After years of practicing both conventional and holistic medicine for horses, I decided to compare the cost, effectiveness, and net results of managing and treating horses holistically versus conventionally.
In this article I compare results for the average trail horse that is ridden about 2-3 times a week. I have used average feed and veterinary costs for my area (Austin, Texas), and drug and supplement costs from a major horse supply catalog.
I then discuss the issues related to each area of care, including feed, supplements, vaccines, dewormers, and first aid. Stay tuned for different profiles in coming months, when I will compare horses in different disciplines, young horses, older horses, and broodmares.
Holistic Horse - Conventional Horse Feed Costs
Grain is slightly cheaper to feed and easier to store than hay, which makes the conventional horse slightly cheaper to feed on the one hand. On the other hand, the holistic horse, which has access to more hay, stays happy and entertained and is less likely to develop expensive habits and vices such as chewing on wood, cribbing, or weaving.
In the past, hay and oats provided all the nutrition a horse needed, but these days common farming practices do not produce feeds that are high in vitamins and minerals. Hoof quality is the first area to be affected by such poor nutrition, and few horses can maintain healthy feet on a diet of hay and oats alone. If you doubt this, just check any horse supply catalog. The one I checked offered 22 topical hoof conditioners and 28 separate supplements. Cell Tech’s Super Blue Green Algae offers a wide range of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants in a whole food form. It is inexpensive to feed, promotes healthy feet, and supports the horse in all aspects of health.
Some people will choose not to vaccinate at all while others will choose to use more vaccines than the ones I’ve listed in the trail horse comparison. I believe that over-vaccination is one of the most common triggers for chronic diseases such as laminitis and uveitis, and contributes to allergic conditions. Stressing the horse’s system with over-vaccination can also affect the digestive system, leading to mineral deficiencies. Stress also decreases the amount of healthy bacterial flora in the gut, increasing the likelihood of colic.
We are fortunate to have some fairly safe chemical dewormers such as Pyrantel and Fenbendazole, yet some people still prefer using natural products to support the horse’s digestive and immune systems rather than using chemical dewormers. Regardless of which method you use, it is wise to double check your program with fecal exams at least twice a year.
When I practiced strictly conventional medicine I found that most horses suffered from minor injuries or infections at least several times a year. These minor emergencies kept me busy, and because they were so common most of my clients started keeping drugs on hand and learned to treat these conditions themselves.
When I began to treat my patients more holistically, with fewer vaccines and better nutrition (including the use of probiotics such as Acidophilus), I noticed that the horses had less and less need for drugs. My patients no longer needed bute or antibiotics for minor cuts and punctures. These wounds healed quickly and easily with no loss of riding time. Gone also was the aggravating chronic nasal discharge that often kept horses out of work for weeks at a time.
A holistically managed horse with a healthy immune system will often run a fever for a short period of time when exposed to a virus or bacteria. This response slows the pathogen’s growth and deprives it of nutrients. A short course of probiotics will help support the horse during this time. Once the fever breaks, the horse bounces back quickly with little nasal discharge or cough. These horses then go right back to work without concern about relapse. Conventionally managed horses taking anti-inflammatories and antibiotics will often get better in the short term, but then relapse or develop a chronic nasal discharge.
The Results Are In!
The trail horse example I have used above precisely demonstrates what I have experienced in my practice. While it costs about the same to manage a horse either conventionally or holistically, I’ve found that holistically managed horses are much healthier overall, which means fewer chronic problems and more days of riding time. In fact, conventionally managed horses have about 7 times the number of sick days as holistically managed horses.
Last update on 2021-06-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API