Some of the less-conventional therapies described in this article are newer and perhaps unfamiliar, while others, although centuries-old, are now gaining traction in equine health. Of course, these or any other treatments should never replace traditional veterinary care or be performed without prior advice from, or in consultation with, a veterinarian.
Equi-Bow is a bodywork program and system of owner training and practitioner qualification/certification designed by Canadians Cheryl Gibson and Simone Usselman-Tod.
Equi-Bow is a “neuromuscular re-patterning technique,” explains Gibson. Rolling-type touches, often corresponding to acupressure and trigger points, bring awareness to restricted areas in muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. The brain processes the information and sends impulses to help the body realign itself, she says.
Another major benefit is “rebalancing the autonomic nervous system” adds Gibson. “Much like humans, horses may exist in a state of almost perpetual anxiety, which adversely affects their entire system. When we think that the autonomic nervous system governs about 80 per cent of bodily functions, it’s important to provide a way for the sympathetic [fright/flight] response to balance with the parasympathetic [rest/digest] response.”
Gibson says Equi-Bow has shown clear clinical evidence of affecting digestion, respiration, and lymphatic system function, improving posture, facilitating optimal movement, releasing persistent tensions, and softening scar tissue and adhesions.
“The list goes on,” Gibson says. “I often think that if Equi-Bow simply took animals out of the ‘alarm’ state, it would be well worth it, but it accomplishes a multitude of other benefits in a surprisingly non-invasive and gentle way.”
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT, or cold-laser therapy) uses low-power red and near-infrared wavelengths of light on injuries or wounds to improve soft tissue healing and relieve acute and chronic pain, explains animal natural health specialist Jessie McCowan. She uses LLLT among many other healing modalities in her practice, which serves the area north of Toronto, ON.
During treatment, a portable battery- or electric-powered handheld unit is applied to the skin on the affected area. Highly condensed beams of light enter underlying tissues in a single beam (commonly used instead of needles to stimulate acupuncture points) or pulses.
“Because of the low power nature of these lasers, the effects are biochemical and not thermal and, therefore, can’t cause heat damage to tissue,” says McCowan. “When low-level laser light waves penetrate deeply into the skin, they optimize the immune responses of the horse’s blood. This has both anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects by supplying vital oxygen and energy to every cell.”
McCowan says the five primary benefits of LLLT are speeding of tissue repair; increased collagen formation; production of the body’s natural painkillers; improved lymphatic drainage; and increased development of blood vessels.
Earlier this year, Polish veterinarians from the Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences published an overview of laser therapy research, noting that while its use is very important in human physiotherapy, in veterinary medicine it’s “new, and so far, poorly examined.” Despite minimal standardized testing parameters related to wavelength, energy dose and number and frequency of treatments, the review says equine study results are overall “very promising” and that interest is growing among veterinarians because light therapy is non-invasive, safe, simple, and low-cost.
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF)Therapy
PEMF sends a pulsing magnetic field from a portable mechanical device through copper wire contained in a soft, flexible rubber coil tube up to 40 centimetres long into body tissues, says Keely Gibb, owner of Cavallo Pulse Therapy in Alberta.
With each pulse, cell membranes are gently pulled, she explains. In the off-pulse phase, the cell is relaxed; in the on-phase, the cell becomes stimulated and expands. Through the process it’s believed the cell membrane becomes more permeable, allowing the cell to better absorb oxygen and nutrients while releasing waste and toxins.
During a session, the coil is moved over the horse’s body. Areas of soreness or damage are identifiable because “they are the only ones that show pulsing or twitching,” says Gibb. The coil is then held in those problem areas for two to three minutes, depending on the severity of the pulsing.
Gibb says PEMF can be used for health maintenance and treating injuries, increasing energy, relieving pain, decreasing inflammation, repairing and regenerating damaged or diseased tissue, and accelerating bone and wound healing.
Horses find it relaxing and enjoyable, Gibb adds. “Lots of licking, yawning and stretching. Even the riders enjoy their own treatment.”
Very little scientific research has been done on PEMF in animals, but many studies (2,000 or more) have been published related to its use in human medicine. It’s particularly well-known as a bone fracture treatment.
Bioenergetics (BIE) considers that every substance possesses a unique vibrational frequency – an electromagnetic “signature.” If the body doesn’t recognize a substance upon exposure, allergy-like reactions can result, explains Ontario BIE practitioner Julie Tibbles. BIE works to reintroduce the signatures of various stressors, allowing the body’s cells to achieve a more balanced state and ultimately symptom relief.
Tibbles began doing BIE on humans about five years ago, expanding into horses with her company Equine Allergenius after her daughter Abby began riding lessons on a horse with a persistent cough. The owner and trainer told Tibbles that Whinny had allergies. Turns out, his problem was dust.
“I tried testing and working with Whinny and right away he had great results. I believe we did four sessions and he’s been fine ever since.”
Tibbles does biofeedback analysis testing where the horse is exposed to small vials of potential stressors (i.e. dust, plants, hormones). Using a surrogate (usually the owner or trainer) who touches the vials/stressors to the horse, Tibbles muscle tests the person to determine what the animal could be reacting to. It’s believed muscle weakness can indicate exposure to certain allergens. Once possible stressors are identified, they are reintroduced using a small machine that touches different acupressure points on the body. “This allows the body to recognize things it didn’t recognize before and the body stops reacting to them.”
Tibbles also recently introduced DNA biofeedback testing whereby clients mail in samples of their horse’s tail or mane hair. Tibbles places the hair on a test plate and, based on information the owner provides about the horse, she tests for certain stressors. If there’s a resistance to the stressor’s vibrational frequency “then there’s likely a reaction to it,” explains Tibbles. She then creates and mails back a unique homeopathic remedy and a detailed report of the testing. After two weeks, she performs a retest and a new remedy is prepared. This is done three times, allowing the body to “recalibrate” its response to the stressors, deal with them in a balanced state and relieve symptoms.
Bach Flower Remedies
Renowned physician Dr. Edward Bach concluded almost 80 years ago that his patients’ illnesses were directly related to their negative states of mind, explains McCowan. “Flower essences are a safe, natural method of wellness treatment. These are dilute infusions of flowers and tree buds that can improve the mental state, which then influences the physical state.”
Drops are given orally – in feed or applied on a carrot – a few times a day. Flower essences are most commonly used to help horses with issues of aggression, fear, depression, lack of confidence, separation anxiety, hyperactivity, and concentration. “Essences can be especially helpful during or after a traumatic experience such as a thunderstorm, an aggressive encounter with another animal, loss of an owner or friend, injuries, surgery, etc.”
Essential oils have been used for centuries for medicinal, cosmetic, and religious purposes. These natural volatile (easily turned into vapour or gas) aromatic compounds “are found in seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants; they protect plants against environmental threats as well as provide beneficial properties,” says McCowan. Oils are placed directly on the horse, inhaled, or occasionally placed in feed. She advises using only certified pure therapeutic grade oils. “Essential oils are highly concentrated when distilled for purity, potency, and efficacy, and are always diluted properly before use aromatically or topically.”
McCowan says essential oils have been shown to improve several ailments and behavioural issues. While there’s no scientific research on iridology or Bach flower remedies in horses, a handful of studies on essential oils have been performed. For example, 2012 research out of Louisiana’s McNeese State University suggests lavender aromatherapy can “significantly decrease” a horse’s heart rate after an acute stress response. And Spanish researchers investigating nine essential oils, determined oregano and thyme could be used to control a type of bacteria that affects a horse’s skin and mucous membranes