Every time I am out west, I am surprised by the roads. They go ruler straight for miles! It’s nothing like our roads in northern New England. We have all these hills, lakes, streams, huge granite boulders and other things in the way of road builders. Any road around here running straight for a mile is rare. So, when I plan a drive to the next farm I usually have three choices in how to get there. Two are pretty much even as far as travel time, and then there is the very roundabout way which is often more scenic and may have the advantage of going by a good donut shop.
Health care choices today are a little bit like New England roads. As owners of animals we have options to choose from in arranging for their health care. The vet who makes a call to your farm is probably mostly mainline. He or she graduated after 8 years of college and practices medicine by the book. We keep up with current trends, but tend to walk a narrow road to keep within the currently accepted “standard of practice.” Even so, more and more veterinarians are exploring other options such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and laser therapy. Of course, veterinarians aren’t the only ones working on horses in the healing arts. Horse owners often consult with and use the services of communicators, massage therapists, reiki practitioners, aroma therapists, and many others. The current thinking seems to be “whatever works.”
In driving on unfamiliar roads in our part of the world it’s easy to get into trouble. It is becoming common practice to use a GPS device rather than consulting a map. I use my GPS on occasion and more than once have found myself in the middle of a very sketchy road with no way to turn around. It is also possible to go down some wrong roads in making health choices.
I am not saying that any or all alternative therapies are wrong, but I am saying that you need to use some thought in their selection. Here’s an example. Last fall I was asked to see a horse that had a severe hind leg lameness for two weeks. Because I have a reputation for having a relatively open mind about other therapies, the owner confided that when the horse came up lame she first hired a communicator to check in with the horse. As a result of that conversation she had a massage therapist out. The therapist found several knotted muscle groups in the hind end. Two treatments later the horse had not improved, and our practice was called. I was able to go out the next day. My lameness exam revealed an increased digital pulse going to the foot of that lame leg. With my hoof testers and thermograph I was able to locate a hot and very sore spot. My hoof knife found and released an abscess. By the next morning the horse was sound. Yes, there were muscle knots in the hind end, but they were the result of the horse’s abnormal stance trying to relieve some of the pain he had been going through for 2 weeks. The owner was out $150 before I ever got there.
I am not saying that veterinarians have all the answers. I am also not making a stand that alternative or complementary therapy is not valid or effective. I myself go to an outstanding chiropractor and an excellent massage therapist once a month. I’d hate to face daily life without their services. I also recognize that it sometimes takes more than one discipline to alleviate health problems in horses. I have come to appreciate the competence of many non-veterinary therapists who work on horses, and often send them referrals.
What I am saying is that as a horse owner you owe it to your animal to take some well-traveled and safe roads before others when your horse is acutely lame or sick. In general, because of their years of training and experience, veterinarians can usually pin point issues fairly quickly. Then, with the help of specific blood tests, nerve blocks, digital ultrasound and X-rays and other great tools, they can usually be confident as to what and where the problem is. My suggestion is that if you have a lame or sick horse, a call to an equine vet is probably the first one that should be made.
–David A. Jefferson, DVM