Alternative Therapy “Proof”

Some aspects of training are so sound, effective and firmly rooted in common sense they are above reasonable challenge. The same is true of products. Some are high quality, while others are ill-fitting, poorly designed and fall apart in short order.

When it comes to nutrition, health care and treatments, the issue is also clear: Does it help the horse or not’ If we find a product helpful, terrific. If it falls outside “traditional” nutritional or medical approaches, so be it. We are conservative here but not closed-minded.

We approach alternative therapies with a high degree of healthy skepticism, but we don’t dismiss them out of hand. Had we done so we would have laughed at gamma oryzanol, joint nutraceuticals and magnetic therapy — and we would have been wrong. However, we also look beyond the benefit to be sure that its use does not inadvertently harm the horse.

Proponents of alternative therapies are often their own worst enemies. By claiming their way is the only way, they make themselves ridiculous. A horse with a grapefruit-sized abscess draining pus needs antibiotics and possibly surgery. Period. Relying on extract of the newt’s third toe, massaging his eyeballs or any other alternative therapy is inviting complications. However, a horse with a superficial scrape may be treated as well with topical aloe or tea-tree oil as with an antibiotic cream.

This is not to say alternative therapies have only minor indications. Countless horses with chronic hind-end pain have mistakenly had their hocks treated for years when the real problem lay in the spine or pelvis and may have been amenable to acupuncture, physical therapy/massage, etc. In fact, they may have been the therapies of choice in those instances. But the way alternative therapies are often presented, with rhetoric from the middle ages, damages their credibility. An attempt at explaining results in a more scientific manner — even if incomplete — is preferable.

Just as bad, if not worse, as these alternative practitioners with ephemeral philosophies are scientific “purists” who reject out of hand any drug/therapy that has not been proven by scientific method.

If a particular supplement is given to 10 horses before a race and they improve an average of four lengths every time they are given it, statistics will say this is not a significant change. However, to the trainer holding a first-place check instead of fifth, it is a very significant change indeed. It’s not good enough for these ultra-right-wing scientists if you or I say the animal’s pain is improved or if the results are duplicated in another clinical setting.

Our bottom line is whether or not a product can help your horse. Our findings are not written in stone and may not apply equally to all horses. However, we do our trials without prejudice, as carefully as possible and under conditions that hopefully mimic your own. If our findings encourage researchers to dig deeper into why something works and how it may be improved, we’ll be thrilled. In the meantime we’ll continue our work with our own major focus — Will it work in your barn, on your horse’

’Til Next Month,

-Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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