Lameness issues benefit from the healing capacity of nature and time.
A large percentage of horses that end up in rescues have soundness issues. On the surface, this may seem like something that greatly limits any possibility of re-homing them. But this is not necessarily the case.
Soundness Takes Time
When people give up on a horse with a lameness problem, it is often because there is no available treatment that will give predictable results in a reasonably short period. However, there is an approach that costs little to nothing more than routine care, and that works for even severe problems – time and “Dr. Green”.
I have rehabbed some “hopeless” cases by doing little more than turning them out for a year on several acres, preferably with varied terrain. Two examples are a racehorse that had several times bowed the superficial flexor tendon in both front limbs, and another horse with arthritis from fractures in his knee so extensive you could not even see the bones and joint spaces anymore. Both became sound after a year on turnout. The horse with the bows became a junior hunter champion on his first show out with his new owner!
A critical factor in the rehabilitation of a horse, regardless of the location or type of lameness, is hoof care. Barefoot is preferred, as there is nothing to prevent the horse from wearing the hoof and breaking over in the way he finds most comfortable. Meticulous attention to balancing is needed so that loads are distributed evenly through all structures of the leg. Failure to provide this solid, balanced base will sabotage efforts to restore soundness.
A well-maintained and balanced trim can even stop the progression of incurable conditions like navicular disease. Many soundness issues involving the feet actually have their origin in poor trimming and balancing.
The diet can be simple. Pasture or grass hay is all most horses in rehabilitation need, with a vitamin and mineral supplement that complements the regional mineral profile. Strive to keep the horse at a moderate body condition, avoiding excess weight. The ribs should be covered but still easily felt.
Unless pain is severe enough to interfere with eating, it is best to avoid medications. A horse at liberty on turnout will adjust his activity levels to match his comfort. You will need to make sure that any companions are compatible and not bothering the horse or forcing him to move. Sometimes the best placement for these horses can be in a field with a herd of cattle or sheep. These animals provide companionship and herd structure in a very calm environment.
When arthritis is an issue, supplementation with basic joint nutraceuticals like glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid can help the joints quiet down more quickly, minimizing permanent damage. If the joints are severely inflamed, hot and swollen, the horse can also benefit from antioxidant herbs like devil’s claw and turmeric. These help quench inflammation without all the negative effects of medications.
Nature has a remarkable capacity to heal, but it takes time. Because rescues are not under constraints to get results quickly, they can be the ideal place to get true and lasting natural healing. All you need to do is create the right conditions, then let time work its magic.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD, currently serves nutrition for over 30 years, Dr. Kellon is a for Horse Journal and John Lyons Perfect Horse and is the owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, a thriving private practice. A prolific writer, Dr. Kellon is the author of many best-selling books on a variety of medical and nutritional topics and has contributed to both lay and professional publications.