Holistic Horse Inc.
Horse eating hay
Horse eating hay out of a hay rack
Fall is finally here. Though for humans that means pumpkin-spiced goodies and light sweaters, it can mean discomfort for our equines. Though the cooler weather is surely a welcomed change for our hair-covered companions, the drastic change in temperature can also lead to problems in the digestive tract.
“The digestive tract contains two-thirds of the horse’s immune system, making it critical to short- and long-term health,” said internationally known integrative veterinarian Dr. Joyce Harman, owner and operator of Harmany Equine. “A change in the weather can add stress to the poorly designed system, which can not only prohibit optimal operation, but open the door to illness as well.”
To maintain digestive health, Dr. Harman recommends that horse owners keep equine care as natural as possible and incorporate natural remedies during the shift in the seasons. Among her tips are:
- Feed your horse the way he should be fed.
It’s no secret that horses have a finicky digestive system. By design, they should move and graze for up to 20 hours a day. This natural behavior keeps the hindgut full, which leads to a properly functioning digestive tract. Most horse owners aren’t able to provide this optimum environment and alter the horse’s patterns to fit into their lifestyles. At times, that means stalling horses or keeping them in small paddocks, while feeding them large amounts of processed feed. Whether we realize it or not, altering the natural behavior puts stress on the horse’s body.
When temperatures swing 30+ degrees over the course of a 24-hour period, many horse owners feel the need to give their horses extra grain in an effort to prevent the horse from losing weight. The weather change is enough to stress the digestive tract of a horse and, when even more processed feed is added to the mix, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Feeding heavy grain meals causes large fluid shifts, acid-base shifts, and changes in the bacteria in a horse’s digestive tract. When the horse is fed a large amount grain and very little long stem fiber, such as hay, the incidence of colic is higher. If you’re concerned about keeping weight on your horse, consider making an extra barn trip around bedtime to throw hay one last time. Or, use a slow feeder to spread the hay eating over a longer period of time.
- Provide clean, accessible water.
The risk of colic increases with dehydration. Make sure your equine gets plenty to drink as the weather cools. You might even consider providing salt or mixing a small amount of salt in their feed to promote drinking.
- Keep the gut healthy.
Incorporating probiotics into your horse’s regimen, especially after a round of antibiotics or a bout with colic, will help ensure the proper balance of bacteria in his intestines. Horses do not have enzymes that break down their food and depend on naturally occurring bacteria to do the job. Keeping the bacteria at proper levels will ensure proper digestion.
- Consider alternative remedies.
Keep first aid kit of homeopathic remedies on-hand. Dr. Harman recommends a 30C potency, with six to eight tablets per dose. Simply mix with water and administer via syringe in a colic situation, or if the horse is eating, you can give it with a tiny handful of feed or an apple slice. A few suggested remedies are:
Rescue Remedy- Just 10-12 drops of this remedy squirted directly in the mouth, or diluted and dosed with a syringe and a small amount of water, will keep your horse calm until the vet arrives.
Nux Vomica- Nux Vomica is the classic remedy to use in a colic situation for many different types of colic, from overeating grain or grass to an impaction. It is powerful, but will not cover up serious signs that your veterinarian may need to see. You can give one dose every 15 minutes for an hour. If there are no results, the remedy is not correct or the case may be more serious than it seems.
- Colocynthis is a remedy more for a gassy colic, where you can hear loud gut sounds, often without a stethoscope. Your horse may pass gas, or it may be trapped and can be quite painful. The same four doses as mentioned above can be given.
Aconite- Aconite is usually best for a colic with a sudden onset, especially if there is cold or windy weather blowing in.
Homeopathic remedies can also be very effective for a horse that struggles with ulcers, but require a further assessment of the horse to determine proper homeopathic treatment. Dr. Harman is available for phone consultations for those interested in pursuing an alternative treatment plan for his or her horse.
ABOUT JOYCE HARMAN
Dr. Joyce Harman opened Harmany Equine Clinic, Ltd in1990, bringing holistic healing to horses from all walks of life, backyard retirees to Olympic competitors. Over the years, Dr. Joyce Harman has observed and adapted to the changing needs the industry. Twenty-plus years ago, no one had heard of Lyme disease or Insulin Resistance, yet today that makes up a large part of her clinical practice.
In 2001, she wrote the first paper in a peer-reviewed journal about the possibility that horses have insulin resistance (IR), and now it is part of our every day conversation. In 2004 she published the first comprehensive book on English saddle fitting since the 1800’s, with the western version of the book following in 2006. To this date, these books are the only books written by an author who is independent from a saddle company, which brings unbiased information to the horse world.