As any horse will tell you, horses live to eat! Biologists tell us that wild horses graze and roam constantly, spending about 16 hours a day seeking out and dining on a wide variety of plant matter. Clearly, nature intended the horse to be a 24/7 mobile, foraging and digesting machine. By contrast, our domestic horses spend a mere 4 hours daily, often confined, eating hay and grain.
Contemporary horse housing and feeding practices, including modern diets high in grains, carbohydrates, sugars and additives, combined with the pressures of our modern schedules, places added stress on our horses’ natural process of digestion and food consumption. This can lead to many types of disharmony and disease.
Fortunately, we can help our horses maintain optimum digestion and cope with the stresses of modern life by utilizing Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) many tools, including acupressure and herbal supplements.
Since ancient times, Chinese physicians have considered good digestion the root of overall health and longevity.
From the TCM perspective, there are five governing elements: earth, metal, water, wood and fire. If we look at our horse through the Chinese Medicine model, each organ system falls into one of five elemental classifications. For example:
- the respiratory system relates to metal
- the circulatory system relates to fire
- tendons, ligaments and hooves relate to wood
- kidney function relates to water
- the digestive organs relate to earth
Central to this philosophy is the concept of a robust spleen and stomach. Earth is fundamental to the overall health and functioning of the body. The earth element is responsible for processing and transformation of food, water, minerals, vitamins and herbs we and our horses consume. These basic nutritional components are converted into the qi, cells, blood and organs. In short, earth is responsible for every tissue of the body. Irregular eating habits, improper foods -- either too rich or inadequate -- deprive the body of qi, injure the earth element and lead directly to disease.
A horse with a weakened earth element can manifest in any number of ways: ulcers, poor physical development, chronic colic or diarrhea, reduced immunity, declining condition in old age, poor muscle development or wasting. Many experts feel that several of the difficult-to-treat diseases like EPM originate from leaky gut syndrome, and equine ulcers have origins in irregular feeding habits.
The following Chinese herbs are an ideal addition to your horse's feeding program. I recommend equal parts of these herbs, powdered and fed several times per week for digestive support. One to two tablespoons per day is usually adequate for the 1,000 pound horse.
Shen qu (Massa fermentata) - This enzyme and vitamin B-rich herb enhances the digestion over all by facilitating the digestion of starches and carbohydrates found in high amounts in hay and grain rations.
Mai ya (Fructus hordei germinatus) - This herb protects the stomach and promotes the digestion of starches, especially wheat and rice based products. Mai ya combined with Suan zao ren (Ziziphis jujuba mill) offers support for horses suffering from ulcers. (Caution - avoid use in large doses with lactating mares).
Gu ya (Fructus setariae germinatus) - Also digestive enzyme-rich, it is very good for horses prone to chronic, gas colic as well as for weak or older individuals.
Acupressure and massage
Acupressure and massage are simple to do. Using gentile finger pressure or an open palm massage in a circular motion the points listed below. It takes only a few minutes and provides an enjoyable experience for both horse and owner. For digestive maintenance, use acupressure on the following points on a weekly basis:
• UB20 & UB21
For colic symptoms or digestive upset add the following points:
• Massage the outsides of the front legs – between knee and elbow to relieve abdominal pain.
Gloria Garland is a Licensed Acupuncturist, Chinese Herbalist and the author of the Equine Acupressure Therapeutics Workbook Series. She lives and rides in Oakhurst, California, near Yosemite National Park. Whole Horse Herbs™, her line of herbal formulas, was developed to bring complementary herbal supplements to the equine community. She teaches hands-on classes, empowering horse owners with accurate, useful information and equine health care tools. www.wholehorse.com , 559-683-4434