When It Doesn’t Help, It Does Hurt?

– Written by Jasmijn de Bruijn –

Many horse owners like alternative medicine, herbal mixtures and ‘natural’ solutions for ailments and problems in their horses.

”They often have a certain mistrust towards regular veterinary care. A certain arrogance plays a role in this.”

The arrogance lies in the fact that they think they understand the horse in all its natural glory better than veterinarians.

And also other professionals such as farriers and physiotherapists who have done their studies and are constantly learning.

They claim a kind of elevated horsemanship that cannot be mastered by just anyone.

They hold views that are not always compatible with science or rationality.

But this does not fully explain the popularity of alternative treatment methods.

That many horse owners seek refuge with alternative practitioners also has to do with how a veterinarian works.

A regular veterinarian has limited time for the horse owner and his horse.

Not only do they have to examine and treat the horse, but often the owner also asks for the necessary attention.

In addition, many problems that horse owners experience with their horse may also lie on another level.

For inexperienced horse owners it can be difficult to explain exactly what the problem is to the veterinarian.

Because they themselves are not yet good at interpreting the signals that the horse gives off.

As a result, a veterinarian does not always get the right information from the owner.

Placebo effect

Within the equestrian sector there is no overview of the number of alternative practitioners.

But when you start looking you will find an enormous offer.

What distinguishes many alternative practitioners is that they often take ample time for the horse and owner.

They spend a lot of time analyzing, diagnosing and explaining the problem.

Often alternative practitioners also have good marketing skills.

They advertise their services and methods with all kinds of holistic, natural or horse-friendly statements and thus play into the intention of horse owners who want to do especially well for the horse.

”They often speak a language that the owner likes to hear and are focused on keeping the contact with the owner enjoyable.”

When the owner feels heard and has left a good feeling from the contact with the practitioner, the fact that the treatment used is not evidence-based or hardly effective weighs less.

Moreover, when the owner of the horse has confidence in the practitioner, a kind of ‘placebo effect’ may arise.

The practitioner makes the owner look at his horse with different eyes.

Which in turn makes the horse react differently.

A kind of ‘self-fulfilling pophecy’ then arises. This need not always be a problem.

In fact, it can even be helpful.

When an owner believes that his horse actually calms down from the prescribed essential oils, the owner will also be calmer in the stressful situation.

Which in turn has a positive effect on the horse.

There’s no harm in trying, right?

Yet there are also risks, for example when horse owners stop the regular medication of their horse on the advice of, for example, a naturopath.

Or when they postpone necessary veterinary care because they want to try an alternative (and often cheaper) treatment first.

There is then a chance that veterinary care will be used too late, with all its consequences.

”Research into alternative therapies has been carried out within the human health sector and this research also revealed the necessary risks.”

Whereas prescribed medication from a regular doctor must meet strict requirements, the origin of many (Chinese) herbal mixtures and supplements is often unclear.

For example, drugs for cancer, antidepressants and painkillers have been found in Chinese herbal mixtures.

And the manufacture of herbal mixtures does not always meet the standards that apply to medicines.

If this happens in human alternative care, chances are it will happen in equine alternative care as well.

As a horse owner, how are you supposed to know what you are giving your horse?

And what junk might have been mixed through it?

For example, there are also alternative therapists who prescribe all kinds of supplements to the horse after they have ‘measured’ the horse with a lechner antenna.

This is a device that anyone can buy for a few hundred euros and which has never been scientifically proven to work.

Administering high doses of vitamins and minerals to horses, which are good in low doses, can do a lot of damage.

Although horses simply excrete a surplus of most vitamins and minerals, and this is mainly bad for your wallet, a surplus of selenium for example is toxic for your horse.

In fact, you can only administer supplements after you have first had a blood test done to determine what a horse really lacks.

And invasive treatments such as taking blood from your horse can only be performed by a veterinarian.

A warned man…

It is good to know that what the alternative circuit offers is not always just harmless but can do real harm.

There is little regulation in the market of alternative practitioners and it is an attractive market.

Working with and caring for horses is a dream for many.

As a practitioner you feel enormously blessed when horses and their owners benefit from your efforts.

They are grateful to you, they express their admiration for you.

”Regular veterinarians and professionals have to work hard for it. They have to take an oath, follow professional guidelines and continuing education.”

Often make large investments in equipment and practice. But many alternative practitioners do not.

After a two-day course in Bach Blossom therapy or natural trimming they are already working.

The fact that there is a living to be earned and that working with horses and their owners can be very fulfilling can make it difficult for alternative practitioners to remain modest.

The risk then exists that they do not know or do not want to see their own limits and do not refer in time to for example regular veterinary care.

An alternative therapy should never be a replacement for regular veterinary care. But it can be a complement.

The better alternative practitioners take their profession seriously, know to what they can help horse and owner and when to refer.

They will never undermine the treatment of a regular veterinarian.

In fact, they will always seek cooperation and coordination.

The tricky thing is only that you never know exactly if you are dealing with a practitioner who really takes his profession seriously.

”So it’s time for more transparency in the supply and reliability of professionals in the equestrian sector.”

Jasmijn de Bruijn is a dressage rider, instructor, and consultant for fitting bits. In addition, she creates creative content for equestrian companies and media.

Through TheConsciousEquestrian she shares her vision on the horse sector with blogs about trends and developments within the equestrian sector.

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