As an industry we are actively learning about practices & products that help enhance our horses’ health. Therapies such as chiropractic work, massage, acupuncture, PEMF, BEMER therapy, and circulatory focused sports medicine products that used to get an odd side look with the label “Alternative Medicine”, now fit right into routine horse management programs. And rightfully so! Horses are athletes, and optimizing horse health is a science that combines the animal’s biology with his unique mechanical function. As we continue to understand how to make these animals the best they can be, we absolutely should implement what we learn!
The drawback to the newly possible solutions/supplements in horse health rests in their overwhelming volume, and as horses are individuals, some therapies work better than others for specific cases. As a horse mom who wants the best for her babies, but also a barn manager who keeps an eye on budgeting and efficient investments, I would love to share my 6 steps to make the most out of trialing sports medicine therapies.
Pinpoint your horse’s problem/limitation
Owners typically seek out unconventional health care for a specific reason. As unessential as the previous statement sounds, it’s important to remember to dive into a therapy that directs attention to the issue at hand. For instance, if a horse is body sore from increasing work load, he may benefit more from a therapy used at a maintenance level on a daily or weekly basis. If a horse is recovering from acute injury or sickness, an owner might be able to hit him with heavy (more expensive) treatment for a short time.
Research what you’re interested in
Usually, if the goal is to solve a problem, there are 10 different ways to do it. For example, if an owner wants to increase circulation via magnetic therapy, there are cheaper static magnetic blankets and attachments. A big step up from that would be Magna Wave PEMF. Then there is BEMER therapy, which takes electromagnetic waves and delivers a specific signal to individual cells. By understanding the differences in application, mechanism, and intended result between therapies, a horse owner can choose wisely for the horse. The same suggestion applies to nutritional supplements, as we’ve all seen the aisle of hoof supplements in any given feed dealership.
Talk to REPUTABLE sources
When researching therapies & health products, it is find reputable sources and testimonials from educated horsemen. It hurts me a little bit every time I see a Facebook ISO for recommendations on how to improve a horse’s diet or fitness. While a few comments may be helpful, picking them out of the 400 insufficient responses is unlikely. Instead, seeking out direction from a vet, product representative, and local equine professional can be enlightening. Testimonials also offer valuable information with unbiased feedback from trialed products. These sources show a product’s success or a lack there of in the reality of changing variables. The key is choosing sources carefully!
Have a Trial Plan and follow it
Note a Baseline
Take pictures, videos, and notes of the horse’s pre-trial condition. Having visual or quantitative references to look back on throughout the trial will help an owner see definitive change or lack there of.
Have several mid-trial check points
As the horse continues through the trial, keep a careful eye on his progress. Keeping ‘checkpoints’ will help expedite the trial process if the horse worsens condition or is blatantly unaffected by the therapy. In situations of urgent health concern, being flexible to the horse’s needs may be a life saver!
Note how the horse compares to his baseline at the end of the trial
Finally, is there a difference? Is the difference significant enough to warrant continued investment in the therapy? Without structure to an owner’s expectations such a simple yes or no question may be unanswerable.
Eliminate as many variables as possible during trial
While we can’t eliminate all environmental variables, we can certainly work to lessen them, giving more accuracy to trial results. For instance, if possible (mainly if the horse’s health is not urgently jeopardized) trial one therapy at once, that way when all is said & done, an owner knows what works. Another significant, yet often overlooked variable is season change. Health conditions often spike in certain seasons- PPID in the fall, Laminitis in the spring & fall, COPD in the summer, etc. This could affect the results of a trial. For example, if an owner is trialing a supplement to help with gastric ulcers at the beginning of spring when grass begins to grow, there will probably be improvement in the horse’s physical condition despite the trial product, because the horse will gain a bit of weight and bloom from the good forage.
Recognize that these therapies may need to become part of the horse’s routine health care
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s important to think about the sustainability of the therapies & products when investing in them. In acute situations, expensive treatments may be feasible and necessary to get a horse back to baseline, but when an owner looks at long term maintenance, consistent implementation is key. If monthly chiropractic adjustments are not feasible, looking into why the horse needs them may be- muscle tension? Unsuitable job? digestive upset? Hitting the smaller things to prevent having to spend on the big thing can be sufficient for the horse and the budget!