Alternative Equine Medicine

Alternative Equine Medicine

Fact or Fiction?

By H.G. (Bill) Barnes DVM MS PLLC

Fact. There is a dramatic paradigm shift in the animal health care world, not only in small animals but also in the treatment for horses. This new paradigm, “way of looking” is called Integrative or alternative Medicine. It is based on a more holistic approach to the treatment of animal disorders than the present traditional medical model, which focuses mainly on pharmacological solutions, needles and pills. (2016, Vet. Inst. of Integ. Med). Complimentary Integrative Medicine (CIM) is one of the fastest growing clinical sciences in all veterinary medicine. The explosion has already been seen in human medical treatment. It is estimated that 14 billion dollars in revenue was generated from treatment of humans that was not based on traditional (allopathic) western medicine in 2014, up two billion dollars from 2012! ( The purpose of this article is to help relieve some confusion as to the definition of alternative medicine and to elucidate the differences in the many diverse treatment types. It is also important to understand the causes driving the development and of the interest horse owners have in CIM?

The term alternative medicine is not specific and means different things to different people. It has also become divisive at the expense of patient health. For example, traditional western doctors, as a group, do not give much credence to therapies that fall outside of the MD, DO, and DVM allopathic form of medicine. It is the position of the American Veterinary Medical Association and American Medical Association, that the treatment and results, cannot be substantiated by evidence based medicine (statistically) and, therefore, should not be considered as a main stay of health and wellbeing. Folks, who practice CIM, are primarily basing their diagnosis and treatments on the direct results of the individual patient. Much time is wasted from each practitioner defending and arguing his principles as the correct form. The new direction that we see in equine integrative medicine is being driven by you: the client. This in my opinion is due to the lack of results with traditional medicine and the inability to provide effective treatment for performance and wellbeing of your horse.

Complementary Integrative Medicine is not emergency medicine; it is not crisis medicine. Although, CIM can be used to augment traditional allopathic medicine. The role that the MDs, DOs and DVMs play in trauma medicine and surgery is vital and cannot be replaced. “Regular Docs” as we have known all our lives, who protect our country from the Ebola virus, stamp our food, deliver our foals, sew our wounds, treat cancer, and listen to our hearts, make their diagnosis based on the effect of disease. This means, mainly in the presence of pathology. Yet, we all know the importance of preventative medicine and exams. The doctor or persons, lay persons too, who practice CIM primary focus is to work in front of pathology to prevent illness and preserve health. They look for the causes of the disease and simply do not treat the effects of illness by bringing the body into its normalized state, its balanced state, in a state of homeostasis. Interestingly enough, the body wants to do this all on its own, but often gets “stuck” out of balance. Practitioners of integrative complementary medicine treat the whole horse, the whole human, not just the cut, not just the effects, but the causes.

As a horse owner and rider, you are asking your animal to perform specific tasks within the specific disciplines required. Not unlike what you do when you go to work at your own job. The biggest difference and the effect on all of the horse’s body systems is that he/she is required to be athletic. You, as the rider, have the ability to detect asymmetry in a gait, differences in behavior and attitude at a far greater precision than any diagnostic machine or laboratory test. You see it; you feel it. You even can smell the differences to know your horse is out of balance. That is what it means to be a horseman/woman. The process of not feeling well leads to poor performance and certainly a non fulfilment of your expectations. More importantly, poor performance caused by immobility leads to lameness. Pain is the main reason we all seek medical attention. The horse is no different. The language equis tells us is the same in our horses. So, how do we figure out what treatments work? When should we consider an “alternative treatment”? Well, Joe down the road tried some of this remedy and had good luck, what the heck?

Fiction. Ever since the beginning of medicine, there have been lots of different remedies for the treatment of the maladies of horses.In the words of an old friend “This remedy will treat colds, sore holes, pimples in the windpipe, and guaranteed to stimulate the mind”!There are a lot of treatments that don’t work, that are not regulated, have no scientific support and are a waste of money. Beware of people who call themselves equine alternative therapists who have no real scientific training. The universal credo of all medicine is “Above all, do no harm”.

A simple definition of the word alternative is: offering or expressing a choice, not usual or traditional, existing or functioning outside of the established society. Alternative medicine is defined by Wikipedia as any treatment with healing effects that does not come from evidence gathered using the scientific method. Some would argue that there is no such thing as alternative medicine, just medical treatment that works or it doesn’t.

There are many accepted integrative treatments that are based on scientific, anatomical and physiological principles. Specific standards and practice guidelines have been established that are regulated by each discipline and by state law. The list that makes up CIM treatments is long and can be daunting. A few of these treatments include acupuncture, osteopathic medicine, and chiropractic medicine, massage therapy, myofascial release and physical therapy.

The continued growth and the acceptance of Complementary Integrative Medicine by the public and physicians alike, has been in part, brought about by successful integration with traditional allopathic treatment. Specifically, there is a reduction in healing time and improved performance.Conventional medicine practices are now being used in conjunction with recently emerging manual manipulative techniques and other direct and indirect whole body therapy approaches at major medical centers across the US. This unification provides a coordinated treatment strategy that is best for the patient. That strategy encompasses the treatment of horse from the stand points of both cause and effect. There is indeed a movement toward an era of interdisciplinary cooperation with conventional medicine and surgery for the treatment of our horses that has led to relief from pain, return to function and a better quality of life in health.

You, as a horse owner, have the choice to treat your horse with whatever method of treatment that you feel will be beneficial. You, as the client, are demanding results. It is easy to see that horse owners often take greater responsibility for their animals’ health and wellbeing than they do their own health. It is important to be informed in order to make these decisions.You will get better results this way than from consultation with your horse physic.

Dr. Barnes now specializes in Osteopathic medicine and manual manipulation of the spine, cranium and viscera, (OMM). This treatment centers on correcting immobility of the spine similar to chiropractic treatment but also includes evaluation of lack of mobility in internal organs. After 26 years as a local equine surgeon, results with OMM can reduce the need for surgery as the treatment works in front of pathology. Dr. Barnes continues to offer ambulatory service to clients as well as routine veterinary treatment for horses a, pre-purchase and lameness examinations.

21 Clubhouse Drive

Saratoga Springs NY 12866



Last updated September 10, 2019