Time to start thinking about winter care and what precautions may be needed to keep your horse healthy throughout the winter

There are several issues that we as horse owners face each winter, the possibility of respiratory tract infections and our older horses getting a bit creaky and arthritic aches and pains. With any discharge you need to have your vet check that your horse is not suffering from a serious problem. Once you have your veterinary diagnosis your choice of herbs will be more effective.

Because herbs have a different action to pharmaceutical drugs in that they do not suppress the symptoms, they help the body remove the problem, you sometimes find your horse will appear to get worse for a couple of days before he improves.

Herbs such as Mullein and Elecampane offer antiviral, antibacterial, expectorant and antispasmodic qualities that can help shorten the duration of your horse’s ailment. Elecampane on an energetic level promotes as sense of confidence and an awareness of beauty, something our horses may feel lacking when confined to a stall with this sort of physical issue.

Herbs such as Plantain, Slippery Elm and Marshmallow can assist in soothing sore and inflamed membranes of the respiratory tract and you may consider adding these as a tea.

Garlic and Echinacea can be used short term for mild respiratory infections or to help build up your horse’s immune system if it is known a virus is in your area, however neither of these herbs are favoured for long term use.

Peppermint is a wonderful herb to add to feeds during the colder months as it helps the digestive tract adjust to seasonal changes, especially for the horse that is prone to colic during the colder months. It is a herb that does not have to be given every day, and often a handful into the feed two or three times a week is all you will need. If you have to administer homoeopathic remedies, do not give your horse his peppermint tea on this day.

If a condition in your horse is chronic you may need to look at using fluid extracts to help the body come back to balance before starting your horse on dried herbs. The herbal extracts will get you’re your horse over the “hump” and then using dried herbs will support him from that point on.

The Biochemic Tissue Salts, Mag Phos is my first choice for coughing horses. They are easy to administer as you give three tabs in each dose and as soon as they come in contact with your horse’s saliva, they begin to dissolve. If you have chosen the wrong remedy, they will not have an adverse affect.

Handy Hint: During the colder months when our older horses get a bit creaky with arthritic joints, simply add two or three slices of fresh ginger to a spare water bucket, change this every other day, and the hint of ginger in this water will help to warm his old joints. The hint of warmth the ginger provides in this amount also helps the body maintain a warmth to protect it from the “bugs” that take advantage of a cold body.

For our horses that are a bit stiff with their movements when the weather turns chilly there are a few approaches you can take to help them.

Traditionally herbs are chosen that are rich in minerals and vitamins that provide nutrients needed for joint repair along with diuretic actions to help remove excess metabolic wastes. Chosen herbs such as nettle, dandelion, shepherds purse, celery seed and parsley. However you may want to look at a general tonic to improve the blood flow in the tissues surrounding the arthritic joints so the muscles are more flexible. Such herbs might include yarrow, hawthorn, rosemary and ginkgo.

Finding the combination of herbs that best suits your horse can take some thought. You may want to address any pain your horse is suffering with the herbs meadowsweet or devil’s claw in the short term, while using some of the above herbs to feed the body from within.

When using herbs to address chronic conditions, consider if the horse needs a liver supporting herb like dandelion or burdock, or a lymphatic herb such as clivers to help with inflamed areas. The physiomedical herbalists of the 1800’s believed all disease came from “cold” so herbs that warm the body can also be considered.

For correct dosage rates on the herbs mentioned in this article please contact Carol or Ruth when placing your order.

(C) Catherine Bird 2009

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