Herbal Programs for the Equine


 Treating the Standardbred Herbally: Respiratory Infections

By Loryhl Davis

 My horse has a recurring respiratory infection and he’s not a bleeder.  He’ll race poorly, I’ll have him scoped and he’s full of mucus. The vet will put him on antibiotics, the infection is cleared up and I’ll get one good race out of him, and then, in his next start, he’s sick with the same thing all over again.  Is there any long-term herbal treatment I could use on him to combat this problem? 

Herbs can probably help this animal, but a temporary change in its living conditions would probably help even more, if you can do it.

I am not a vet and I have never seen your horse, but your question gave me some clues.  The horse is racing, so its overall health can’t be all that bad.  Antibiotics knock down the problem, so a bacterial infection is involved.  Recurring infections means that the immune system is not doing its job.

The problem shows up in the lungs, so there is probably some weakness there, but the horse doesn’t bleed, so the blood vessels in the lungs are strong.  The problem likely compounds itself as excessive mucous provides bacteria with an ideal breeding ground where the white blood cells can’t get at them.

Like sewage from cities, the bacteria produce toxic waste chemicals, which build up in the mucous and enter the bloodstream through the thin-walled lining of the lungs.  The blood carries these toxins to every part of the body and one or more allergies may also be involved in making the problem worse.

My strongest recommendation, if you can do it, is to try letting the animal heal itself; the way horses have healed themselves for millions of years before racetracks were invented.

Put the horse out on good pasture full of good grasses and a variety of other plants and bushes like wild rose and saskatoon.  Lung problems are commonly related to ventilation and the combination of fresh food, fresh air, exercise and sunlight is the life the horse was designed for.  Anything in your barn or your feed that the animal may be allergic to won’t be around.

If your horse is tied to the track for the time being, there are herbs which have been used for centuries to clean out and tone up the lungs and to boost the body’s ability to fight off infection.  Two of them, garlic and ginger, are carried in your grocery store.

I generally prefer to work with herbs in blends.  My experience has convinced me that when an animal has a chronic weakness, every organ and system of the body is involved.  Your horse’s lungs are not operating in a jar on a shelf.  Good formulas use compatible herbs, which accentuate and complement each other to heal the body as a whole.

For your horse, I would definitely recommend garlic, an excellent herb for building up the immune system.  This process could take one to six months, depending on the severity of the problem.  Garlic works as a natural antibiotic, helps the body get rid of excess mucous, reduces inflammation and improves circulation.    The benefits of garlic will show up in the coat, which improves to a high gloss with dapples. Garlic is also used as a natural wormer and an anti-arthritic. 

During World War 1, garlic was widely used to control wound infections.  In 1916, the British government put out a call for tons of garlic, offering to buy as much as people could grow.  Juice from the garlic bulbs was diluted with water and applied to the wounds on swabs of sterilized sphagnum moss.  It worked well.

When plague struck the city of Marseilles in 1722, a concoction called “Four Thieves Vinegar” was reported to be effective in protecting people from the disease.  Four thieves invented it who used to it protect themselves while they robbed the dead bodies of plague victims.  After their capture, they confessed the formula and everyone started using it.  The principle ingredient was garlic.

You can use either fresh or dried garlic.  Fresh herbs are better but dried herbs are less trouble.  For maintenance, I recommend feeding one ounce of garlic powder or three to six ounces of fresh garlic per day. For acute cases, double this dosage.  We handle regular strength Chinese garlic plus a Venetian garlic concentrate that blasts out your sinuses and a 50-50 blend of the two.

I have developed three herbal blend formulas which would be likely to benefit this horse.  "S'not a Problem" is good for reducing mucous production in animals with chronic respiratory conditions.  "Lung Distance Runner" is a lung tonic, which contains natural expectorants and herbs traditionally used to soothe the tissue of the mucous membranes.  It is designed to promote the overall health of the lungs, allowing them to function more efficiently.  “Lung Distance Runner” includes Chinese Red Jujube Dates, which help the body to assimilate the other herbs more efficiently.

I would also recommend feeding this horse an ounce a day of rose hips for two to three months.  Rose hips, one of nature’s richest sources of Vitamin C, help to build the immune system.  They also contain bioflavenoids, which help to heal the fine tissues in the lungs.

My liquid cough syrup blend, "Hack No More", is effective on some recurring coughs, but it won’t help much if heavy allergies are involved.  If you suspect allergies, talk to your vet about having the horse tested.  You can also watch to see if there is any pattern in what the animal is eating and breathing just before the symptoms get bad.

If the problem is acute, you can use the old practice of letting the animal breathe Coltsfoot smoke.  In my experience, horses like the smell, and smoke is one of the best ways to get the active natural ingredients to the surface of the lungs where the problem is most acute. 

To do this, wad an ounce of Coltsfoot into a ball , place the ball in an ashtray and light one side of it.  Blow out the flames and the ball will smolder.  Pass the smoldering ball under the horse’s nostrils a comfortable distance away.  Be calm and move slowly, letting the horse decide how much smoke it wants to inhale.

Coltsfoot is an excellent herb, but it must be used with care.  Excessive amounts over long periods do not increase benefits and may cause problems.  I don’t recommend smoking a horse more than once a day for five days in a row.

I blend small amounts of Coltsfoot into “Lung Distance Runner” and “S’not a Problem.”  It helps to soothe and heal the lungs.  Always check with an experienced herbalist before feeding an animal straight Coltsfoot.

Ginger is another herb benefits the body in a number of ways.  It helps keep the immune system and the digestive system working at peak performance and it helps the body maintain proper levels of blood sugar.  Ginger is also used to suppress arthritis and is included in “Hack No More.”

To feed it directly, take a piece of fresh root the size of the end of your thumb from the last knuckle to the tip.  Chop it up and add it to your horse’s feed once a day.  Don’t get carried away.  Too much ginger can irritate the lining of the horse’s mouth.

Keep in mind that each horse if different and some experimenting may be required to develop the best herbal program for a particular animal.  In almost all cases, herbs are easier on the body than drugs and they work in harmony with the body’s natural healing mechanisms. This process usually takes time to show full results.  You know your animal better than anyone else, so trust your impressions.

I believe your horse would benefit from the purging and fasting program described in the book “Herbal Handbook for Farm & Stable” by Juliette DeBairacli Levy (Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA).  This excellent book describes the veterinary herbal traditions of the European country folk and the gypsies who have measured their wealth by their horses for centuries.      

Another approach that might help this horse is aromatherapy which carries the active ingredients of the herbs in vapor form directly to the lining of the lungs.  For this horse I would recommend the essential oils of Camphor, Eucalyptus, lavender and Pine alone or in combinations.   

You can rub a few drops of the essential oil around the horse’s nostrils, apply the oil to the nose-band or mix it with oil or camphor oil and rub it on the horse’s chest.  For more information about aroma-therapy, I recommend the book “Complete Aroma-therapy Handbook” by Susanne Rizzi (Sterin)

Acupuncture can also be very effective for asthma and respiration problems and works very well in conjunction with other modes of therapy.

In homeopathic medicine the active ingredients are administered in vanishingly small doses.  Based on my own experience, I am convinced that it is very effective with horses.  If the problem is caused by an allergy, it should be helped by giving Antimonium Tartaricum, 30cc, beginning at the onset of symptoms. 

If the condition starts out with a fever, try Belladona, one ml.  Never feed a horse straight Belladonna as it is poisonous.  Homeopathic Belladonna is too diluted to be a problem.  I recommend the book “The Treatment of Horses by Homeopathy,” a no-nonsense guide written by George MacLeod, a British Veterinarian.  (C.W. Daniel, Essex, England.)

Herbs of the World carries most of the herbs and books I’ve discussed here.  If you would like to see more herbal and holistic health products and information in your local tack shop, let the owner know.  I can also develop custom herbs formulas for horses with special needs.  Feel free to call or write to receive our catalog or to talk about the health of your horse at any time.