There are two main types of natural remedies that are administered orally (by mouth) to horses: herbal and homeopathic remedies. People often get confused between the two. I’d like to briefly explain the differences between the two.
Homeopathy is a form of medicine very difficult to describe. This is because no one, not even the best of homeopaths, knows exactly how it works. Homeopathic remedies consist of very diluted solutions of substances to resolve symptoms that they would, in higher doses, cause. Say, for example you have a red itchy rash – a homeopathic dilution of urtica (stinging nettle, which would normally cause a red, itchy rash) would cure it.
The original substance in the dilution is usually natural – of plant, animal or mineral origin. This is progressively diluted (1 part to 100 each time), with violent shaking each time, up to 30 times. In molecular terms, it is very unlikely that any of the original substance exists in the final dilution. Yet somehow, a “memory” of the original substance remains and this triggers a healing response in the horse’s body.
Herbal medicines are not diluted in this way. They are usually administered in the concentrated form or as a relatively strong solution. Consequently, they do not have the “opposite to expected” effect that homeopathic remedies do. (In other words, stinging nettle in an undiluted form causes a red itchy rash.)
Herbs consist of a “cocktail” of molecules, some of which are therapeutic in some way, some not. In fact, the effects and sometimes even the identities of all of the molecules present in herbs are not always known. Scientists, trying to pin down the therapeutic action of herbs to one molecule have come up with problems. For example, the anti-depressant qualities of St John’s Wort were attributed to a molecule in the plant called hypericin. But synthetically manufactured hypericin had relatively little anti-depressant action. It was then discovered that several other molecules present in St John’s Wort contributed to the anti-depressant action. (Message: don’t mess with nature!)
Herbalism is a much older art than homeopathy. The use of herbs dates back to the Ancients Hippocrates (468 BC). Homeopathy was developed by a German doctor called Samuel Hahnemann in 1796.
The use of both forms of medicine, as well as other alternative therapies, is growing in recent years, for both humans and animals. This is partly a response to the failure of synthetic pharmaceuticals to treat the problem as a whole. Doctors and vets have tended to prescribe drugs to treat the symptoms of a disease, instead of treating the root problem. Holistic practitioners, on the other hand, using both homeopathic and herbal medicines where appropriate, look at the entire picture and treat each individual uniquely. Also, instead of treating the horse after catastrophe has struck, natural medical practitioners believe in maintaining good health in order to prevent disease. This said, it must be remembered that, in some circumstances, it is vital to call a vet and in no circumstances would it be wise to delay this.
This article is not intended to advocate either discipline – Herbalism or Homeopathy. It is intended to advocate a holistic approach to horse care.
Disillusionment with modern synthetic medicines has bought about a gradual, but definite growth in natural medicine. In recent years this has become known as the “herbal renaissance”. This trend, which began in humans, has extended to horses and other animals. Horse owners are no longer relying solely on vets for advice. They are becoming more and more likely to consult alternative practitioners such as homeopaths, herbalists, chiropractics, etc.
In the words of Wendy Pearson of the Equine Research Centre in Ontario, Canada: “The way of the future is the way of the past”.