Typically, when a horse’s gait feels off or may be lacking usual impulsion, the rider often assumes it to be an issue of lameness associated with the forelimbs or hindlimbs. However, that may not always be the case. Utilizing advanced diagnostic imaging techniques, Palm Beach Equine Clinic is able to accurately pinpoint the specific area that is affecting overall performance. In many cases, the cervical vertebrae are often identified as the cause of lameness, asymmetry, and poor performance.
The neck is composed of seven articulating cervical vertebrae
running from the head to the thorax, named C1 through C7. The neck allows
movement of the head while protecting the spinal cord and providing an avenue
for nerves to travel. Impingement on the spinal cord and nerves connected to
the cervical vertebrae can exhibit neurologically as ataxia, neck pain, or
Signs of Lameness Related to the Neck
In a lameness exam, a veterinarian will perform flexion tests and
palpate areas of the body looking for decreases in the horse’s range of motion
or pain upon flexion. The rider may pick up on subtle lameness issues
associated with the neck by feeling a change in the horse’s suppleness or
resistance to yielding in a certain direction. Lameness may even present itself
as a difference in the horse’s balance, such as being heavier on the forehand,
or performance issues such as late lead changes. The tried-and-true “carrot
test” can also show if a horse is resistant to flexing their neck.
Identifying Lameness through Diagnostic Imaging
Historically, neck issues related to performance are generally
diagnosed through a process of ruling out other areas of the body. Diagnostic
imaging can now be the most powerful and effective tool for identifying the
cause of lameness related to cervical injury and hereditary malformation.
Computed Tomography (CT) scans have revolutionized the ability to
assess the entire neck and can be performed while the horse is standing and
under light sedation. Computed Tomography images can be rendered into
three-dimensional models and sliced in any orientation, allowing the
veterinarian to evaluate the vertebrae in great detail that is incomparable to
standard radiographs (x-rays). These comprehensive CT scans offer veterinarians
a thorough profile so they can accurately diagnose and initiate an effective
A standing CT scanner is the latest addition to Palm Beach Equine
Clinic’s arsenal of diagnostic
imaging modalities. Currently, Palm Beach Equine Clinic is the only
equine hospital in South Florida offering this capability. Compared to other
modalities such as MRI or Nuclear Scintigraphy, Computed Tomography offers a
valuable return for its rapid acquisition of images. If you suspect there is an
issue in your horse’s neck please, contact Becky at Palm Beach Equine
Clinic at 561-793-1599 to schedule an appointment.
Thrush, rainrot, and scratches are problems that most equestrians have probably encountered, but in the hot, often humid summer months, these issues can incessantly plague horses and their owners. While different in their presentation, thrush, rainrot, and scratches have a lot in common. For horse owners, there are several problems that arise due to environmental factors or predisposing conditions, but these issues can easily be prevented or treated with proper care and management.
This month, Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s Dr. Bryan Dubynsky shared his expertise on the causes, treatment, and prevention of thrush, rainrot, and scratches.
Thrush is an infection within the horse’s hoof most commonly caused by bacteria that invade the deep clefts or grooves (known as sulci) of the frog. Fusobacterium Necrophorum is the common bacterial culprit, which naturally occurs in the environment, especially in wet, muddy, or unsanitary areas. Thrush bacteria thrive where there is a lack of oxygen.
Some horses are predisposed to developing thrush due to conformation, such as a rather high heel or deep sulci, or a narrow or contracted heel. The bacteria will manifest in horse’s feet that are not picked out regularly, or standing in muddy, wet environments, including paddocks or stalls that have not been cleaned properly. Thrush can typically be first identified by the odor. The frog will have a strong, rotten odor and become spongy. Visually, the frog can even exudate (ooze) pus.
The treatment for thrush is fairly simple as it is very sensitive to oxygen. The most important thing is to have your vet or farrier trim or debride the frog to expose affected areas to the air. It is best to keep the hoof clean and dry. Adding a common detergent to the thrush areas, such as Betadine or any commercial product (Thrush Buster, Coppertox, etc.) will help to kill the bacteria. Most importantly, if the horse is not removed from those predisposing environmental factors, treatments can be ineffective.
Maintaining a level of activity for our equine partners will increase blood flow to the feet and promote health in the area. Horses found in dry environments with ample space to move typically do not suffer from thrush. The activity of horses moving keeps the frogs healthier. The more blood flow you have in the foot, the less chance there is for infection to manifest. Thrush does not always cause lameness. In extremely rare cases, thrush can penetrate deeper and cause an infection in deeper tissue or even in the coffin bone. When in doubt, always contact your veterinarian.
Rainrot (Dermotophilus Congolensis)
Rainrot is caused by a naturally occurring bacteria named Dermotophilus, which produces spores. The condition is recognized as scabby, scaly, crusty spots on areas of the horse that have been exposed to rain. It is commonly seen on the neck or across the back (dorsum). Rainrot is not typically apparent on the legs or under the belly. A surplus of rain on the skin washes away the natural protective oils. Once the skin is stripped of the natural protective layer or any sort of trauma to the skin barrier occurs, which can be even as simple as an insect bite, the Dermotophilus spores are able to invade the deeper dermis skin layers. The spores penetrate into the deeper layers of the dermis, and the body reacts by sending white blood cells and proteins to fight the invaders.
This reactive response causes small pustules, scabs, and bumps to form. Similar to thrush, rainrot is an environmental issue. It is most commonly seen in warm areas with high humidity, excess rain, and insects. The most important prevention is to keep horses out of prolonged periods of rain. A horse can be out in the rain for short periods of a day or two, but if it is constantly in hot and rainy conditions with biting insects, more than likely the horse will develop rainrot.
Dr. Dubynsky emphasizes that topical products are not worth anything if the horse is not removed from the environmental factors. Once you remove the environmental factors, a keratolytic agent (something that exfoliates keratin), such as benzoyl peroxide or an antibacterial shampoo, will help the skin heal. He also cautions that if the horse does have scabs, you do not necessarily want to pick the scabs off because then you are leaving open skin without protection for more bacteria to invade. The most important tip to healing is to keep the area dry.
In very rare, severe cases of rainrot, it is best to contact your veterinarian to put the horse on antibiotics. If left untreated, and the horse is not removed from the environmental causative factors, the infestation can lead to Staphylococcal Folliculitis; a type of Staph bacteria that will invade the hair follicles and cause a more serious situation.
Scratches is a generic term for many different ailments. The definition of scratches can be a bacterial, fungal, or viral dermatitis or inflammatory condition of the pastern or fetlock. It is defined as a chronic Seborrheic Dermatitis, characterized by hypertrophy and exudation on the palmar plantar surface of the pastern and fetlock.
There are certainly predisposing factors for scratches, including the same environmental factors that cause thrush or rainrot. Predisposing factors for scratches include horses that are bathed often or stand in wet conditions all the time. Horses that have an excess amount of hair on their legs, especially draft horses, may be more prone to developing scratches. This is because the hair traps dirt and moisture on the skin. Scratches can develop in horses that are bathed too often, such as the intensely managed show horse. Frequent bathing of the horse can strip away the natural protective oils and barrier of the dermis. This allows bacteria or fungi to invade. When moisture penetrates the skin, it causes an inflammatory reaction. This presents as heat, redness, pain, and loss of protection to keep bacteria out.
The most effective first step for prevention and treatment should be to eliminate environmental predisposing factors. Removing excess hair during humid months and keeping horses clean and dry to the best of your ability will reduce the probability of developing an infection. Bathing horses once a day with Betadine or antifungal/antibacterial shampoo will help to clear the infection. Be sure to leave the shampoo on for 20 minutes for all of the medicine to penetrate. Rinse thoroughly, and make sure the horse is completely dry. In order to effectively treat the bacteria, horses, especially their legs, should be completely towel- or air-dried before being returned to their stalls or paddocks.
As always, contact your veterinarian immediately if there appears to be a deeper infection present, or if you would like more detailed information on how to treat and prevent these bacterial infections. To contact your Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian, call 561-793-1599 or visit www.equineclinic.com.
The summer weather is here! With the humid weather, pesky flies are at their worst, which creates problems for many horse owners often leading to summer sores, medically known as Habronemiasis.
What are Summer Sores?
Summer sores are lesions on the skin caused by the larvae of equine stomach worms Habronema. These worms in the horse’s stomach produce eggs that pass through the digestive tract and are shed in the horse’s feces. Barn flies typically gather around manure and ultimately collect the parasite’s larvae on their extremities. Summer sores will occur when flies carrying the larvae deposit the eggs onto an open wound or the mucous membranes of a horse. The larvae infect the open wound or mucous membranes, causing an inflammatory reaction including symptoms of inflammation, discharge, and the production of granulation tissue infected with larvae.
Detecting Summer Sores
One way to detect a summer sore is the visible granulation of tissue containing small yellow, rice-like larvae within the skin and a mucopurulent (mucus or pus-like) discharge associated with the wound. Prevention is the most effective way of controlling summer sore outbreaks and the best way to protect horses is to implement effective methods for:
proper wound care
an effective de-worming program
A diligent de-worming program is the most important element of prevention because effective de-wormer disrupts the parasite’s life cycle internally. The key is to kill both adult worms in the stomach and the larvae that form in the skin tissue.
Treating Summer Sores
For treatment of summer sores themselves, corticosteroids are administered to reduce the inflammatory hypersensitivity reaction, and antimicrobials treat any secondary infections that may develop as the result of an open wound. If not treated properly, summer sores can last up to several months and possibly require a costly surgical procedure to remove the granulated tissue and larvae. At the first sign of a summer sore, contact your veterinarian at Palm Beach Equine Clinic at 561-793-1599 to discuss treatment and develop an effective fly-management program for your barn.
Palm Beach Equine Clinic has the most advanced state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging equipment available. More specifically, Equine Standing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) allows Palm Beach Equine Clinic to quickly and accurately diagnose injuries for their clients.
Every horse owner dreads seeing signs of lameness or discomfort in any horse, whether it is a backyard companion or a top-caliber sport horse. For performance horses, however, one of the first questions many owners ask upon contacting a veterinarian about a problem is, “Can the horse safely and comfortably return to work?” Using Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s cutting-edge equine standing MRI technology, the clinic veterinarians are best equipped to answer that question.
The equine standing MRI produces highly detailed images in several different planes to capture a complete image of the desired area. An MRI is best used to further define a specific area of bony or soft tissue that has been pinpointed as the origin of lameness. The process can be completed while the horse is in a standing position and requires only light sedation.
Lameness or performance problems are most frequently approached through routine x-rays and ultrasounds, which can come back normal. Thus, it is difficult to diagnose subtle problems because the most common tools are not sensitive enough to pick them up. At Palm Beach Equine Clinic, the Equine Standing MRI gives veterinarians an advantage when troubleshooting a lameness issue and helps them to determine a correct diagnosis in a timely manner.
Hundreds of MRIs are read each year at Palm Beach Equine Clinic. In addition to being a state-of-the-art diagnostic tool, the equine standing MRI technology also affords economic benefits to owners by having their horse’s problem diagnosed and treated safely, effectively, and quickly.
The veterinarians at Palm Beach Equine Clinic take pride in emphasizing the importance of proper care for equine athletes that are aging into their senior years. Advances in equine medicine are enabling horses to perform longer. Last month, we discussed the importance of routine veterinary examinations to ensure top health, appropriate fitness programs to maintain stamina and muscle mass, treatments for physical discomfort, and proper care throughout the hot summer months. This month, we highlight how the evaluation of metabolic and organ function and proper parasite control can benefit the senior performance horse.
Horses from the ages of 12 and older are considered “senior.” Many horses that are in the prime of their careers are over this threshold and may require extra maintenance in order to continue performing at their best. Maintaining these athletes in peak condition requires teamwork between the owner and their veterinarian.
Metabolic Function of the Senior Performance Horse
An important component of physical health in the aging equine is the metabolic function. As horses age, they become more prone to develop a metabolic disease known as Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease, also known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), is when disfunction of the pituitary gland results in increased production of Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone (ACTH), ultimately creating overproduction of the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone and a surplus of this hormone negatively affects the body.
Veterinarians use the fasting test of ACTH that evaluates the hormone levels to screen for possible Cushing’s disease. This hormone test should be conducted every six months to monitor hormone production.
Cushing’s disease is often detected in older horses between 16 and 23 years of age, but it has been documented in horses as young as eight years old. A few of the clinical signs of Cushing’s disease include a change in body conformation such as the development of a swayback and pot belly, lethargic attitude, and in some horses the growth of long, “curly” hair with delayed shedding. Horses suffering from Cushing’s disease are at serious risk to develop laminitis without any specific predisposing causes.
Occasionally, horses may have Cushing’s disease without showing any outward clinical signs as the onset is quite slow. A simple blood test will be extremely helpful in the early detection of Cushing’s and other metabolic diseases.
Organ Function and Parasite Control
Blood tests are also necessary to determine whether a horse has anemia (low red blood cells). Serum chemistry testing can evaluate liver and kidney function to ensure these organ systems are working properly. Palm Beach Equine Clinic has the laboratory equipment on site to run the vast majority of these tests for rapid same-day results.
Palm Beach Equine Clinic also suggests a fecal test to evaluate a horse’s internal parasite count. In Florida, the peak worm season is year-round due to the lack of frost. The effectiveness of different dewormers can be measured using a fecal egg count reduction test, which involves performing a fecal egg count before and after deworming a horse. Equine tapeworms are difficult to identify in fecal examinations, so deworming for tapeworms annually with a product containing praziquantel, available in products such as Zimectrin Gold®, Equimax®, and Quest Plus®, is strongly recommended.
Establishing an effective deworming program for equine parasites has become a debated topic as veterinarians have changed their views on worming in recent years. New research has found that a minimal parasite load within the horse’s hind gut is actually helpful in producing a natural immunity. However, it is crucial to control the parasitic load. Due to the emergence of new resistant parasites, the recommended method is to practice proper barn management for prevention and control along with rotational treatment with anthelmintic medications.
Environmental management is imperative to equine parasite control. Veterinarians recommend removing manure from pastures at least twice weekly. Mowing and harrowing pastures regularly will break up manure and expose parasite eggs to the sun. If possible, rotate the use of pastures by providing a period of rest or allowing other livestock to graze them. Grouping horses by age in a pasture can reduce exposure to certain parasites.
Additionally, reducing the number of horses per acre to a minimum can prevent overgrazing and reduce fecal contamination of the grazing area. Owners should consider feeding horses in a feeder for hay and grain rather than on the ground. Lastly, caregivers should routinely groom all horses to remove bot eggs from the hair to prevent possible ingestion.
Contact Palm Beach Equine Clinic for an Evaluation of Your Senior Performance Horse
It is important for owners to consider all of these issues in the senior performance horse and coordinate with their veterinarian for routine testing in horses 12 years and older. Have questions? Contact your Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian today. Did you miss “Caring For The Senior Performance Horse Part 1?” CLICK HERE to catch up.
As the summer heat rapidly approaches, the veterinarians of Palm Beach Equine Clinic remind all equine owners to keep their horses well hydrated.
Fresh, Clean Water
The average horse drinks between five and 10 gallons of water per day. It is important to provide clean, fresh water at all times and be aware of possible increased water consumption during extremely hot days.
Sodium in a horse’s diet is also very important to maintain proper hydration. Providing a salt block or supplementing with electrolytes can help ensure that a horse is meeting their sodium requirements.
Sweat It Out
Especially in the extreme summer heat, horse owners should pay attention to the amount of sweat their horse is producing. Anhidrosis, or the inability to sweat normally, can be a common challenge during the summer months, particularly in hot, humid climates. A horse with Anhidrosis is often called a “non-sweater.” In addition to lack of sweat, signs of Anhidrosis can include increased respiratory rate, elevated temperature, areas of hair loss, and dry, flaky skin. Presentation of these signs indicates that the horse should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Make sure your horse has…
Access to shade throughout the day.
Exercise that is scheduled when the temperatures are lower, usually earlier or later in the day.
Turnout that is limited to the night or cooler portions of the day.
Fans indoors during extreme heat.
Electrolyte supplementation as needed per veterinarian’s recommendation.
Advances in equine medicine are enabling horses to perform longer in their careers than ever before. Together with veterinary care from Palm Beach Equine Clinic, educated owners can offer senior horses a happy and pain-free life as they age into their senior years.
Horses from the ages of 12 and older are considered “seniors,” but they often compete successfully into their teenage years. Many horses that are in the prime of their careers may require extra maintenance in order to continue performing at their best, and advances in veterinary care have helped extend careers. An 18-year-old equine athlete would have been rare 10 years ago, but today, there are horses performing at a high level well into their senior years. To maintain these athletes requires more work on the owner’s part, as well as the veterinarian’s part, however, preemptive attention to an aging equine’s needs may help keep your partner performing longer.
Maintain Top Health Over the Years
There are several areas of care that owners should consider in order to maintain their horse’s top health and ensure continued success. It is important to remember that just as the human body changes with age, the horse’s body does the same.
Owners should contact their veterinarians on a routine basis to have their horse’s overall health and fitness evaluated, no matter what the horse’s job is. All regularly performing senior horses should be evaluated a minimum of twice a year. If it is a pleasure horse, it should be evaluated at least once a year.
An appropriate fitness program is imperative to the senior horse’s performance. As horses age, it can become increasingly difficult to maintain their fitness. Any exercise that builds your horse’s stamina and muscle mass is essential, and the more your horse gets out of its stall and moves around the better. Anything from riding lessons to trail riding, or even hand walking, can be beneficial. There are new exercise aids available, such as treadmills, which are great for keeping the senior horse in top shape. Owners should talk to their veterinarian to help create a great fitness program that works for both them and their horse.
Like any athlete, horses can experience physical setbacks, so it is important for owners to have their horse’s gaits evaluated routinely. Veterinarians can suggest appropriate treatments to avoid creating larger issues, whether the horse needs a little assistance with the flexion in their necks or joint injections to ease any discomfort.
It is important to make sure that the senior horse’s stall is maintained for sanitation purposes and with a nice, deep bed to lie down in. The stall should be out of the direct sunlight and have fans for effective air movement and plenty of freshwater to prevent overheating.
The process of breeding sport horses is ever-changing. Whether in an effort to produce the healthiest, most talented foals, to prolong the competition career of a mare, or make the most of a stallion’s longevity, reproductive science in horses has come a long way from the days of the traditional breeding shed.
Dr. Katie Atwood is a member of the Palm Beach Equine Clinic team, based in Wellington, FL, with a passion for reproductive work. She has used that passion to help Palm Beach Equine Clinic offer cutting edge breeding options all in the heart of the winter equestrian capital of the world.
“I like the creating of life,” said Dr. Atwood, who is a Florida native and University of Florida graduate and currently pursuing steps to become a board-certified reproductive specialist. “Equine medicine is intriguing, but you’re dealing with sick, unhealthy animals. With reproduction, I am working with healthy animals and making their babies, which I love!”
The Future of Breeding at Palm Beach Equine Clinic
PBEC is a one-stop shop for anyone’s breeding needs, whether it’s a champion polo pony, competing mare, or full-time breeding stallion. Atwood and the team at Palm Beach Equine Clinic work tirelessly to improve their offerings, which currently include a breeding shed covered from the heat and inclement weather just like an indoor arena. Inside the breeding shed, Palm Beach Equine Clinic houses a hydraulic phantom mare.
“We can raise or lower our phantom with the push of a button so it can be the appropriate height for the stallion,” said Dr. Atwood. “Previously, we had to bring a tractor in to raise and lower the phantom. We also do not have to take weather into consideration anymore now that the breeding shed is covered. There is enough space and privacy for safe and convenient breeding on-site at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.”
Additionally, Palm Beach Equine Clinic incorporates the use of a SCA® CASA (computer assisted sperm analyzer) system into their reproduction work. An excellent way to improve quality control of a stallion’s sperm, the system evaluates sperm motility (velocity and type of movement), concentration (sperm count), morphology (sperm shape), DNA fragmentation (counting of fragmented sperm), vitality (live and dead count) and acrosome reaction, which is what ultimately allows the sperm to penetrate the egg.
From on-site experience to computer technology, Palm Beach Equine Clinic offers Dr. Atwood the opportunity to be at the forefront of equine reproduction, a place she has always strived to be.
“I wanted to come into a practice that had a developed program in place, but what is even more important to me is mentoring and teaching my technicians and clients about reproduction,” she said. “It is so important to make sure these techniques are shared and promoted for the continued success of veterinarians, owners, and most of all the horses.”
What is Embryo Transfer?
The most popular wave of advancement that has hit the horse sport industry over the past several years is the process of embryo transfer.
Embryo Transfer Process:
A donor mare and stallion, who hold the genetics of the future foal, are bred.
At seven or eight days of pregnancy, the embryo is flushed out.
A catheter is placed through the vagina and cervix, and an inflatable cuff on the catheter provides a fluid-tight seal.
A lavage fluid with surfactin (added to reduce the “stickiness” of the embryo and allow it to be extracted easily) passes down through a tubing system into the uterine lumen. As the fluid swirls throughout the lumen and drains back out through gravity, it collects the embryo, which is swept back out. The fluid and embryo pass out through the tubing system into and through an embryonic filter.
When the embryo is identified under a microscope, it is removed into a more enriched medium until the time of transfer.
The embryo is shipped to a recipient farm where a young and healthy surrogate mare of decent size receives the embryo. That mare carries the foal to term, but it is genetically created from the donor mare and stallion.
Why Breed Through Embryo Transfer?
While the process is fascinating, some may wonder why it’s necessary. According to Dr. Atwood, it relieves much of the concern owners have about sport horse breeding.
Advantages for Mares
“The gestation period for a horse is 11 months, so you’re only getting one foal per year when you breed traditionally,” she said. “This allows a mare to produce multiple foals per year, but it also allows that mare to remain in competition. This process can be done on younger mares with no interruptions to their competition and training schedules.”
Horses are now being bred at an ideal reproductive age while they are still in training, which is made even more valuable by the fact that advances in equine science has prolonged the longevity of horses. While 16 or 17 was once the age of an older horse, now it’s commonly seen as the age when horses are winning in the show ring. Thanks to embryo transfer, these horses can enjoy longer, healthy careers and still produce the talent of the future.
Dr. Atwood has seen embryo transfers become popular in dressage and polo, but she has begun to see it span all disciplines, saying, “At the start of the season, I had one farm and a few mares, but now it has quickly grown to several farms with multiple mares at each. It is really taking off because people now realize it does not remove their mares from competition.”
Advantages for Stallions
The process not only keeps mares competing, but it allows stallions to cross continents. Frozen fertilized embryos from working polo ponies in the U.S. are now being shipped to Argentina where they are carried by mares and then trained by some of the best polo trainers in the world. On the flip side, semen can also be frozen and shipped to the U.S.
“Stallions are collected, the semen is placed with an extender and high nutrient base so the sperm has something to use for energy, and then cooled slowly until it is frozen in liquid nitrogen,” said Dr. Atwood. “Once frozen, it is theoretically good forever. Last year, I bred a mare with 1991 semen and she was successfully pregnant!”
Chinese herbal medicine is a relatively new treatment among equine veterinarians in the western world, but the philosophy of herbals for healing has existed for thousands of years as part of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). Helping to lead the Chinese herbal medicine charge westward, veterinarians at Palm Beach Equine Clinic (PBEC) have incorporated the use of herbs and herbal treatments as an integral part of their alternative therapy options for patients.
Similar to the use of all-natural methods to treat illness in humans, herbal medicine for animals also utilizes ancient Chinese formulas aimed at treating the underlying causes of a disease or illness to help the body heal itself, rather than only temporarily treating the presented symptoms.
One PBEC veterinarian who has found these all-natural methods as a benefit in her treatments is Dr. Janet Greenfield-Davis, who specializes in both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.
“There is an herbal product for anything,” said Dr. Greenfield-Davis, who found herbal medicine six years ago when she started specializing in acupuncture, which joins Chinese herbal medicine as two of the most common forms of TCVM therapies. “Herbals treat a variety of ailments from sore muscles to problems affecting the liver, heart, kidneys, joints, and more. I pair the herbals with my acupuncture, which is traditionally the ancient Chinese way.”
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) Methods
In TCVM, once a symptom of disharmony in the body or disease is identified, treatment proceeds through four possible branches, including acupuncture, food therapy, a form of Chinese medical massage called Tui-na, and Chinese herbal medicine. From topical treatments, including salves and powders, to edible treatments, Chinese herbal medicine not only draws on natural products, but also on the natural tendencies of the horse itself. Being herbivores, horses ingest herbs found in the wild while they are grazing.
While the traditional methods date back thousands of years, the treatments developed within Chinese herbal medicine are ever-evolving. Coupled with modern technology, historical and ancient Chinese wisdoms are still very effective. In addition, the treatments utilize the properties of many common herbs with widely known uses. By utilizing ginseng for fatigue, chamomile for calming, garlic as an antibiotic, and arnica as an anti-inflammatory, the recipes used in herbal medicine draw from only natural sources. This is making herbal treatments more common among sport horses that undergo drug testing for banned substances while competing.
“The competitive world is accepting herbal medicine more and more every year,” said Dr. Greenfield-Davis. “It provides an alternative for horses at high levels, especially in FEI classes, that need a little extra support. They aren’t drugs, they don’t test, and they are a natural product.”
Dr. Greenfield-Davis believes that offering such alternative treatment options is a sizeable advancement for PBEC, in that herbal medicines provide owners with another option when traditional western medicines may not be their preference.
“It enhances our practice because it gives owners a place to turn,” she said. “There is a lot of stigma to using particular western drugs, and I think this gives people a choice; they don’t have to use the traditional western medicines anymore because they can now turn to eastern medicines.”
While it is a personal choice to use a more holistic or all-natural approach to veterinary care for some horse owners, herbs also represent a practical alternative. According to Dr. Greenfield-Davis, herbal medicine is the perfect choice when treating a horse with an aversion to needles, or for horses that do not respond to particular medicines or therapies.
“We are able to work in a more natural way instead of using steroids and things of that nature,” added Dr. Greenfield-Davis. “In some cases, I will use solely herbals and the treatments produce a lot of wonderful results.”
As PBEC continues to advance its alternative medicine therapies, the equestrian community is also learning to accept new possibilities. For PBEC and Dr. Greenfield-Davis, Chinese herbal medicine is a step into the future with a nod to ancient Chinese history.
About Dr. Janet Greenfield-Davis
Dr. Greenfield-Davis grew up in Northern California, and her passion for horses started during her time showing hunters on the “A” circuit, which later led her to study veterinary medicine at California Polytechnic State University. She graduated from veterinary school at the University of Glasgow in 2010 and has since specialized in equine acupuncture and herbal medicine. Dr. Greenfield-Davis hopes to continue her studies in holistic medicine by incorporating food therapy into her treatments at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.
Palm Beach Equine Clinic combines the best of conventional and alternative medicine to provide comprehensive, full-body care to both sport and companion horses. Dr. Natalia Novoa specializes in utilizing the best of both approaches to provide unmatched results.
“I believe that treating issues with both alternative therapies and conventional medicine is a perfect approach,” said Dr. Novoa, who has been a full-time member of Palm Beach Equine Clinic since 2011. “We can’t exchange one for other, and the combination usually makes for a great treatment plan.
“A chiropractic adjustment is an alternative therapy that I absolutely recommend,” continued Dr. Novoa. “It’s very useful for a horse that has injuries or soreness issues, but it’s also something that is very important for maintenance. You want to prevent problems instead of treat them. If a misalignment happens, that creates incorrect friction, which then leads to pain in the joints, muscle soreness, and stress on the tendons and ligaments, possibly leading to a soft tissue injury. Another advantage of chiropractic adjustments is that it is useful for FEI competition horses because of the restriction on medications at that level. It’s a way we can effectively treat a problem and stay within the regulations.”
According to Dr. Novoa, veterinarians who incorporate chiropractic adjustments in their treatment options do so with their own style. She has developed a system that she finds most effective, and her secret is out!
Dr. Novoa’s five steps to a chiropractic adjustment:
1. Horse History
Patient history is a pillar of medicine, which provides pivotal information.
“I always want to speak with riders, trainers, and grooms to get an understanding of what they feel and see,” said Dr. Novoa. “They spend the most time with the horse and know it the best. Sometimes, clients ask me to evaluate the horse first and tell them what I see and feel, which is when most people ask me if I have a crystal ball.”
While Dr. Novoa doesn’t travel with a crystal ball, her skill at reading a horse leads her to the second step.
2. Scan Acupuncture Points – “Acuscan”
A scan of the acupuncture points on a horse, which Dr. Novoa calls an “acuscan,” is always her next move. She checks the main acupuncture points from head to tail by using her tool of choice – the round end of a needle cap. This allows her to put firm pressure on a very specific point and then evaluate the horse’s reaction to that pressure.
“A reaction can indicate, for example, left front lameness or a sore neck, etc.,” said Dr. Novoa. “It’s not voodoo; you are piecing together your findings in the exams with the symptoms that the horse is presenting.”
3. Evaluate Horse Movement
After scanning the horse, Dr. Novoa likes to always see the horse move to dig deeper into any reactions she noticed while checking acupuncture points. She starts at the walk and then observes at the trot.
“This is where I incorporate conventional medicine and supplement my evaluation with flexion tests or hoof testers depending on what I see,” said Dr. Novoa. “I want to produce the most detailed picture before moving on to the adjustment.”
4. Make the Adjustments
“I adjust a horse the same way every time,” said Dr. Novoa. “This specific order ensures that I don’t miss anything and the horse receives a thorough adjustment of its entire body with special attention paid to any problem areas that I uncovered earlier in the process.”
Check and adjust these 10 points:
Point 1: TMJ (temporomandibular joint) Point 2: Poll and neck See fig. 1 & 2 Point 3: Front limbs, including lower limb joints and carpus (knee) See fig. 3 Point 4: Shoulder and scapula on both sides to compare one with the other Point 5: Withers Point 6: Pelvis and back See fig. 4
Point 7: Hind limbs, including hocks and stifles Point 8: Sternum and T1/T2 vertebrae Point 9: Tongue release Point 10: Myofascial release if muscles spasm or a tense back and neck are indicated
5. Secondary Acupuncture Point Scan
“The final piece of the puzzle is to scan the acupuncture points again to compare what we had before versus what we have after the adjustment,” said Dr. Novoa. “If there are still reactions, I may do acupuncture or electro-acupuncture and utilize a class four regenerative laser.”
After her secondary scan, Dr. Novoa formulates a short and long-term treatment plan. In her experience, adjustments last for four to six weeks before a follow-up adjustment is indicated. If certain chronic injuries are flaring up, a horse may need an earlier follow-up.
“It’s all about listening to the horse. They will always tell you what they need; you just have to listen!”