Holistic Medicine: Are We Listening?

by Dr. Raymond Q. Hyde, DVM

The concept of holism - viewing a being's health as part of a functioning whole - now appears to be an integral part of equine health care. But is the practice of holistic medicine just a passing fad? Will horse owners lose interest in having their equine health care provided in a holistic way? I don't think so. In fact, equestrians are seeking balance, harmony, and health for their horses and for themselves - more than ever!

The concept of holism has immersed itself in our culture in many ways, take the best sellers, The Horse Whisperer, a novel about a trainer using more humane techniques for training horses, and The Man Who Listens To Horses, an autobiography by Monty Roberts, a real life horse whisperer. Their popularity demonstrates our desire to understand the psychology of horses and to train them more humanely and communicate better with them.

This desire to understand more about horses, both physically and psychologically, is fundamental to equine holistic medicine. Caring for a horse with a medical problem as a complex and complete being is difficult and requires skill. One must make keen observations and evaluate the animal based on its natural physiological and anatomical systems and on equine behaviour and training methods.

Growing Physiological Knowledge

As our information base expands and our technological skills grow, horseowners are finding it harder to keep up with advances in equine medicine.

A good physical examination is now only part of a broad range of diagnostic capabilities. Radiography and xeroradiography, which form images of x-rays passed through the body, and the computerized tomography (CT) scan, where computers assemble a three-dimensional radiographic image, are “old hat” compared to a bone scan (nuclear scintography) and the nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which reads radio waves emitted by body tissue.

While relying on specialists for this detailed information and these difficult procedures, holistic practitioners must maintain a panoramic understanding of many areas of equine medicine and therapy.

Many of our best holistic practitioners are active or former equestrians. Their training in horsemanship was the foundation for their training in veterinary school and gave them the desire to keep learning more about ways to help horses.

These holistic practitioners have acquired skills - usually after graduating from veterinary school in acupuncture, accupressure, and massage therapy. They have also learned chiropractic, dentistry, hydrotherapy, and magnetic field therapy, a technique using magnetic fields to treat soft tissue and bone injuries.

Moreover, these practitioners have developed the field of equine sports medicine and physical therapy, expanding our general knowledge of how to train horses.