Alternative Therapies Made Simple, Part 1
The first in a series of articles about alternative therapies

Natural medicines work with the body's vital force and self-healing ability.

A lot of big words are heard when there is talk of natural horse medicines and treatments, such as alternative, complementary, holistic, and integrative - but what do they mean? Actually, they mean almost the same thing. These words, and the therapies that they describe, have a lot in common.

What does alternative mean? It means 'another choice', so it means a choice of care or treatment other than the usual medicine of drugs and surgery (known as 'conventional' medicine), for example.
Complementary means 'mutually supplying each other's need' and comes from the word 'complement' meaning 'something that completes or makes whole or perfect'.
Holistic means 'the whole made up of interacting parts' and used to be spelled 'wholistic'.
Integrative means 'to unite, or blend into a whole'. This describes both the way the body functions, and the way different treatments can be used together.
Conventional (thought of as the opposite of 'alternative') means 'formed by agreement, conforming to accepted standards', and 'lacking originality or individuality'.
Natural is a pretty common word, and it means 'of nature', or 'in accordance with nature'.
Those other big words - except for 'conventional' - are natural.

So… Natural = Holistic = Alternative = Complementary = Integrative, because they have these beliefs in common:

-The mind, body, and spirit work together as one whole part.
These natural treatments work with all the aspects of the horse - the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual parts. Physical is the body, emotional is the mood, mental is the intelligence, and I like to think of the spiritual as the energy (think of a 'spirited' horse!). For example, when a massage is given, it stimulates blood flow (physical) and makes the horse feel good, during and after (emotional, mental, and spiritual).

-Proper nutrition and lifestyle are the most important factors in maintaining health and preventing and treating disease; prevention is better than cure.
There is a saying, "Without proper nutrition, medicine is of no use. With proper nutrition, medicine is of no need." Horses need healthy, natural foods like grasses and other plants to meet their needs for growth and development, maintenance, and repair. Horses also need to live in as natural an environment as possible. Providing these needs is important for their emotional, mental and spiritual health. Many things are done to our horses that they don't need, and that actually work against them, like stabling, shoeing, clipping, and mane-pulling. (This will be covered in more detail in another part of this series.)

-The body has a built-in intelligence for self-healing, called the vital force.
If we get a small cut, it can heal with no help from anyone. The body is made to heal itself, and to know how to do it the best way. This natural intelligence can, however, be damaged by unnatural living, an unhealthy environment, and accidents. For example, health and the immune system can be confused or deranged by the misuse of drugs and vaccinations, and toxins, causing allergies and auto-immune diseases.

-Every individual is different and treatment is chosen to fit the patient, not the disease.
Natural treatments look at the horse as an individual, not as a cookie-cutter horse. No two horses are alike, and every horse will respond in its own way to life, and to treatment.

-Natural medicines work with the body's vital force and self-healing ability.
When a horse becomes ill, natural therapies try to help the body do what it would naturally do to get well, unlike conventional medicines that mask the problem but don't cure it. Think of having a cold - the nose drains to get rid of the dead cells and garbage from the 'germ-fighting war' going on, and when we take medicine to stop that drainage, we work against the body's natural healing methods. Strengthening the body and the immune system overpowers invaders and disease.

-The body needs time and rest to heal and restore itself properly.
An injured or sick horse needs time to heal, as well as the healthy food and natural environment it needs.

-Natural medicines are gentle and do no harm; they can be very effective without side effects.
In general, natural treatments are very safe. Anything can be dangerous if it is misused or overdone, however, so do consult with professionals before considering any treatments.

Natural therapies are available to anyone, and you can learn to use some of them yourself. You can even improve your relationship with your horse by actively participating in the healing process.

To be continued…

Some helpful books:
A Lifetime of Soundness, by Hiltrud Strasser, Dr.Vet.Med. (
Natural Horse Care, by Pat Coleby (