Ellen Collinson Equine Iridologist and Herbalist
Most modern day trainers tend to feed modern day feeds, nuts, mixes, balancers, etc for their own convenience., whereas 50 years or so ago the main staple diet of all horses not just racehorses was good clean oats and good quality clean hay, also there was the old boiler boiling up barley and linseed for the evening mash, bran, salt, Guinness and a few eggs, I was always told no more than 6 eggs a week, otherwise too much protein, but they contain biotin and are very good for the hooves(2 to 4 weeks maximum). Seaweed was probably one of the first ‘supplements’ that was fed with very good results, as seaweed contains vitamins, naturally chelated minerals, trace elements and amino acids, is very high in iron, eliminates toxic build up from the body and is a supreme gland builder and assists oxygen into the bloodstream.
Then came the feed revolution, with many companies bringing out all sorts of feeds, feeds for foals/yearlings high in protein, levels which the foals/yearlings can not actually digest, and high levels of protein leach calcium out of the body, hence so many young flat horses now suffering from fractures and ‘bursting’, they may look big and fat and strong at the sales but they are often actually calcium deficient, which means that there bone density can be weak, their lung walls can be weak and that is why so many do not train on and do suffer from stress related injuries. A big problem with bagged processed foods is that they are fed dry, without soaking, therefore the starches are difficult to digest for equines. Many processed foods contain factory byproducts, mould inhibitors, preservatives and other fashionable ingredients such as molasses and now linseed - please see article 6 for dangers of feeding linseed more than once a week.
There are lower protein feeds for horses in training but they are still processed and the horses digestive system contrary to what many modern nutritionists would have you believe, are very delicate and cannot cope with the scientifically produced food, some obviously cope better than others, but it takes its toll sooner or later. Hence the reason horses are always ‘losing their form’ or getting ‘the virus’ or arthritis.
People say to me you can’t get good oats, yes you can, and what goes into the nuts and mixes, top quality or ordinary? there are plenty of farmers who grow good quality oats, and organic oats, you can buy good hay, however good meadow hay that has had no nitrogen on would actually be better than some seed hays that are pushed with nitrogen, it has been proven in Australia that nitrogen can act as a hidden handicapper.
People always ask about the calcium/phosphorous balance, that oats are too high in phosphorous, well you wouldn’t feed oats only, you always feed forage, and if it is available feed some alfalfa, this is incredibly high in calcium, it is also a diuretic, high in iron, vitamins and minerals and contains 8 digestive enzymes to aid the digestion.
Horses have to be 100% healthy not just fit to win races, horses can not be made to run faster than they can, but if they are healthy they will run as fast as they can.
These days whether it is down to the new training methods or to the new feeding methods, horses do not last as long as they used to, especially national hunt horses, years ago the same horses came out season after season, nowadays they last 1 whole season if they are lucky and some come back for a second season but not many.
Trainers all say that the feeding methods are easier, so what can be easier than putting a scoop of soaked oats and chaff into a trough and a feed of hay. As explained to one trainer the money he would save on the processed feed, the supplements, the vets bills etc, he could afford to employ a feed man, and I suppose there lies the problem, there are few good feedmen left.
Many modern trainers are also very sceptical about the benefit of feeding herbs; what they forget is that most of today’s pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plant extract, but unfortunately single compounds without the supporting compounds in the plant, can cause severe side effects and also many ‘viruses’ become resistant to them. .
The older members of the racing profession will remember the days when the trainers use to send out lads to pick Dandelions to give to the horses in with their lunch, this was not done just to give the lads something to do, it was because the trainers knew that Dandelions are a rich source of iron, calcium and copper, and that also the Dandelion plant, including the root is beneficial to both the liver and the kidneys. The other plant which is also very good for the liver is Milk Thistle. I called to a stud last autumn and we went to see a young horse that had come back from a Newmarket trainer, while we were standing watching the horse he was trying to get his head under the gate to reach for a plant, the field was a good pasture, not short of grass, the plant he was trying so vainly to reach was a Milk thistle, he knew himself that his liver needed some help probably due to the high concentrate ration of processed food that he had been on for so long.
Another “old” favourite of the old stud grooms was Comfrey, and many trainers still do grow and feed Comfrey to their horses. Comfrey is an amazingly powerful healer, especially for the lungs but also for ruptures, tears and bone, having the nick name knit-bone. It is also helpful in dealing with pulmonary haemorrhage and stomach ulcers.
Many years ago a trainer up in Scotland told me that one of his horses had had a very serious accident to a fore leg, very badly cut, the vet managed to stitch some of the wound but there was a lot of flesh missing, the leg was bandaged and the trainer was told she could go into a small paddock for exercise, the only paddock small enough was near the riverside. The trainer noticed the mare went over to a large bed of “weeds” and started to eat them, this occurred every day, on changing the dressing on the leg the vet was amazed at the speed of the healing, the leg healed perfectly with no scarring. The “weed” was Comfrey.
There are many “weeds” that also have amazing blood cleansing and anti-infection properties, plantain, which is the curse of many gardens and driveways is probably the greatest infection fighter of all, used both internally and externally, I was once asked if I had anything which might help draw poison from a fistulas wither, the infection had not responded to Antibiotics and had travelled right down the shoulder and into the top of the leg, a poultice of plantain and slippery elm was made up and placed on the wound, it was left on for 48 hours, when it was removed the head lad said it was like Mount Vesuvius erupting, all the puss just came bursting out through the wound on the wither, the wound then healed with no further complications.
A lady in Ireland told me that a recognised practice in the “old days” if a child got a cut knee or something similar, they would chew some plantain, then put the chewed plantain on to the wound to draw infection, and that the juice that was swallowed would kill the infection internally.
Cleavers, the sticky plant is also a powerful blood cleanser and diuretic. I first realised the properties of this plant when I was breeding and training greyhounds, often when we walked them one would stop and start to eat the ‘sticky plant’, usually it was a dog that was slightly off colour, most horses will eat them, a double handful a day would be sufficient.
Talking of wounds, the best wound powder that you can use on any wound is ground Black Pepper, just the normal black pepper that you buy from the supermarket. It has antiseptic properties and also stimulates the healing cells. It also allows infection to seep out, but does not allow infection in, it stings for a couple of seconds, I know because I used it on myself when a trailer door came down and split my head open and it was all there was. This is also how I know it works so well as it has on many other occasions.
Sue Cameron, bloodstock agent, had a weanling that cut its leg quite badly, I told her to try the pepper, she was very sceptical and loathe to risk trying this on a valuable weanling, however she did try it and now tells everybody to use black pepper, she said it was simply amazing. And of course apart from working it is so much cheaper to buy.
As far as an alternative to conventional Antibiotics, there are many herbs with anti-viral properties, and also immune boosting properties, many trainers including Amanda Perrett and Ann Duffield have used a herbal combination for the treatment of coughs and lung infections and have had excellent results and Jim Fitzgerald of Knockgriffin farm in Kentucky also used these herbs and found them very effective in the treatment of pneumonia and viral infections in foals and weanlings.
In the instance of horses coughing, conventional Antibiotics can suppress the cough and the irritation. Herbs will encourage the horses to cough up the mucus, thus eliminating the cause of the cough, and sometimes after the conventional treatments finished the cough often returns, this rarely happens with strong herbal combinations.
It is an interesting concept that many people do not associate with horses, is that certain foods produce mucus. Humans are always being told to cut down on Dairy products to stop the forming of mucus, however sugar is one of the most mucus forming foods, also if the liver can not tolerate, or is overloaded with processed food, this in turn will cause mucus to form in the blood stream and end up in the lungs. I have treated many “bursters” by treating the liver, and for that matter the kidneys, whereas the general consensus of opinion is that “bursters” always have a lung problem.
However when there is a lung problem, there are also herbs that can strengthen the walls of the lungs and certain herbs are specifically for the treatment of haemorrhage of the lungs. One horse that has responded well to these herbs is Tom Cobbler trained by Suzanna Hall in Kent, he won several races and has come out and won again without bursting since he has been on the herbs.
The liver can be helped by feeding a pre-prepared 'liver herbs' mix, or dandelions and milk thistle, the kidneys can also be helped by a pre mixed kidney herbs , or cleavers, dandelions, nettle and parsley, there are many other herbs but they are not always easily accessible. One of the main “symptoms” of an over loaded or malfunctioning liver is a tendency to hang or jump to the left, they are hanging away from the discomfort, and the reason they don’t do it on the gallops at home is because they are not put under the pressure at home that they are in a race.
The kidneys play such an important part in all horses and especially a racehorse, this is where the energy comes from. Point to point trainer Andrew Hickman had a horse nicknamed “seconditis” for that reason, he was always second, put him on to kidney herbs and “seconditis” won the next time he ran by 15 lengths!!!
These so called 'alternatives' have been around for thousands of years, in fact a book that was written in 1849 by the College of Veterinary Surgeons for druggists and pharmacists contains “cures” that are herbal and homeopathic. Some think the modern day drugs, many of which are derived from plant extract, are the “New Age Alternative”, unfortunately as I said before, these drugs can also have side effects and withdrawal periods, why risk that when there is a “natural alternative”