Main Objetive:

This blog is intended to track how we evaluate and treat horses using alternative medicine. We take on cases as presented and enjoy finding solutions for horses for which Western Medicine has been unable to fully treat. For more information on our facility and practitioners we work with, please visit us at

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Acupuncture: Fun with Needles

I'm pretty sure this is the treatment that generally gets a lot of cringing when brought up - a lot of you out there are needly-shy and cannot fathom any good reason outside of medical needs to tolerate something stuck into your skin. The important thing to keep in mind is that acupuncture needles are generally SMALL, and their purpose is not to elicit pain of any kind.

A facet of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is thought to help adjust energy flows in the body. This energy is commonly referred to as "chi", and is thought to travel the entire body - again think like a complicated electrical circuit - when a weed or tree branch leans on an electric fence, it causes the fence to "ground out" and the electric pulse returns to the ground through the weed/tree branch, and does not continue to travel through the wire of the fence. In this same light, when the energy flow of the body is disrupted due to sickness, injury, or even general stress, the body has a hard time recovering itself.

Acupuncture enlists the use of needles at certain pressure points to help properly establish the Chi, and restore the body to its normal settings. In doing so it can help relieve stress and reduce muscle strain. Sometimes injections are given at these points - the most common being vitamin B 12. Other times the needles are given a slight pulsing current (this is called Electro-accupuncture) to stimulate the Chi. Again back to my personal experience - my horse had this done to "energize his hind end". Afterwards I had a week of a violently cheerful, explosive, bucking monster. I'd certainly say energize was the correct term for its effect.

Oftentimes I find that a chiropractor will make use of acupuncture before or after an adjustment. Again, it is important to remember at all times that the body has a memory - when it gets used to a certain position or compensation, sometimes just alleviating the cause is not enough to fully restore the animal. Especially because we cannot TELL our animals: "we fixed the problem, and now you will not hurt anymore." and they generally do not have the perseverance to work past pain - if it hurts them to do something, they will not risk doing it again. They find ways to cover, or resist. Acupuncture can often help to relax a horse who is too tense to adjust.

On its own, as already stated, it can also help restore that energy flow, and make the animal more willing to recognize their pain is gone, and test out their body. Unlike most drugs, it will not make them blind to pain that is still present. It will instead help them to manage and deal with it, and recognize when it is truly gone.

As with any veterinary visit, it is important to have someone present that can give the practitioner a full history - not only of symptoms, but of the horse's work schedule, personality quirks, etc. While the horse's body can sometimes tell its own version of what's going on, it helps to have multiple sides of that story. It can also offer valuable information on the horse to its owner/rider/trainer because it can explain why the horse is having certain difficulties. It can overcome a language barrier and bring to light the root of a certain issue, and once revealed that issue can be properly dealt with. It can even pinpoint certain weak points that are likely to cause problems in the future!

For more information, you may find this website helpful:

Acupuncture for Horses

Modern Acupuncture for our Equine Friends

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Equine Chiropractic Care: Align the spine and then some!

Before getting into some of the more "controversial" treatments, I thought I would cover the basic idea of Veterinary Chiropractics. This seems to be easier for most folk to consider as a valid treatment to aid the horse. As with many holistic treatments, it is important to keep in mind that while these treatments certainly can work wonders on a horse with a lameness issue, it should not be considered a substitute for a vet when needed. In fact, most areas require that any practitioner of chiropractics be a licensed DVM. It is not uncommon for a vet to work hand in hand with not only your farrier, but perhaps a chiropractor to asses a lameness issue.

Especially when you consider that a riding horse is expected to carry 10 to 25 percent of its body weight on its spine, it is not such a stretch to consider that this is often times a common culprit of lameness that cannot be traced to an identified injury (tendon/ligament strains and tears, stress fractures, etc.) Just as with people, it is not uncommon for a limb to be affected by a spine that is out of alignment.

Some common symptoms of a horse that is out of adjustment can be as follows:

  • Movements or performances lacking usual brilliance
  • Lacking coordination for poles, cavaletti, and jumps
  • Difficulty executing particular moments
  • Resistance to collection work
  • Short or choppy strides
  • Resistance to bending or "stiff mouthed" on a particular side
  • Cross-cantering, constantly swapping leads back and fourth
  • Behavioral changes -sudden spooking issues or irritability (I have seen a horse with cervical vertebrae so out of alignment it literally was affecting her vision and making her uncharacteristically spooky!)

Because most of these symptoms can also be those of injuries and illness, it is important to FIRST rule any of those out with a veterinarian. Oftentimes a good vet has a feel for when these problems are injury related or not.

A Chiropractor will also ask to see your horse in motion to get an idea of its way of going and will take note if the horse seems to have lacking range of motion in a particular leg. They will also observe the horse standing and check for uneven hip and ear placements. Once this has been assessed and the owner and/or trainer has provided a general case history of what the horse's normal behavior and work schedule consist of, adjustments will be made to help to re-align the spine. 

Most chiropractors prefer a "hands-on" approach of using their hands, arms, and body weight to help push the horse back into alignment. Others use small rubber mallets. Oftentimes they will  also encourage the horse to move itself and either assist the adjustment, or do it themselves. Rolling in soft footing is often encouraged as it can help fix small alignment issues - if your horse can easily flop from side to side odds are he is well-adjusted!

Because the body has a memory, a long-standing misalignment may take several adjustments to fix. It also takes time for the horse to find their "new" way of going if they are used to compensating for such an issue. Sometimes an adjustment can bring to light other lameness issues by causing the horse to relax and no longer try and "cover up" faulty shoeing or small injuries. Case in Point: the last time my own horse saw his chiropractor, after his adjustment we found he was off in a front foot, and later discovered that a change to his shoeing was the needed fix. 

As with human doctors, it is best to find a chiropractor via word-of-mouth as adjustments done incorrectly can do more harm than good. Beware the practitioner who does not ask for a full history, is hesitant to discuss credentials, and who cannot explain what they see and how they plan to fix it.

For more information, you may find these websites helpful:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Homeopathy: A General Introduction to the "Hooey"

While I gather more information on the "meat" of this blog (the cases we are currently treating) I thought I should take a moment to fill in some of the blanks as to HOW we treat cases. First and foremost I think would be the ideas behind homeopathic medicines, as well as some of the remedies we commonly apply to horses.

To begin, a Homeopath looks at a patient a bit differently than an Allopathic or traditionally Western Medical practitioner. They look to every facet of the individual being treated. Symptoms are important and should be observed and considered, as the end goal is not just to prescribe something to stop or cover-up these responses of the body, but rather to work WITH these symptoms to encourage the body to fix itself.

In people, these individual traits can be very specifically tailored to take into consideration personality quirks, habits, and desires, in addition to the physical and mental state of the organism. To apply this to an animal, one has to have a keen insight into behavioral reactions - and sometimes it takes a bit of detective work to get down to the real reasons.

So it is that a remedy which works well for one may not have the same effect on another, and treatments should be applied for the individual. For example, as I mentioned before we used a remedy on Hootie to help his facial paralysis. To select the correct remedy, Dr. Benyei not only took into account the paralysis and ataxia and the fact that my horse was underweight, but it also came down to me to note certain behavior/personality traits of my horse. Like his extreme co-dependency concerning myself or other horses, or that he is high-energy but not necessarily nervous or spooky. That while he requires a lot of feed to be "fat" he is not to food-hound that many horses tend to be, and relies more on having a job or companionship for happiness. That unlike some horses, he LOVES to work and usually readily does his share of the work without any prodding. All of this was put into searching for the proper remedy to help him - were he a food-driven, low-energy, independent horse, a different remedy may have been the answer.

Another "principle of cure" to homeopathy is the idea of Like treats Like. This means that to treat an ailment, a remedy is given that would otherwise cause the symptoms expressed were they not already present. Think back to math class - a negative number multiplied by a negative number equals a positive number. This makes assessing the proper symptoms a must, as otherwise should you take the wrong remedy, you will find new symptoms that were not present to begin with - this is called "proving". In this light it also stands true that when the correct remedy is found, it is not uncommon for symptoms to become exacerbated - in simpler terms this means symptoms are more prominent before they begin to go away.

Due to the principle of Like Treats Like, it is important that remedies be given one at a time, and then the body's reaction must be observed before it is decided to change remedies or use a higher potency of the current remedy. A practitioner must also use the lowest possible potency to resolve symptoms lest they cause an exacerbation or a proving. An oddity of homeopathy is that the greater the dilution of a remedy, the higher its potency.

Finally, it must be understood that when taking a remedy, there are certain rules to be followed for it to work. They patient should have no food or water half an hour before or after taking the remedy, and must avoid any foods or topical products which will cancel out the remedy. Some of these substances are: Coffee, Camphor, Methol, Eucalyptus, Mints, Chamomile, and any suppressive allopathic medication. For horses, this means no peppermint treats, and careful reading of ingredients in most common liniments (we use Sore-No-More as it does not have any forbidden ingredients).

While a homeopathic remedy does come with certain guidelines as mentioned above, a major upside is that these remedies do not offset any allopathic medications - we view homeopathy instead as a way to AID treatments. This is a wonderful difference as it alleviates the concern of the dangers drug interactions so common with prescription medication. We still consult with veterinarians and use regular medicines when advised, but homeopathic medicine allows us to assist the body and get better, sometimes quicker, response and healing times for the horse.

The following remedies are ones we commonly use:

--ARNICA: Helps with trauma or soreness due to over exertion, and can help speed the healing of swelling and bruises. Works well for first-aid purposes, or to alleviate next-day soreness after a strenuous workout.

--LEDEM: Helps to prevent infection, and has been known to fight off early stages of Lyme Disease. Works well against Teatnus, so is ideal for treating puncture wounds, or as a follow-up for Arnica. Also given after vaccines as it works well on puncture wounds (and bee stings!)

--CALENDULA: Also fights infection in addition to speed healing skin abrasions. Usually applied as an external ointment, and helps any sort of systematic bacterial infection.

--SILICIA: Used to help the body to drive out forgien bodies - wonderful for helping to drain an abscess

--RHUS TOX: The "creaky door remedy". Good for pain that improves with light to moderate work but becomes worse with excessive motion. Commonly used on those demonstrating arthritis issues.

--RUTA GRAV: Works well with tendons, ligaments, or fibrous tissues and can also address periosteal bruising. Applied for sprains, strains, or bruises on the hoof - pain that is worse with any sort of motion.

--THUJA: Great as an anti-vaccinosis remedy - for example: horses who get fevers and extreme stiffness from yearly Rabies Vaccinations

--ARSENICUM: Helps to put weight on for those with troubles absorbing nutrients from feed.

--RESCUE REMEDY: Alleviates travel anxiety

--ACONITE: Great to ease abandonment anxiety for mares and foals at weaning or pasture mates who have trouble with separation.

--COLYCYNTHISIS: Can help to treat colic in very early stages.

As I go along I will work on a reference list if any more are mentioned - these are just the basics!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How I Became A Believer Part IV: What Skilled Hands and a Willing Heart Can Accomplish

(Continued from Part III: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight)

Starting fresh in spring once again, I discovered while stronger and trail-sound, my horse was still arced to the right, and I found my own weak right sacro-ileac muscles exhausted from trying to keep the two of us in a straight line. Given the force that his right side hit the door and the following struggle, I decided Hootie had earned a little luxury, and found myself a good chiropractor who also did accupuncture. She had already seen a few horses at work, and I was curious to see what would be uncovered.

As it turned out, the (not-so)old man was not done showing me just what a brave soldier he was: In addition to the damage wrought by his violent battle with a doorframe 8 months earlier, Dr. Ganser uncovered ribs out of place, and wither issues likely dating back to his racing years. So she poked and pushed and stuck her needles in, and he stood happy as a clam trusting us to continue to make him feel better.

The first visit left me floored at his now considered amazingly wonderful behavior under saddle for the previous 4 years. While his owner in the 7 years between his track life and me was petite and by means a burden to carry, how in the heck had this horse hauled me around for years without pitching me into the rafters? By rights, he should have been. I can thank my lucky stars that his drive to put 100% into his job kept me in the saddle, and sped his rehab.

We took a clinic with Carol Popp to get some homework on flatwork to help him improve, and his second visit to both Dr. Ganser and then Carol got the same response : “I cannot BELIEVE this is the same horse – look how FAR he’s come along!”. And he was truly not the same horse from the previous summer, and closer to being back to his old self – with a newer, happier spine and ribcage to boot!

But try and try, he just wasn’t quite straightened out. I was still working just a bit too hard to keep that pesky right haunch underneath us. By now I was fully convinced that alternative medicine had a lot to offer, and I dove deeper. Trigger Point Therapy – I remembered having that done to me. It had worked pretty darn well. Hadn’t that wacky chiropractor I saw so long ago said that one could repair the skeletal system, but the body would still see itself as broken until those currents were re-aligned? Maybe my horse needed his re-set buttons hit.

So the next time the Trigger Point Therapist came by Whimsy Brook, I just happened to have moved Hootie there, and put him on the list of patients for the day. More poking and prodding and a very, very content Hootie through all of it. Perhaps its because of his racing days, or that as all thoroughbreds he is prone to every sort of random injury imaginable, but my horse to this day remains a wonderful, trusting patient. I was excited to get on and see the results – and found for the first time, he was straight, and I was just along for the ride. Success!

Hootie is still on the patient list, as true to his character he is always into something. I’m still on flatwork and cavaletti, and it remains to be seen if his feet will ever intentionally leave the ground all at once while I’m on him. But he is in good weight, content with learning dressage, and back to bounding around his paddock like a 2 year old. So we’ll see where this road takes him – I’m happy if I just bought more years down the trails in comparison to the horse I had 2 years ago.

So there you have it – my personal dive into the world of alternative and eastern philosophies regarding equine medicine. Next will be on to some of the other farm cases, and far better explanations to the methods behind the madness than brought up at the moment. But hey, everyone has to get their feet wet somehow!

How I Became A Believer Part III : The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight

(Continued from Part II: Welcome to the Adult World!)

Ok, so for small ailments, I was won over. And so very curious! I found myself asking about and reporting every tiny complaint about myself or one of the horses. I started picking up on behavioral and physical quirks that were helpful to take note of. Sometime later, my ever-complaining bum knee started acting up, and I found myself sitting with a light emitting diode on my knee. Brilliant! My knee could be kept working! Perhaps it could help with my creaky, straight-stifled but utterly loveable warmblood. And indeed it did (see Rhus Tox on the homeopathic information page!) – his washing machine trot vanished quicker in warm-ups. Maybe there was something to this after all.

But still, while this was great on the tiny things, for major injuries a vet was still essential, yes?

Now firstly, let me say I have not become nor will I ever be a vet-hater by any means. This is just my personal experience on this one occasion. I still encourage people to contact a veterinarian in cases of emergency, and do not hesitate along that line of thought myself when the need arises. But it was an eye-opener to say the least, and I feel it if it drove the point home for me, it might just help you as well.

As I had mentioned, my beloved jumper Hootie had been battling mysterious on-off lameness at my old job. Deciding it was just his age (16) combined with the rigors of a race horse turned competitive amateur-owner jumper, and finding myself leaving my indoor arena privileges behind with my former job, I figured January to April 1st off would take care of the issue. We would start fresh in the spring with a little rehab and a clean outlook.

So spring came, and we started back to work. Ok, a little creaky. I expected that. A little weak from the haunch too, but he was “old” and had been sitting for 3 months. It takes time to build fitness, said the ever rational professional mindset. But he’s outside all day! How can he still be so stiff, and so weak, when he’s outside from 8am to 6pm every day? He’s not as fat as he was either, and he never stumbled so much my overly worried horse-mom voice argued. The manager in me argued that his toes might be long, and to just give it time. So we bumbled along as best we could.

Ignoring the new found sluggishness and once a workout stumbles, I set my sights on a local jumper show and got to business. I buckled down expecting the first jumping sessions to be rocky – after all, when he had time off from his horrible feet at college, he was a wild beast when he saw jumps again.

But to my surprise, aside from pricked ears my lively TB gelding was a school pony, stepping carefully over raised cavaletti and hauling himself over small jumps - albeit cheerfully. Well, maybe with age came a beter grasp of conserving energy. And the arena where we were boarding was tiny. So of course he was going to be smart and take it slow, and sure he might stumble in the corners that came up fast. Why would he want to drive from his haunch when we were forever on a 30 meter circle? I kept up with those lies, trying to rationalize away the nagging concerns, telling myself I was just being a hyperactive horse-mom, and it was time to grow up and relax.

I figured a good wake-up to his senses would be a course schooling at work, and then a few 2’6” classes at a local show. That would get the old Hootie back to life! He schooled fine – no excitement, and was indeed jazzed up at his show. We had 2 seconds and a third, and I really can’t say if we were a little slow because of my nerves, or because adrenaline just wasn’t enough to boost him up. I gave him time off to recover, and found myself mounting a completely foreign horse a week after the show.

He was a mess! Stumbling all over, no hindquarter to be found. In frustration I found myself grumbling at him for his sloth, though I knew this horse did not have a lazy bone in his body. If anything our common problem was too much exuberance. Who was this tired old nag I was prodding along? Where was my jumper? Something was wrong, and I didn’t have it in my to push more until I found out. I succumbed to the pleadings of the farm owner where I kept him, and resigned myself to calling a vet for a lameness exam. But which one?

I made an appointment with the vet used at work, and slogged through the wait for his visit self-assured that THIS time, the vet would be able to find a solution. This time I would NOT be throwing my money away to hear things I already knew about my horse. But fate it would seem had other plans. The day before the appointment I did morning feed and turnout, cleaned some stalls and promised my visibly healthy horse goodbye a grooming when my work day was done.

The image of the horse I found in the paddock that night still rocks me to tears if I reach too close to it. He was dragging his hind limbs behind him, and the entire right side of his face was dropping, paralyzed. His ear splayed to the side, his eye was sunken into the socket, and the corner of his bottom lip hung limply from his mouth. I groomed him and started crying – how had I lied to myself for so long that I had let such a lively animal get to this state? Who had I been kidding? My job was horse care, and here my own horse sat in a pathetic state. I hugged him and promised that tomorrow, we’d have an answer.

I don’t know if I could have stopped it, or if it was just a result of his ataxic hind end plus the right side of his face being lifeless plus his tendency to rush through his stall door. All I remember is stepping into his stall and turning to see my horse flailing, his hip caught on the doorframe to his stall. Before I could do anything, he threw himself into getting free and slammed himself out of the predicament, standing curled to his right in his stall, his right leg in the air, entire body shivering and twitching in pain and I’m sure fear. Oh god, I thought. I just watched my horse break his hip and did nothing to prevent it.

Since the vet I had an appointment with for the next morning was an hour away and I was certain at this point it was just time to put the old man out of his misery, the farm owner called her local vet while I got his records and tried to get a grip. It wouldn’t do to present myself as a hysterical, amateur horse owner. By this time it was too dark outside to do a full neurologic exam, and I had one scheduled the next day, so the likelihood of a broken hip was ruled out and I was left with a list of horrific possible diagnoses: Rabies, EPM, West Nile, Stroke. I was advised to send him into a clinic for a full workout, and heartbroken to discover neither could I afford this nor would my parents offer any financial assistance in the matter. I guess over the phone it must have sounded like I was reaching for excuses to keep my horse alive.

The next day I spoke to my boss, and called the vet about to come examine him to be sure they were up to snuff on the occurrences of the previous night. I was told that the vet assigned to my horse was very, very pregnant, and not prepared to handle such a grueling exam. At the insistence of my boss I asked about the possibility of neurologic lyme disease, curious as to whether tetracycline would be needed. I had taken a lyme titer, and it had come back “minimal”. I spoke with a different vet, who talked me through the possible dangers of tetracycline treatments, assured me horses didn’t get neurologic lyme disease, and told me to just continue with the vet who had seen him the night before.

In come the politics: I will NEVER understand the following events. I was told by Vet B to continue with Vet A, who had already seen the horse. Though I explained to Vet B they were my first choice, and I only called Vet A so as not to let a possibly broken horse in need of euthanasia suffer in his stall all night, they still seemed miffed I had dared speak to another vet. Vet A commenced to call the farm owner where I had my horse, and rant at her at how it was “not appreciated” that they were called out on an emergency to treat a horse who was not a regular client. It didn’t matter that at that point I HAD no regular vet, or that I had paid my $300 bill to the vet that came out on the call that night. Given that happening, no way was Vet A setting eyes on my boy again. But Vet B insisted I should continue with the original Vet on the case. So…what to do?

I am very blessed to work for the owners of a small animal clinic, with access to a lab that takes on cats, dogs, AND equines (and I’m sure other creatures too!). So, armed with the potential diagnoses and a knowledge for how to draw the blood and fill out the forms, we tested. In the mean time, my boss gave me a remedy to combat the facial paralysis and ataxia, to hopefully get my horse comfortable walking and eating.

Rabies: he was still alive, so that was ruled out easily. West Nile: Negative. EPM: Inconclusive. For a horrifying few weeks waiting for a second test, I agonized. I couldn’t afford the treatments for EPM. I had always said if this horse became permanatly lame, he would NEVER be happy as a pasture potato. He loved his job. But looking at my droopy-faced trooper otherwise content with life, I was torn. Would I have to make that call so soon? Would I have to face the fact that this problem was in fact nothing we could beat? When the second test for EPM was negative, I was overjoyed, but still flustered. WHY was my horse falling apart then?

We turned back to the lyme titer. It was minimal…but possibly his body was losing so quickly to the lyme that antibodies were limited? A second, slightly higher but still qualifying as “minimal” test had me beating my brains out. Minimal meant something – he’d never HAD lyme before anyway. So, I went for broke and started the doxycycline, continuing with homeopathic remedies and even breaking out the “big guns” to hopefully restore his face from its paralysis.

And slowly, he did come back. His hind end stopped wobbling. He could grab carrots with his lip, and his right eye and expression were less and less like something from Night Of The Living Dead. My luck being what it is, a week before I meant to get on him under saddle that fall, I found myself the one in need of a doctor, and told I was ground-bound until mid-November. So I settled for fitness with ground work, long lines, and free lunging until the ground thawed.

To Be Continued

How I Came To Be A Believer Part II: Welcome to the Adult World!

(Continued from Part I: If Only I Knew)

Off from college brimming with new knowledge and insight, ready to tackle the horse world and show my stuff, I landed myself at a job where the view on horse care was below even where I had first starte, and the opposite of where I am now. And for survival reasons, I fell into it. Vet? Vets are expensive – if the horse is lame, they get time off and whatever meager treatment my Equine health classes could offer. Saddle fit? For the rider, maybe – the horses could just suck it up. Lessons ran in 100 degree heat under the sun, or in subzero temperatures. It didn’t matter if myself or the horses were healthy or happy. We were to do our jobs, or we were out, and that was that.

Cue an emergency schooling session on a very stiff, bouncy horse in a saddle sized for a 6 year old. Suddenly, I couldn’t seem to sit up straight. My back was on fire, and I was stuck hunched over calling out instruction, and the thought of sitting on a horse made me cringe. Well that wouldn’t do. Off to the chiropractor I took myself.

I’ll hand it to the man I saw – he was well-informed, and good at explaining. After diagnosing me with a damaged/swollen disk, I was told at the moment I was too damaged to be adjusted. He explained that my body’s neurological system was like an complicated design of circuitry that needed to be re-directed. “Hitting the re-set button and putting me back on factory setting” was the phrase that stuck out the most. So week after week, I went in. We talked about my diet (sea salt, natural vitamins, fresh vegetables and fruits). I experienced what I now know as Trigger Point therapy firsthand. We discussed acupuncture, but my insurance balked at the concept.

I felt better – but after getting a gigantic bill for all the “hooey” my insurance refused to cover, since I was upright and walking I high tailed it out and never thought about it again. I was “re-set”, but surely this sort of thing was a one-time shot, and not necessary for my horses. I knew enough to keep them safe and happy, and what I didn’t know a vet could fill in.

But I was getting frustrated – my personal "fun" horse, Hootie, was starting a mystery lameness. One day it was front, the next day hind. I had a vet check him out, only to watch the man tear apart the 6 week old showing job my wonderful farrier had done, and tell her to do: exactly what it was she already did with his finicky feet. I was more even frustrated that the job I thought I could keep for years was driving me to the poor house, and worse: not leaving me with the money to take care of my own two 4-legged-hayburners.

I took my current job at Whimsy Brook excited to work somewhere where well-maintained horses were the call of the day. Within a few weeks I found myself with a stomach flu – on the job, no less. After trying to tough it out and finding myself unable to even make it to the bathroom in time to empty my stomach, I threw in the towel and admitted I had a the green bug, and it had won. Here began my introduction to homeopathic remedies. I was given a remedy and sent home to ride it out. “It might get worse before it gets better,” I was warned – not 2 minutes later I found myself on the side of the road, heaving next to my car as a police officer happened by and asked if I was all right. “It’s been going around – [insert random acquaintance here] had it and was out for days.” Well that’s just wonderful, I thought. Not only am I sick and leaving early on a job I haven’t even had for a month, and I’m going to be using up even MORE sick days I haven’t even accrued yet! I dragged myself home, stuck my head in the toilet once more, and spent the rest of the day in a not-coherent state in bed. I was utterly doomed, I thought.

The next morning, I woke tentatively. I had no urge to fly to the bathroom. In fact, aside from the usual weakened state that follows any extreme taxation on the body that repeated violent heaving falls into, I found myself literally twitching with energy. Had my new employer slipped an amphetamine into those glorious little white pellets she had thrown in my mouth? Who cared – I was back in the game, and back at work. Even my boss was shocked to see me on my feet. The day after I was back in the saddle and up to full work. Wonderful stuff!

So maybe this place was onto something. Maybe all the chats I had (and then discarded) with my homeopathic chiropractor COULD be applied in small amounts to my horses. If it worked for me, surely it might work on them.

To be continued

How I Came to be a Believer Part I: If only I knew

In my attempts to figure out a fitting first post for this blog, I decided the best way to start would be to get a little personal and explain how it is the woman behind the keyboard went from mildly interested, if a little skeptical, to a full blown believer in alternative treatments. I think if you know where your writer is coming from, the rest should be easily digested. Hopefully if you’re here, you at least have some curiosity in the nature of alternative medicines.

So first, a brief background on me: I started out with a very well meaning, but not well-educated trainer. While I wouldn’t say the horses at the barn where I spent the first 10 years of my riding life were by any means neglected, looking back now there were definite gaps on what I now feel should be basic information that any professional in this business should at least get a general knowledge of. Vaccinations happened routinely, the farrier did not cripple horses, and teeth were routinely checked and floated. Lameness exams and x-rays were done for all purchases, and the vet was certainly on the speed dial at the first sign of a gimpy or sick horse.

But there was a lack of that little-bit-more: my trainer had started in the horse world fresh out of high school, worked as a groom and catch rider, and progressed on to leasing a farm and running his own business. My own objections to some of the training methods and my personal experiences aside, he did a fair job of making sure all 20-some horses on the farm were looked after. I even worked for him my senior year as “barn manager” after school, doling out feeds and medication, and improving upon the skills I had collected as an avid horse owner and hard core “barn rat”. But the concept of specialized vet care was not even a blip on my radar. If a horse was lame or sick, you called the vet, and that was that. Chiropractors, acupuncturists, dentists – those were certainly available to a human being. But for horses – the vet knew all that, right?

So I went on to college to further my education, and (at my mother’s insistence) buy myself a little time before stepping out into the grown-up, professional world of horses. She insisted I should be absolutely sure this was the hard-knock, long hours, blood sweat and tears life I wanted for myself. In the meantime while I decided I could get a piece of paper to fall back on, to state at least I had SOME form of higher education. Ah, when you have high-school teachers as parents!
So I set off to college, expecting be top-dog as I’ve seen so many freshman year students do. My family and I had owned horses for 9 years. I had practically lived at the barn I rode at, worked as a groom for 3 summers and gotten my “managing” (I use the term loosely here) experience my last year of high school. I had shown the B circuit up through AAA, and qualified for Harrisburg twice. I was ready, I was armed with knowledge, and I was ready to blow everyone away. Or so I thought!

While there were many things I knew off the bat going into college, I think the biggest wakeup call (I cringe to admit this) was SADDLE FIT, SADDLE FIT, SADDLE FIT, which I will go further into on another entry. And it only sank in halfway – ok. So every saddle did not fit EVERY horse. So you couldn’t make EVERYTHING all right with a no slip, a gel pad, a breastplate, and maybe a riser pad for good measure. So be it.

I enjoyed the horse science classes, but another small confession I should make is I am a learner by observation. You can put me in front of books and show me words on paper until smoke comes out my ears, it just doesn’t stick. I want to see it done, and I want to see the outcome. Only then can my brain translate the print on paper into logic. To this day, I still try and find ways to filter down what I learn to layman’s terms, and make it easier for myself (and I hope others) to digest and retain.

As it happened, my beloved horse through my high school years that I thought I had seen the last of when I set off for my first semester was destined to have a few more years with me. Things fell through getting him sold; I lost my barn and only home, and found myself stuck with a very, very lame horse who was supposed to be exchanged for money to pay tuition. Lameness exams and ultrasounds confirmed a ruined back thanks to constant rides in a saddle with a broken tree (my trainer told me it would do no harm) and 2 tears in a hind suspensory. Old tears, that had been covered up for at least 6 months with bute and banamine that I was told were just to help my horse “relax” at shows. Of course he had been rushing fences and misbehaving under saddle when I went off to school – he HURT! Well that was that then – he was on stall rest and not to be ridden for at least 6 months to a year. Or was he? This is when I discovered shockwave therapy.

While I understand now it can be overdone and cause damage – or worse, is used wrongfully to nerve horses and cover up lameness, after one back treatment and 2 treatments on the suspensory, with only 4 months of stall rest and hand walking, my horse was ready for rehab. Really? Modern medicine, what a marvel you are! So it went into the library as just a convenient means to speed along recovery.

Senior year for business class I got to observe a chiropractor in action – this was pure accident. I was at the farm to shadow a well-to-do dressage trainer for the day. It just so happened that on that day her chiropractor was there to adjust horses. Interesting, I thought. But surely, just a luxury the wealthy can afford for their horses. I had a roommate who had taken a 2 week course on equine massage therapy, but again – luxury. Nothing more.

It was a great idea – but much as I loved the two geldings I found myself owning upon graduation, they were set, and I just couldn’t put the money out for them yet. But someday, if I was rich and famous, they would live the good life and massages and chiropractic adjustments would be bountiful, if only just for kicks and giggles.

To be continued