spoiled with indoor arenas.  Now living in the high desert of Northern Nevada where covered arenas are as sparse as the trees, I find I’m a fair weather rider.  When I do ride, I dabble with Reined Cow Horses.  For more info, please visit my website www.lizbarnard.massagetherapy.com.

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