Herbs for Health
Always use herbs, vitamins, and other nutritional supplements with care, and make sure your veterinarian is aware of any such products that you're giving your horse. Too much of a seemingly good thing can be just as bad as too little. Overuse of certain vitamins and other substances can lead to toxicity. There's a big emphasis today on natural care, but
Herbal medicine was a primary base of veterinary care until the twentieth century. Today many pharmaceutical drugs are based on natural and synthetic versions of the active compounds in plants. However, there is more value to herbs than just their active chemical compounds, and often much benefit is lost in the process of isolating active ingredients for the pharmaceutical version. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-known proponent of natural medicine, plant-based drugs can be more toxic than the natural form of the plant.
Medicinal herbs can enhance conventional medical treatment, boost and support the immune system for preventive maintenance, and offer remedies for some common problems that plague horses and the humans who care for them. Most remedies are based on repeated observation of the choices animals in a natural environment make when they are ill or injured.
It is rare for horses today to have access to the range of plants their ancestors encountered in the wild or in country pastures, but if they do, they often will instinctively select the botanicals that contain what they need. Horses with ample free-range grazing will usually avoid poisonous fodder. However, hungry horses will eat just about anything they can sink their teeth into to survive, poisonous or not. Remember that, and keep your pastures free of plants and trees that might potentially harm your animals, particularly if the fields tend to get overgrazed.
Certain herbs can, in some instances, be added to the horse's feed, used as simple topical remedies, or applied as poultices for swellings, bites, or abscesses. As in other aspects of horsemanship, it's possible to spend a lifetime studying herbs and not have enough time to learn half of everything there is to know. However, you can find valuable resources from people who have studied extensively if you decide to add natural herbal support to your horse care routine.
Be aware that there are herbal answers for a wide range of questions about equine health, but not all of them are supported or proven effective by research. It's important to educate yourself or to find a knowledgeable source to be sure you're helping your horse, not creating problems. Not all herbs are safe for long-term use, and some are not safe in combination with other medications. Also, remember that many drugs are based on botanicals, and some herbs will show up as banned substances in horse show drug tests.
Garlic proponents claim it does all sorts of wonderful things, from serving as an effective insect repellent to preventing colic. Supposedly, horses excrete the sulfur from garlic through their skin, which is said to keep bugs away. Garlic is also said to support the good bacteria so vital to digestion, which is why some say it may aid in preventing colic. Others say that, since antibiotics wipe out all bacteria, feeding garlic may be valuable to encourage the good bacteria after a course of antibiotics. Proponents also claim that garlic is effective with respiratory infections and for seasonal respiratory allergies such as hay fever, that it can prevent wounds from becoming infected by stimulating the production of white blood cells, and that it can strengthen general resistance to infection and improve the immune system.
If these claims sound too good to be true, they probably are. The main point to keep in mind is that there often is little or no definitive research to support such grandiose claims about garlic and many other herbs. It is known, however, that garlic and onions contain a potentially toxic element that can affect the red blood cells adversely and cause anemia in horses and some other animals. What is not known for certain is how large (or small) an amount must be consumed to create this adverse result. Therefore, if you are tempted to feed garlic to your horse, proceed with caution and ask your veterinarian about it first.
Dandelions are a rich source of vitamins A, B, C, and D and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Most horses love to eat them growing wild out in the fields, particularly when they are flowering. Some people dig them up out of their yards and offer them as treats; however, avoid collecting dandelions for your horse from lawns treated with fertilizers and pesticides, as these chemicals can be harmful.
Rosehips are the small red fruits left behind after the petals fall off a rose bush. Herbalists claim that the high concentration of vitamin C in rosehips is great for fighting infection and helping to restore health after a long illness. They add that botanical sources of nutrients provide additional benefits, such as fiber, that supplements don't always include, making rosehips a good choice over a vitamin C supplement. In her book