Here in Northern NSW we have been having too much of a good thing, it has been raining more on than off, since the 20th of January. With apologies to the rest of Australia, the thing that most upsets us horsey people, is the fact that (aside from the lucky ones with covered arenas) we can’t ride our horses and it is too wet and boggy for groundwork as well. The result: unfit fat horses.

End of May we had our tri-monthly clinic by the great teacher and horseman Jose Mendez. I must emphasise that I am a great believer in conditioning the horse and many times I have not taken a horse to a clinic because lack of fitness means hell for my horse for three days. What to do? Impossible to condition the horse, so since I am a herbalist I know how to cheat! One month before the clinic date my horse Diego (a 12 y.o., grey, first cross Andalusian who believes in the law of less effort) got an increase dosage of the herb Hawthorn Leaf in his feed.

The first day of the clinic we took it easy, but all and all we did a lot of work. Diego was forward, willing, full of impulsion, never once grumpy or refusing a request and at the end of each lesson, he had hardly sweated, whereas a lot of the other horses sweated heavily, their performance got poorer by the day and by the third day we had a lot of sour horses. Diego was smiling, I was actually amazed because he usually gets grumpy by day three, conditioned or not.

Why? Because his heart was working very well. When the heart performs well, the body has less oxygen requirement (therefore less risk of ischemia which is oxygen deprivation), the blood pressure remains low, there is less fatigue, and the pulse is lower, thus no excessive sweating.
All of that because of Hawthorn Leaf? You bet your horse’s derriere it is!

Why is it so? I’m glad you asked. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) contains a host of anti oxidant compounds that we now know as flavonoids (quercetin, vitexin, hyperoside and rutin to name a few. Scientists have isolated and characterised over 19 flavonoids) But wait! There is more! Hawthorn is also rich in Oligomeric Procyanidins, OPC’s to their friends. These OPC’s improve coronary blood flow, decrease blood pressure, improve heart contractibility, increase heart rate, and improve use of available oxygen. I could go on but there are many scientific journals where you can find more details if you are so inclined.

What does it mean in practical terms? First of all it does not mean that you can keep on not conditioning your horse and think you can go for the Quilty just because you are using Hawthorn. We live in hilly country so my horses walk and run up and down all day, so Diego is not a flat paddock, stabled horse. However, you can considerably improve your horse’s fitness by improving his cardiovascular health and therefore improve his performance. Hawthorn has also been noted for its anti-stress and anti-anxiety effects, which again contribute to keeping the horse calm and mentally collected, thus impacting on physical fitness.

Which horses should be given Hawthorn? If you just amble along in the countryside, you probably don’t need to bother, but if you are going to ask your horse to be an athlete, you should take care of his heart. Being an athlete does not mean that you are competing at high levels, trotting your horse for more than twenty minutes means you are asking him to be an athlete. The muscle strength and concentration that is needed in dressage, even non-competitive is that of an athlete; jumping needs an athlete’s heart and endurance riding definitely needs extra care with the cardio-vascular, otherwise you wouldn’t have vets in endurance rides. Of course racing Thoroughbreds should all be on Hawthorn Leaf.

How much should I give? A horse who is in work should get ¼ cup of Hawthorn Leaf daily; in times of extra work you can double this amount two weeks before, during and after competition (so three to four weeks of increased dosage) preferably in two doses (morning and evening feed). When the horse is out for a spell you can stop the Hawthorn and start again when work resumes.

What’s the difference between Hawthorn Leaf and Berries? Hawthorn Berries are an excellent source of the flavonoids mentioned earlier, so they are good as an antioxidant, but Hawthorn Leaf is the one rich in those fabulous OPC’s, which are the compounds that have the positive effects on the heart.

So there you have it; Hawthorn Leaf will help your horse be stronger, cooler, more athletic. A horse with a Lion’s heart! Of course this is not the magic bullet, there are many other factors to good nutritional conditioning, but this is definitely another story.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a dose of Hawthorn Leaf myself!

(C) Elyane T Brightlight 2009
Elyane Brightlight is a naturopath and acupuncturist with 30 years practice. She is available for telephonic consultations for you or your horse. Contact on: or on 0404 089 409.

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