Giving the Horse the Benefit of the Doubt
By: Natalya Gryson
When a horse comes upon a problem in the work, my knee jerk reaction is to attribute it to the horse needing more training. As a trainer, this is just how my mind works. Over the years however, I have learned to look deeper for a cause when a horse is having reoccurring issues.
Two common physical causes horses experience difficulty in the work are developing arthritis (djd) and hyper-sensitive skin. The common thread that can exacerbate both these conditions is systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation simply put is inflammation throughout the whole body. Inflammation is normal when it is limited but persistent inflammation is destructive. Persistent inflammation is caused by the strain put on our bodies by an imperfect diet, exposure to pollutants, injury, and/or infection, and the many miniature stress events we and our horses experience day to day. By adding some preventative nutrition to our horse’s daily diet, we can reduce inflammation in his body and help our horse do his under saddle job with more ease.
The the first thing I will mention is the importance of feeding our horses a clean diet. A clean diet feeds the body, promoting health and longevity without causing negative side effects to health, such as such as persistent inflammation. The two most important questions I ask myself about what I am feeding my horses are: how is it made and what is it made of? First, I feed my horses non-GMO and organic whenever possible. Yes it’s a commitment to make, but there is a big difference in my most sensitive horses when their pesticide consumption is minimal to zero. Studies have shown glyphosate reduces the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut while causing the tight junctions in the intestinal lining to open, a condition known as leaky gut. No matter what you’re feeding, if the gut isn’t working properly then your horse isn’t getting the nutrition you’re spending your hard earned money for. Secondly, I read the label of what I am feeding. Be aware of non-food stuffs posing as food, one example is wheat middlings which are actually sweepings off the assembly line floor. My horses are on a whole food-based diet because the more the food is processed, the more vitamins and minerals are lost before it reaches my horse’s mouth. Commercially processed feeds compensate for this by fortifying their feeds . So that leads us to the need to be aware of the source of the ingredients. Is this a clean source? Is this a source my horse’s body can absorb and assimilate? When I’m not sure, I do a little research. If it is not clearly advertised as clean and bioavailable, then it probably isn’t. Conscientious food and supplement companies who produce quality products the right way are proud of that fact and want to brag about it. When companies do not give consumers specific facts proving the quality of their product but rather just state that it is quality, that is a red flag. We have to be advocates for our animals because the fact is companion animal and livestock food industries have lax standards. Some companies rise above the minimum standard to provide our equine partners with superior nutrition and those are the companies I want feeding my horses.
Arthritis or djd is something that we are all likely to experience one day whether we are athletes or pasture ornaments. Arthritis present in the spine or limbs can affect the horse’s length of stride (extension), height of stride (flexion), and willingness to bear weight on the affected joint(s). I use this preventative protocol whether my horse is showing discomfort yet or not. First, vitamin E. I believe every sport horse should be supplemented with vitamin E. Second, oral hyaluronic acid daily for the obvious reason that it replenishes the body’s HA which is responsible for protecting our horse’s joints from concussive force. Oral HA daily can also help to extend the life of joint injections, if your horse is already receiving this therapy. Did you know the reason why glucosamine is supplemented is to give the body the building blocks to synthesize more HA? Third, curcumin and boswellia for their ability to reduce both inflammation and cartilage destruction, which leads to a reduction in pain associated with the arthritis. Curcumin protects chondrocytes, which are cells that synthesize articular cartilage. Forth, and especially for horses already experiencing clinical signs of djd, type II collagen and devils claw . Studies have shown type II collagen absorbed intestinally stimulates the regeneration of chondrocytes. Devils claw is an herbal pain reliever that has been proven in studies to rival NSAID pain relief performance. It’s worth mentioning curcumin plus boswellia has also been scientifically proven to rival NSAID pain relief performance, and without any of the negative side effects of NSAIDs! Devils claw has also been shown to preserve the structure of joints by increasingly the levels of glycosaminoglycans. HA is one such glycosaminoglycan which devils claw boosted synthesis of by 41%.
For owners whose horses have hyper-sensitive skin, these skin issues are the bane of their existence. It is a constant struggle warring off the next flare up, while it seems almost impossible to restore skin integrity and health in the affected area(s) 100%. It is a major cause of swelling in the lower limbs and can even cause positive flexions if localized around a joint. These horses present with similar performance problems as horses with inflammation or degradation within the joint (djd) - stiffness in affected limb(s), slow to warmup, reluctance to offer full range of motion with the affected limb(s), and agitation when pushed to stretch the limb (skin) beyond comfort.
For these horses, I use colloidal silver topically. It comes in liquid, cream, and powder forms depending on if your horse’s rash needs to be moistened or kept dry. Internally I give vitamin C and E to support their immune system. Natural vitamin E provides far superior support to the body than synthetic does. So you’re looking for d-alpha not dl, and even better if you can find one with mixed tocopherols (alpha is only one vitamin E tocopherol). Some C-complex supplements include bioflavonoids and hesperidin in addition to ascorbic acid, giving an extra boost for the immune system. I also give Hyaluronic acid orally daily. Hyaluronic acid improves skin healing, strength, and elasticity by nourishing collagen and increasing water retention (hydrated skin = healthy skin). For the best results, make sure to find a product with a high molecular weight. I also give boswellia and curcumin to support the horse’s bodies ability to return to a normal inflammation balance. Boswellia specifically blocks 5-LOX, which is the pro-inflammatory enzyme associated with many common conditions including allergies and arthritis. Curcumin has been shown in multiple studies to reduce inflammatory skin conditions and speed skin healing. For the most bioavailable boswellia, look for at least a 10% AKBA level (the most anti-inflammatory component of the herb). Curcumin enhanced with turmeric essential oil will out perform other curcumin products.
Chronic inflammation interferes with our horses ability to reach their best potential. I encourage you to consider some dietary changes and daily supplementation to experience for yourself what a difference it can make in your horse’s ease of performance. After all, our generous horses deserve the benefit of the doubt.
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