Holistic Horse Care: How to Deal With the “No Drug” Rules for Horse Shows

For those of us who like a holistic horse care program the idea of limiting the use of drugs in competitive horses sounds like a great idea, but is it? Limiting the access to drugs such as bronchodilators, diuretics and non steroidal anti inflammatory agents can cause unnecessary suffering for horses that truly need them. The ideal approach would be to focus on a holistic horse care program but allow the use of drugs when they were absolutely needed. Let’s look at these 3 classes of drugs and how we can limit the need to use them.

Bronchodilators include products like Clenbuteral and are used for horses with chronic inflammation of the air passages. Chronic inflammation of the air passages will cause the airways to spasm and bronchodilators reverse the spasm allowing the air to flow more freely. The airways of horses can become inflamed due to exposure to dust, mold and ammonia smell from urine such as would be found in a stall or horse trailer. Viruses can also damage the lining of the respiratory tract and open it up to inflammation.

To limit the need for bronchodilators you want to avoid exposing your horse to molds or dust, which is almost impossible if you keep your horse stalled, ride in an arena or haul in a horse trailer. You can keep exposure to these substances at a minimum by bedding in washed river sand that can be wet down to control dust and is less likely to grow mold compared to shavings. The sand must be replaced on a regular basis to prevent buildup of ammonia from urine. Mold and dust in trailers can be controlled by using straw or hay instead of shavings as bedding and cleaning out all soiled material after each haul.

You can control the dust in your home arena with adequate water but you can’t control the dust in the warm up pen at an event. If your horse does contract a virus give him at least 3 weeks off after he appears recovered so his lungs can heal completely.

In addition to steps to limit exposure to airway damaging particles you can use nutrition to help support and heal the respiratory tract. Probiotics such as acidophilus can help with the production of mucous in the lining of the respiratory tract. The mucous helps trap irritating particles so they can be coughed or sneezed out. Blue green algae provides a wide range of vitamins, trace minerals and phytonutrients to support rapid healing of any damaged cells lining the airways. Citrus C/Q helps the body fight viruses and heal more quickly.

Diuretics such as Lasix are used to prevent bleeding from the lungs in horses that run in speed events. The mechanism of action is not totally understood as to why a diuretic prevents lung bleeding. Diuretics are given several hours before a run and water is not offered until after the run. This will insure that the horse is not running with a full bladder and that can be accomplished by simply withholding water before a run without causing the body to lose important electrolytes as he does with forced diuresis. Herbs, such as horsetail, can have a gentle diuretic action and provide nutrition to support the lungs at the same time. Bleeders Blend is a good herbal formula for general lung support and to help prevent bleeding.

Non steroidal anti inflammatory agents
Bute and Banamine are the most well know anti inflammatory drugs but newer products such as Previcox can have fewer side effects. Still there are even safer ways to keep inflammation down in hard working performance horses. Arnica is a wonderful homeopathic remedy that can be given for generalized muscle soreness. Rhus tox is a homeopathic remedy for back soreness and bryonia helps with joint soreness. These products can be given alone or combined if needed. Ani-motion is a wonderful herbal product for the relief of musculoskeletal pain. Joint support products like Adequan and Legend have anti inflammatory action as well as supporting joint healing.

It is the overuse and misuse of drugs that has prompted officials to crack down on the use of all drugs, even the good ones. If more people embraced the holistic horse care model then we could use our good drugs much less frequently and only for horses that were in need of them.

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