7 Equine Alternative Healing Therapies

There are number of alternative equine healing therapies. When deciding whether or not one is right for you, it’s important to understand what each can do and its focus. Here’s more information on seven of the more popular alternative treatment modalities:

By Mel Harms-Grossman of SunRunner Ranch

With Alternative Equine Therapies being more heavily advertised and used, it is helpful to understand the similarities and differences. While all therapies have their merits and uses, the best results are achieved by using therapies that complement one another.

Bearing this in mind, therapies should be practiced with knowledge and reason by individuals with great awareness of their uses, limitations and potential dangers.

Many of these therapies (if used incorrectly) can require extensive re-treatment and may not address the desired issue. The appropriate treatment(s) can make strides toward recovery.

Horse demonstrating release of tension during a treatment. Photo courtesy of Mel Harms-Grossman.

Correct rebuilding of muscles, and movement patterns with appropriate exercise or rehabilitation (physical therapy) activities are required for the best results.

There are no overnight or one-shot “fixes” to injury, trauma or overuse situations as some believe. However, there are alternative therapies that can help: 

    1. Chiropractic: this field has grown substantially in the past 10 years. It focuses on skeletal alignment and balance. Some practitioners prefer to have/use additional alternative therapies to assist with ease of alignment. Chiropractic work is regulated and must be performed by a DC with animal certification or a DVM with a chiropractic program completed. Some states have further regulations of the DC requirements.
    2. Massage: this also is a substantially growing field. The focus of massage is muscle manipulation for relief of tissue tension. It can be performed by hand (manually) or with devices. This modality is regulated differently depending on the state, but a “certified massage therapist” has had appropriate course/certification requirements.

      Starship Muffy getting a masage. Photo courtesy of DeAnn Long Sloan.

    3. Laser (Photobiomodulation) of varied depths and powers (this also can be called red light therapy): this category could be separated into several units based on “class” but we will stick to two. Laser (medical grade) therapies are regulated and have certification programs where as red light therapies (less depth and power) are not regulated currently. The focus is on tissue penetration with laser/light to varied depths (commonly 4 to 8 cm) to influence primarily myofascial tissues. This relieves swelling/stress and helps restore normal tissue function. Light therapy can also be used to assist wound healing, tendon/ligament healing by reducing swelling and stimulating blood flow. There are other “colored” or different frequencies of lasers/light with varied applications.

      Funny Bunny B receiving red light therapy. Photo courtesy of DeAnn Long Sloan

    4. Cranial-Sacral Therapies: this uses light touch to influence alignment of the bones of the skull, spine, pelvis and to stimulate the central nervous system to to promote tissue alignment/trauma relief. Often called body work, integrated therapy, or sometimes named after personalities (Masterson Method), there are course certifications but no regulations of these practices.
    5. PEMF/Magnawave: this modality uses pulse electro magnetic field. It focuses on generating a broad electrical field to “exercise” the cells and speed cellular regenerative processes. It promotes blood flow, assists in cellular function to reduce swelling and inflammation. While these devices have certification program by the companies that distribute them, they are not regulated. Anyone can own/operate and “practice” with these devices.
    6. Acupuncture: this is the application of needles at specific points (meridians) of the body. The focus is inserting needles into acupressure points (meridians) to release endorphins, assisting with pain relief and restoration of normal blood supply. This is field is regulated to Veterinary professionals in most states.

      A horse receiving a combination of acupuncture, B12, and back injections. Photo by DeAnn Long Sloan.

    7. Microcurrent/Acuscope /Neuroscope: this is targeted micro-electrical pulses to influence cells at the mitochondrial level to realign their cellular electrical activity. Many of these devices have a biofeedback feature. The focus is to aid in the relief of soft tissue trauma, overuse, fatigue and promote healing and realignment, which helps restore normal tissue function. This modality is regulated to an extent. The purchase of the “medical grade” machines require training/course completion by certified programs. Regulations may be varied state to state. This module is regulated for human medical practice as are several of the others.
When looking for alternative equine healing therapies, there are several available to assist our equine partners. More in-depth resource materials are available online. If seeking these materials, look for monitored or mediated sources such as university publications or scientific/published studies.
Proper application of these therapies, by knowledgeable practitioners, sometime in conjunction with one another, can greatly assist in the reset and rehabilitation of our equine partners. Additional physical therapy activities provided by those knowledgeable in biomechanics will also assist development of proper posture.
Be aware that some of the therapies, when applied inaccurately, can prolong and or hinder healing by further inflaming the tissues, disrupting body alignment or inflaming the CNS (central nervous system). This is why it is important to find practitioners (certified when appropriate) well trained module(s).

Rehabilitating horse showing at WDAA World Show in working frame. Photo courtesy of Mel Harms-Grossman.

Mule at SunRunner Ranch working on rehab activities post therapies. Photo courtesy of Mel Harms-Grossman.

An additional note of caution is that physical activities that repeat the conditions of the initial injury or over use pattern will also thwart the healing process. Some training methods & equipment, by default, promote improper biomechanics. This should be considered while selecting individuals to train or assist in the development of the horse.