With all the talk about "natural" "organic" "biodegradable" it's hard to know what we are reading about. What exactly is a "Natural Supplement"? The definition of NATURAL I like to use is "existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind." Add that to the definition of a SUPPLEMENT being "Something provided to complete something, to make up a deficiency or to strengthen the whole." And there you have it. I love the idea of using a nature made supplement to make up a deficiency or to strengthen the whole. It's the very definition of a holistic approach to horse care. I believe that the best plan for equine health is an integrated one; the best of traditional (aka pharmaceutical) meds then compliment that with alternative (aka natural) products and methods. But why should we even worry about "going green" or using "natural" products? Horse owners tend to over-use conventional (pharmaceutical) medicine for issues like ulcers, joint pain, and other equine health concerns.
So it's not hard to understand when you realize that everything we (over)use on our horse can be toxic or not. To us, and to our horse. These toxins can even pass through the horse right into our soil and water. Plus, these chemical pharmaceuticals can actually weaken the body in one area while addressing the symptoms in another. Natural Supplements are not only better for our horses, us and the environment, but they can aid in the healing process after traditional medical treatment has addressed the immediate threat. For example, treating an ulcer. If your horse has an active ulcer, treatment should begin with a traditional pharmaceutical acid reducer like Ulcer Guard. The problem is, this product shuts down the production of acid in the stomach, which is good for the ulcer but bad for digestion.
Horses NEED acid to break things down so they can be absorbed in the small intestine. If we shut down the acid long term, the horse will suffer due to the inability to absorb vital nutrients. We need to look at the long term healing and prevention which can be supported through natural sources like herbs such as slippery elm, licorice root and aloe vera.
This blog series about using Natural Supplements is going to address common areas of concern to most horse owners:
- Digestion- Aid in digestion, address gastrointestinal issues
- Energy- Source of energy, too much? Not enough?
- Immune System- Support in eliminating toxins, boosting when ill
- Muslesoketal Health- Alternatives to bute, support for healthy joints
- Respiration- Alleviate respiratory distress
We will look at 3 types of natural supplements for each area of concern:
1) Herbs- In general use, herbs are any plants used for food, flavoring, medicine, or fragrances. As herbivores, it is natural for horses to seek out and eat herbs, such as comfrey, red clover, garlic, dandelion and nettle, which have healing properties in their seeds, flowers, roots, stems or leaves. Generally speaking herbs are used for chronic, long-standing problems and often can allow your vet to reduce the amounts of pharmaceutical drugs they use on your horse.
- Check with your veterinarian first to be sure you're not dealing with a problem that needs conventional treatment.
- Feed the recommended amount, not more. Some plants used in herbal formulas have toxic properties.
- Buy only formulas designed for horses; horses and people react differently to many herbs.
- Look for the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal. Members of this group agree to follow certain standards in manufacturing and labeling.
2) Essential Oils- Essential oils are aromatic liquids derived from seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. Essential Oil work on the molecular level. The oil molecules mimic the molecules the body uses to support, repair and regenerate itself.
Essential oils work best in combinations of three to five different oils. This is due to nature’s synergy that is created, making “the whole greater than the sum of its parts.” There are two basic ways you can use essential oils with your horse–
- and Topical application.
You will want to let your horse choose the oils which will help them best though. Before you use an oil, hold the open bottle (or some oil dabbed on a cotton ball) close to the horse’s nose so they can sniff it. Their reaction to the oil will let you know whether you should use it or not. Pay attention to which nostril the horse smells the oil from first. The left nostril is connected to the part of the brain that deals with emotions. The right nostril is connected to the physical side.
Essential Oils Cautions:
- Make sure you use 100% pure oils and not perfume grade oils. Perfume quality oils can cause more harm than good because they contain chemicals and solvents.
- Essential oils are not regulated and essential oil practitioners are not licensed in the United States. Essential oils are not considered pharmaceuticals here in the US while they are in Europe.
- Always dilute with a carrier oil such as coconut, avocado, or sweet almond oil, or even aloe vera gel (for a less greasy effect).
3) "Other"- By this I mean whole foods like seeds, fruit, veggies and things like vitamins, minerals, by-products, and marine products. There are a ton of "other" things you can feed your horse but we will focus on these:
- Nutrient dense whole foods- macro algae such as kelp, micro algae such as AFA, chlorella or spirulina
- Dietary- fruits, vegetables, seeds- sprouted grains and chia seeds.
- Vitamins- C, E, B
- Minerals- Magnesium, Zinc
- Nature’s By Products- beet pulp, cocoa pulp, diatomaceous earth (DE)
Eventually, in a future blog post, we will cover the host of other “non supplement” ways to treat equine health issues like acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, structural integration, massage, and the like. This blog post will start the series on Natural Supplements and the first area of concern; DIGESTIVE ISSUES.
A healthy digestive system is where the overall health of any horse begins. With 65% of the immune sytem being in the digestive tract, a healthy digestive system avoids problems, and offers more effective and efficient nutrition to the cells. First, before we look at supplements we must always look at the care of the horse, the horse's diet, and routines, and make changes to help reduce the likelihood of digestive issues. We need to make sure we are:
- Feeding a forage based diet
- Reducing the amount of grain fed
- Reducing stress
- Feeding a diet that requires plenty of chewing to produce saliva which buffers stomach
- Providing opportunity for movement with eating, like grazing
- Companionship and plenty of turn out.
- Maintain a healthy intestinal tract
- Reduce free radical formation
- Reduce the possibility of digestive colic
- Reduce the possibility of gastric ulcers
- Slippery Elm- Reduces acid production & soothes inflammation
- Marshmallow- Reduces acid production and produces mucus to buffer
- Licorice Root- Produces thick sticky mucus which will protect and heal
- Dandelion- Can stimulate appetite in a horse that is "off" feed and boost digestion efficiency.
- Fenugreek- Can stimulates appetite
- Ginger- Helps settles stomach upset
- Peppermint-Acts as an aid to the digestive system in the prevention of gas, diarrhea and colic
The second type of Natural Supplement you can use on your horse for any tummy troubles is Essential Oils. I like the following Essential Oils for this purpose:
- Peppermint essential oil- Has a settling effect and reduces gas. It also has antimicrobial properties.
- Lemongrass essential oil- Helps in stimulating the bowel function, and improves digestion. The anti-inflammatory properties of lemongrass are beneficial for treating ulcers.
And finally, the third way to treat Digestive Issues naturally is with our category of "Other". There are many "other" things that can be used for digestive issues in horses but my favorites include:
- Honey- Which can be used to increase appetite
- Beet Pulp- Is very high in fiber. Very easy to digest. Great for horses that have trouble with digestion due to dentation issues.
- Digestive enzymes- Pro-biotics and Pre-biotics-Nutritional yeast, lactobacillus acidophilus
- Aloe Vera Juice- Very high in digestible fiber and soothing and protecting the digestive tract.
- Dried Cabbage: Chock full of the amino acid L-Glutamine, which has been proven to heal the stomach lining.
- Raw pumpkin seeds (peeled/hulled)- Very high in Nitric Oxide which the body uses to heal everything that needs healing.
- Chia Seeds- Create a gel-like substance found in most plants called mucilage. Mucilage helps soothe the pain and inflammation associated with gastric ulcers by forming a protective barrier on the mucosal surface.
I hope this provides you with a better understanding of what a Natural Supplement is, and a quick reference guide for using Natural Supplements for a Healthy Digestive System with your horse. In my next blog post we will tackle Natural Supplements for Equine Nervous System health (aka Energy). As always, thanks for dropping in! Til we meet again...
Peace and good riding, Laura