Modern medicine is a beautiful thing. General anesthesia, surgeries, xrays, sonograms, and the like are invaluable to the well being of you and your horse. Modern medicine has forever changed the way we live and the way we care for our horses. Injuries that would have gotten a horse a quick bullet to the head are now often easily fixed with a little repair work and some recovery time. Colics that would have ended in a painfully slow death now can be treated before they reach that stage and sometimes even surgically mended! But there’s still a place for what we now call “alternative therapies”, therapies that sometimes were used way back when and are now snubbed by modern medicine zealots.
I talk about using alternative therapies for my horses on social media frequently; therapies like acupuncture, massage, osteopathy, and more. Therapies that often people think of as "luxuries" rather than useful diagnostic tools or treatment. Over the years of experiencing the positive impact these treatments can make in my horses’ lives and their performances, I’ve become more and more passionate about their use. Alternative medicine or therapies don’t replace the use of modern medicine, at least not usually, but they can work together beautifully and sometimes can prevent or delay the need for using modern medicine.
For example, I have a senior mare that has a lot of arthritis, instead of using injections I'm able to use acupuncture as a healthier form of pain management. I say healthier, because there are no negative side effects, but also for her it seems to be far more effective and.. speaking purely from a monetary standpoint.. I'm able to save money by using one acupuncture treatment to treat all her various arthritic areas every couple of weeks to months (hips, hocks, stifles, neck) versus the copious amount of money it would cost me to inject each individual arthritic location a couple times a year to keep her comfortable. For me, this is a no brainer. My horse is more comfortable, there are no potential side effects, and its a less expensive alternative to the type of injections she would need.
Another example I can give you is when one of my mares got herself stuck in a small, foal feeding pen (a pen designed with openings just big enough for a foal to get in, but not an adult horse.. or so we thought). At the time there appeared to be no injuries and she walked away with a very full belly, but during the following weeks this same mare was incredibly difficult under-saddle. Her normally congenial behavior towards working changed into something quite violent and angry. Come to find out, a few of her ribs had become subluxated (in the chiropractic sense).
In amazement I watched as my mare went from really angry to happily sighing and standing pleasantly in just a few minutes. Less than one hundred dollars later I had a completely happy and healthy horse, ready to return to her normal work, but I could have easily spent thousands of dollars on veterinarian exams and professional training to try and "fix" my horse! This was a problem that no vet could have fixed (unless they were chiropractors too), but was such a simple fix.
I could go on and on and on with the results I've experienced first hand as a result of using alternative treatments. Everything from curing an inability to do flying lead changes to saving a horse from a poisonous snake bite.. or how about the time that one of my horses woke up from general anesthesia unable to breath on his own (an extremely rare situation) and acupuncture was the only treatment that worked enough to remove him from breathing support? All of these experiences have deepened my conviction that alternative treatments are not only helpful but necessary.
To me, these types of therapies are not more "luxury" than modern medicine is. It's not something I have done to "spoil" my horses (though I sure hope they appreciate my efforts!), but rather the result of an educated decision on how best to treat my horses' through the various situations that arise. Sometimes I use alternative therapies to compliment modern medicine treatments (like a chiropractic adjustment following surgery that required the horse to be lifted by it's legs while under general anesthesia multiple times), and sometimes I use them instead of going the modern medicine route (like the arthritis example). One is not better than the other, and one is no more a luxury than the other, they each have their place in keeping our horses sound, happy, and healthy.
Sometimes though it's hard to know when it's time to use modern medicine and when it's time to look into an alternative therapy. Truthfully, you may end up spending a bunch of money going down the wrong path at first, and you'll kick yourself for not choosing the "right" treatment first, but the important part is that you're willing to try and you learn for next time! Don't write off an alternative therapy because it's not "common" and often thought of as "just a luxury", and don't ignore the need for modern medicine because you've gotten a bad taste in your mouth from this or that experience. It's important to use both, and use them together!
It's also important to do your research. When seeking out an alternative therapy practitioner make sure they are well qualified and I always recommend watching them work or talking to references before employing them to work on your own horses. Some of the biggest mistakes I've ever made in the horse world have been going on just the opinions of others and not doing my own research before hiring someone. Whether that's working with a horse trainer or a medical professional.
Here are two excellent books that I recommend every horse owner read on this topic. They are not intended to diagnose your horse, but to give you the tools you need to know when it's time to call the vet and when it's time to call the chiropractor or the massage therapist. I love that both of these books are written by veterinarians that practice "integrative medicine" (meaning they recognize the value of alternative therapies), and I hope one day we will see more equine vets that practice integrative medicine. (Click on the photos to purchase!)
On one last note for this topic, I would like to encourage you to give alternative therapies time. Time to work and time to win you over. One of the reasons that modern medicine is so much more appealing to the general population than alternative therapies is because it often times works faster. Medication tends to make a bigger impact right away, but may not necessarily be the safest for long term use or be more effective than an alternative therapy over time. Alternative treatments sometimes do work right away, but other times it may take multiple sessions to really "ramp up".
Also, every horse is a unique creature that will respond in their own way to various treatments. What works for one horse may not work for another, but this is also the case with modern medicine treatments too. For example, two humans can have a headache but only one will respond well to ibuprofen while the other will respond better to acetaminophen. So don't write it off just because it didn't work right away or didn't work for your particular situation. Stay open minded, and be willing to do something a little different.. do it for both you and your horse. After all... happy horse = happy rider right??