In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Saturday, August 28, 2010

How Horses Heal

Restorative healing in Equus caballus.
Restoration strategies that recreate the horse's social grazing preferences facilitate and potentiate horse healing. Appropriate healing of many equine maladies is encouraged when the veterinarian provides appropriate initial treatment and subsequently carefully facilitates a scenario to provide the horse with abundant forage, friendship, and locomotion. 
Grazing pasture in an open setting with other horses, when appropriately orchestrated, has the potential to provide the most profound and often the most cost-effective healing of musculoskeletal infirmities and injuries. For conditions allowed to progress to lameness, time is required, often months. When musculoskeletal conditions are detected early, before lameness ensues, short term rest and restorative strategies encourage solid healing (days to weeks). Both long and short term healing are enhanced when the horse is content with the forage, friendship, and locomotion resources. Avoid unnecessary restrictions to locomotion whenever feasible.
The earlier inflammation is detected, the shorter the time period is required to heal. Healing in a social-grazing setting is a long-evolved trait of the horse. Horses acclimated to herd and pasture settings during their development respond best to restorative healing. 
Horsefolk need to take special care not to exceed the horse's adaptability regarding stabling and healing. 
Horses require a sense of comfort and security for physical and mental restoration (and maintenance). An adequate social grazing environment, or appropriate facsimile thereof, often provides the most comfort to the most horses. Horses provided with adequate socialization throughout their upbringing are most responsive to these strategies. For horses, comfort and security come from friendship, forage, and, most-critically, a near-constant casual locomotion. Young horses and newborns learn to be horses from the dam and herd, and foals are best served to develop with horses in an appropriate grazing environment, as well. Horses learn to socialize, communicate, graze, locomote, run at speed in close company, play, smell, balance, move, and compete from their mother along with the herd members.
Corral or stall rest is counterproductive to healing, as it deprives horses of all three healing essentials. Horses heal efficiently in a social grazing setting, not one of isolation and deprivation. To a horse, restoration, from the word rest, ideally implies grazing open country in a herd setting with abundant environmental resources; appropriate grasslands to graze and walk, salt, and appropriately placed clean water. The properly managed social grazing setting with the open view is the environment in which horses evolved to thrive and heal.


Healthy physical and mental development are best actualized in a social grazing environment. Neonates rely on their dam for critical early learning processes, including sensual development, locomotion, and early mobility.  The development of agility, coordination and athleticism in early life is critical to subsequent mental health and soundness. Abundant social contact, grooming, sleep, play, athletic development, and social bonding occurs during early herd life. Horses rely on constant contact and frequent interactions with other horses for healthy mental and physical development. 
Opportunities for the abundant expression of normal equine behavior and motion promotes healing. 
Unfortunately, healing opportunities of this sort are not available everywhere, especially in the more urban equestrian settings. Space and grazing limitations restrict healing opportunities. In these scenarios, the horse's preferences have to recreated with carefully designed and implemented ENRICHMENT strategies that provide some fashion of near constant forage ingestion that allow oral and physical and movement and motion. Stabling scenarios often restrict social expression and sensual contact. Horses are sensitive to these deprivations which results in stress, which complicates and delays healing. 
LOCOMOTION is essential for both horse health and healing. 
Husbandry, healing, and rehabilitation nearly always benefit from appropriately managed and free choice locomotion strategies that are constantly tailored to the horse's healing process. Locomotion is required not only for normal healing, but for normal digestion, respiration, hoof health, circulation, and all other physiologic functions of the horse. Stall rest is at the expense of many systems, especially the hoof and metabolic systems. Digestion and respiration are compromised by confinement and restriction of movement. Metabolic, digestive, circulatory, hoof health, musculoskeletal, and nervous, systems, as well as the all other systems and functions of the horse, are dependent upon adequate and appropriate locomotion for normal functioning and/or healing. 
For horses that are hospitalized, paddocked, stabled, and corralled; active implementation and re-creation of the social pasture setting is necessary to maintain health and promote healing. The absence of abundant forage, friends, and locomotion is detrimental to a stabled or hospitalized horse's health, if not welfare. Medical conditions are apt to deteriorate in the face of the deprivations created by stabling and hospitalization. 
Stalled horses heal poorly. In addition to appropriate medical treatment, veterinarians and stable managers must creatively provide horses with abundant socialization, forage, and locomotion to maintain health and facilitate healing. 
Horses also heal horsefolk, and those horsefolk that implement these healing strategies often experience a sense of healing themselves, it seems. The human/horse bond runs deep. Domestication of the horse is a co-evolving evolutionary process. The human perspective is being shaped by the horse's perspective these days. Appreciation of the science of equine behavior and equitation is a welcome change for the horse after centuries of considerable subjugation.
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