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Herbs for Endurance Horses

by Robert McDowell

As a Professional Herbalist I very much enjoy working with Endurance Horses and their owners.

These people know more about how their animals perform under stress than any other sport. They also see, and can measure, the effect of herbal programmes very quickly because they know exactly what heart rate and other recovery indicators to expect of their mounts at all stages of a ride.

Further, endurance riders are often low budget sports people given to sensible and simple commonsense solutions to problems.

The three keys to endurance are fitness and physical soundness, heart, lung and circulation efficiency and kidney health. I have the most arguments with people about the last of these, the kidney health, so I will deal with this first.

Kidney Health:

Typically, when I recommend that electrolytes are not given routinely as part of an endurance horses supplement program, orthodox Vets immediately respond by accusing me of giving dangerously misleading advice. This is easy to understand as they are often enough faced with serious cases of tying-up at vetting stations along a ride.

To quote David Brown B.V.Sc associated with NSW ERA in his response to an article of mine which appeared in an ERA Newsletter in September last year.

"Azsoturia/Rhabdomysis/Paralytic Myogobinuria are terms synonymously used with "tying-up". It is a serious condition and if left untreated may cause death due to shock and renal failure. Renal failure and shock cannot be treated using rosehips tea, dandelions and rescue remedy. The worst case of tying up is fatal and cannot be treated with "a herbal alternative to bute" … (and later on)… "it is reprehensible to spread misinformation… so contrary to known practice as to potentially compromise the life of an animal".

Horses in the wild and horses used as military mounts and transport over centuries were often called upon to run long and hard and I am sure a small number of them suffered at times from the symptoms of tying up after extreme demands. I don't know for sure, but I imagine that these few horses were given a little salt along the way and that was the end of it. I do know that none of them were force fed the stuff on a daily basis but left to seek out salt licks or replacement through their normal grazing.

The point I am making is that the routine administration to all horses of electrolytes and/or diuretics as part of a supplementation and training program only serves to weaken the kidneys making them more liable to fail under stress. I am not saying that one should be using Rosehips tea or Dandelion Leaves as first aid treatment in an emergency when the kidneys are failing, it far too late for that. This is missing the point however. What I am saying, and have proven time and time again, is that it is possible to rehabilitate kidneys damaged by over exposure to modern medico/commercial practices using such herbs. Also that regular exposure to these and other herbs will make your animals kidneys much less likely to fail and much more able to do the job they were designed to do.

Healthy kidneys also support healthy Adrenal Glands and there is nothing at all in the orthodox medical armory of drugs, supplements, advice or understanding which enhances the health of either organ so essential to endurance and performance.

The herbs I recommend to rehabilitate and support kidney and adrenal function are Rosehips, Dandelion and Borage.

Heart, Lung and Circulatory Efficiency:

Oxygen uptake in the lungs and the efficiency and viability of the circulation system is what powers the engine. This is not simply a matter of recommending Iron supplements in the vain hope that somehow this will be translated into better red blood cells. There are simple and powerful herbal circulatory, heart and lung tonics, which have been used through the ages to treat diseases of these systems and to rehabilitate them after illness. The herbs I recommend are Rosehips, Maritime Pine, Hawthorne, Elecampane, Rue, Nettle and Yarrow.

This combination offers support to the bone marrow's red blood cell production; contains vast amounts of iron in organic compounds easily assimilated; contains bioflavonoids including Rutin to protect the venous circulation and tonics supporting both the muscular and electrical efficiency of the heart.

Given to athletes, equine and otherwise in the peak of health these herbs both enhance performance and protect all these systems from damage and disease.

Fitness and Physical Soundness:

Physical fitness is much more in the field of the trainer than the herbalist but the one area which is never to be ignored is in the warm-up and warm-down.

Happily almost all endurance people regard these aspects of training as the most important part of a training session. There is almost nothing your horses cant do for you if you warm them up properly, protect them from overheating or chills during work and warm them down properly. The whole circulatory system including the kidneys need to be able to build up to the demands of the work and then to wind down and clear the blood of the products of heavy work efficiently.

The single most important herb supporting this process is Rosehips.

Physical soundness is very much in my domain. Simple herbs can aid in the maturity of all ligaments and bones. They certainly can dramatically speed the healthy and complete recovery from all injury large and small especially to the legs and hooves. There are specific herbal and homoeopathic substances which manage shock and assist in pain management. There are others, which can be carried on the ride and used as first aid to cuts and wounds on both horse and rider.

The understanding and practical application of these type of do-it-yourself practices will greatly reduce your need for the more heavy-handed, interventionist (and expensive) veterinary medicines and practices. There is also no reason you cannot support your horse's recovery from necessary surgical or medical procedures by using simple herbs.

The herbs that I recommend one becomes familiar with in the areas of fitness and soundness are Linseed, Millet, Comfrey, Arnica, Wintergreen, Calendula, Yarrow and White Willow.

All of you should carry and use Rescue Remedy on all riding and training sessions.



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