As well as traditional veterinary medicine, there are a number of alternative therapies that can be used alongside more traditional approaches which are aimed to treat your horse, to help with the management of their pain or inflammation and provide a more natural and holistic approach to their health care.
These natural approaches include treatments such as massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care, each of which has shown positive results when used in combination with traditional medicine. In some cases these alternative therapies (with humans) are now recommended by national health services. Although massage, as an example, is not a clinical proven method of therapy it is now widely respected and recommended by fully qualified professionals.
In a world where many pet owners look for long-term and natural alternatives to medications these holistic approaches are growing fast within the equine community and gathering quite a reputation. From treatments as mentioned above to tack and accessories, the options within this field for horse owners is now extensive.
As well as alternative treatments there are now diagnosis technologies which are incredibly useful when looking to diagnose the specific issue - such as equine thermal imaging.
But when is it best to use each of these therapies, and what do they include? Let’s take a closer look.
Using Alternative Therapy Alongside Traditional Treatment
One key message from many veterinary experts is that alternative therapies work well when used alongside traditional veterinary medicine. Many complement medication well and are often recommended to be used alongside them.
However, it is important to note that alternative therapies should not be used as a replacement for traditional and prescribed treatments, as, on many occasions, medicine or medical treatments are a necessity. For example, some horses are prescribed short term painkillers or antibiotics to help them with an existing condition. Alternative pain relief options, such as magnetic devices and infrared technologies are ideal to be used alongside NSAID medication but should not be used to replace them.
In recent years, there has been a growing acceptance of these kinds of therapies, with many horse owners realizing their benefits and experiencing the best of both methods. With World Champion and Olympic Champion professional riders now widely adopting these holistic approaches the equine community is starting to understand the benefits of these advanced technologies and the impact they can have on all horses of any age.
How to Use Alternative Therapies
There are many ways in which alternative therapies can be used alongside traditional treatment for your horse.
Let’s take a look at some of them below.
To Aid Diagnosis
Many vets are fully aware of alternative therapies such as thermal imaging, chiropractic or physiotherapist treatment methods, and some may rely on these technologies or therapies to help build up a picture of the needs of the horse.
The vast majority of fully qualified vets are not qualified chiropractic and acupuncture therapists. These alternative therapies in some cases can help them narrow down a problem area and refine the treatment program. Your vet may have a specialist equine chiropractor or physiotherapist which they recommend and the market for these services are growing daily.
Acupuncture, for example, can help identify any small areas that have higher levels of sensitivity. Alternative therapies should never be the only way to diagnose a problem, but they can be an added advantage and provide invaluable insight into the horses condition and help provide an accurate diagnosis.
Diagnosis should only be undertaken by a qualified, registered veterinarian and should not be completed by an alternative treatment provider alone as they are trained appropriately and able to set the best course of treatment for your horse. They can use alternative therapies, however, to help with the final diagnosis.
As Part Of An Overarching Treatment Plan
Many health issues with horses are best managed with a treatment plan that tackles the issue from multiple angles as often there are multiple layers to a problem that can each be treated individually. For example, lameness often responds best to a combination of treatments to help identify and treat it. If a horse is experiencing spasms, it may be down to a number of issues such as pelvis or spine issues. Medical treatment is needed for this, but massage may also help with the spasms in the meantime to help the horse quickly and ensure a good recovery. It is becoming more common for vets to recommend some kind of alternative therapy alongside their treatment, and they will often recommend a therapist that they have worked with before. Treatment plans for conditions may be short-term for minor injuries or last several months for more complex issues.
To Help Prevent Further Injury
Many alternative therapies can be used not only to treat an injury, but they can also be used to maintain the health of a horse, giving it a better chance of staying healthy and not developing injuries in the first place. ‘Prevention is as important as cure’.
For example, if the horse receives regular massage therapy that works on tight muscles, less pressure will be put on connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments, meaning that they are less likely to become stained. Chiropractors and physiotherapists can work with a horse’s spine and joints to ensure that it is aligned and stable, again alleviating pressure and helping to prevent injury.
This is backed up by scientific research that suggests that treatments such as massage are great for preventative reasons. Many veterinarians now recommend them to horse owners as a way of making their horses both healthier and more comfortable. If you are using a kind of therapy as a preventative measure, however, it is important to go to a highly recommended therapist.
When considering a therapist, check their credentials and ask any questions that you may have to make sure you feel comfortable that your horse is in good hands. Ensure that your vet is aware of the therapies you have chosen. If there are any concerns raised by the therapists, tell your vet immediately and ask for a consultation.
A chiropractor is trained to place force on areas of the body to manipulate joints, including the spine, to alleviate pain and fix the horses positioning. As this is deemed by the American Associate of Equine Practitioners to be a medical intervention, chiropractors must be medical professionals – either a fully qualified and licensed vet or a doctor. This may be a good treatment, used alongside traditional medicine to help any joints on the horse that it struggles to move due to inflammation or issues with the fluid between the joints. This is vitally important, not just for the joint itself but for the animal’s stability as a whole. This will also ensure that they do not harm other joints by compensating and moving awkwardly due to injury.
Provided by fully qualified therapists, via the Charter of Veterinary Physiotherapists, these services are aimed to provide a wide variety of treatments for musculoskeletal problems.
Physiotherapists are skilled at manipulating and mobilising joints and soft tissue whilst often using electrotherapy technologies such as ultrasound and laser therapy to understand the issue and prescribe a hands on approach to support the horses recovery.
A physiotherapist offers a hands-on approach which promotes an improvement in flexibility and movement and strengthens core muscles required to aid the horses recovery. They use a variety of stretches, weight shifting exercises and the activation of spinal reflexes.
Sometimes misunderstood between chiropractors this article on the difference between a physiotherapist and a chiropractor may help explain the main differences between chiropractors and physiotherapists.
Acupuncture is the practice of using small needles to target parts of the body and stimulating them to promote recovery and is one of the oldest forms of medical treatment. Deriving from Western medicine, acupuncture is a common alternative therapy for both humans and animals and can be used alongside traditional treatment to improve many medical complaints.
There are many training courses for acupuncture therapists that are recognized throughout the world, many of which are only undertaken by licensed therapists with extensive medical knowledge.
Acupuncture has two schools of thought – the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine and that of Western medicine. While they share a lot of similarities, there are some differences.
Chinese Medicine believes that acupuncture can promote the energy pathways in the body, fixing any imbalances to promote health. Western medicine, on the other hand, believes that acupuncture can stimulate nerve endings, aiding the release of chemicals and hormones which can relieve pain and treat a number of conditions.
Chiropractors undertake an assessment of your horse, evaluating their joints and the range of motion that they have. They are able to see when joints are stiff and not moving correctly and can target these to release tension and help the movement return.
A Professional masseuse or massage therapist is able to use their hands to move the soft tissues in the body in certain ways, adding pressure to manipulate them to relieve pain in muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Multiple massage sessions that occur consistently have been shown to produce great results, with some programs treating a particular issue over days or weeks or a preventative massage program that lasts over a number of years.
When looking for a professional masseuse for your horse, it is important to choose one with relevant qualifications so that they know what they are doing. Those with the title REMT will have studied for two years to achieve this qualification and need to take a supervised exam to become registered. Alternatively, there are other equine massage qualifications from different schools, so it is important to do your research when choosing a therapist for your horse. When meeting a therapist for the first time, ensure that you ask about what training and experience they have, as well as asking for recommendations from their previous clients.
Massage therapy is perfect for your horse if they are experiencing muscle pain or tension, issues with scar tissue, or discomfort in the tendons and ligaments. If the horse is struggling in these areas, it may experience lameness, restricted movements, and discomfort. It can also lead to issues with oxygen access as tension within these areas can limit the blood supply to them, which delivers nutrients and oxygen. Massage can relax these muscles, restoring the blood supply and helping to reduce any inflammation.
Massage can include a number of different techniques and variations, from targeted sports massage, myofascial release, acupressure on particular spots, Swedish massage, or trigger point therapy. Working alongside your veterinarian, your massage therapist will be able to understand the problem that requires treatment and select a massage technique that will best target this. They may also recommend light exercises for you to complete with your horse.
Natural Supplements and Herbal Treatments
As knowledge and understanding of natural substances improves natural options to horse owners which utilise natural ingredients provide a plethora of options to support your horse. These natural and herbal approaches are often unregulated and not approved by medical authorities but gather extensive support from within their own communities.
For many years horse owners look at substances such as Turmeric and there remains a large variety of herbal options on the market which are developed to increase the horses mineral intake whilst supporting anti-inflammatory benefits and pain relief.
On top of natural or herbal supplements which are now widely available - a recent development in homeopathy has led to the UK veterinary association approving a range of homeopathy solutions from Freemans Homeopathy Pharmacy which are now approved to treat a variety of conditions. These ingredients, approved for use on animals include Aconite, Arnica, Arsen Alb, Belladonna, Nux Vom and Rhus Tox and are authorised for use in the treatment of acute conditions in horses.
Advanced Magnetic Therapy
There is growing evidence from scientific studies that suggest using advanced magnetism on horses can help promote a rebalancing effect in the horses body, leading to a faster regeneration of cells and speeding up recovery times. This advanced technology has also been shown to help alleviate the pain that a horse is in while injured. Magnetic therapy can be used to treat a number of medical conditions in horses, including arthritis, windgalls, navicular disease, splints and much more.
Although magnetic products such as boots and rugs have been used within the equine community for decades their reputation is mixed, until now. Advancements in quantum physics and the introduction of Advanced Magnetism has propelled the results of these new magnetic technologies alongside many leading therapies.
In general, any mobility issues that a horse may experience has been shown to be improved by these latest techniques in magnetic therapy, which is a natural treatment that is growing in popularity with horse owners. Traditional magnetic technology involves larger magnetics that the horses come into contact with for a shorter period of time due to the high levels of heat created from them.
Arthritis generally occurs in older horses in the joints where they hold their weight. It occurs as the cartilage between these joints wears down, causing stress. Advanced magnetic therapy has shown to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis by reducing muscle stiffness and minimizing pain for the animal. It can be used alongside medical treatments such as steroid injections or other alternative treatments such as massage and as not heat is created by advanced magnetism the technology can be used 24/7 and long term.
Navicular Disease is a degeneration of the navicular bone and other parts of the feet that can lead to severe pain and lameness. There is no cure to this disease, however, magnetic therapy has been found to once again reduce pain levels on horses diagnosed with navicular.
Splints refer to damage to the ligaments connected to the horse’s cannon bones and are most likely to occur in younger horses, leading to inflammation, pain, and lameness. This can also lead to cosmetic damage to the look of your horse. Magnetic therapy has shown to help reduce levels of inflammation and quicken the recovery time.
As the reputation of products such as EQU StreamZ Magnetic Horse Bands gather pace the possibility of once being clinically proven grows; until that stage these magnetic therapies are complementary and should always be used alongside prescribed medications and treatments.
The Take Away
There are a number of alternative therapies that can really benefit your horse and can be used in conjunction with traditional medicine to get the best outcome for your animal.
Before starting any of these therapies, however, it is important to consult your veterinarian for specific advice for your horse and its medical conditions.