Questions of Balance

There is no consensus on "alternative" or "complementary" approaches to equine health care. In fact, it would be hard to find a more controversial topic. For every "expert" who terms acupuncture, chiropractic, and other new therapies as advancements, there are others who believe them to be without merit. Progressive or regressive? Unconscionable or simply unconventional? Valid or voodoo?

These are the questions we set out to answer in our new series on alternative approaches to health care. The purpose:  To present the professional horse owner an in-depth look at the claims made for each modality or therapy. The key word here is "claims," since again, there are those who believe that many of these approaches should be tossed out in the muck basket.

While it would be easy and perhaps more politically correct to simply ignore the existence of alternative approaches, it would be irresponsible for us to do so. Horse people are being deluged with "try this" techniques for problem horses, and the pitches always seem to come at the worst time--when an owner is under the emotional duress of seeing an animal in pain. Adding to the pressure, most owners don't understand the basis for the treatments, or if there is any evidence, aside from anecdotal stories, that they work.

Our first installment in this series came under some fire, since it presented only one side of an issue. In the remaining segments of our series, we will work harder to present the concepts with a stronger sense of balance and perspective. Here's what to expect:

First, a member of our AAEP Editorial Advisory Board will read each article to help resolve ambiguities, and to separate controversial claims from data that is just plain wrong.

Second, we will invite a prominent equine medical expert to pen a counterpoint to the topic under discussion; for example, this month's counterpoint on chiropractic is written by Prof. Leo Jeffcott, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University.

Finally, we will reprint key sections from the American Veterinary Medical Association's "Guidelines For Alternative Therapies" to help put the issues in perspective. When it comes to the well-being of your horse, there is no substitute for the advice of a qualified veterinarian, and this advice should be sought before undertaking any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy--conventional, alternative, or otherwise.

Like most things in life, fair, accurate, and unbiased reporting is simply a matter of

Dollars and Data

Another issue of balance is the delicate relationship between dollars and data, which defines the scope of work of so many of today's top research scientists. The modern medical research-er often finds himself squeezed between the cold, hard objectivity of science and the dependence upon the politically charged world of research funding. The days are long past where a brilliant mind could be cloistered in a well-equipped laboratory to investigate the pure mysteries of nature and science.

It is particularly sad when this conflict causes one of the best and the brightest to leave the field of equine medical research, especially when the individual is on the verge of a major breakthrough in an illness as serious as EPM. Such is the case with David Granstrom, DVM, PhD, who leaves research to pursue other interests (see special report on EPM, page 47).

Just as there are competitive riders, there are competitive re-searchers. A competitive rider works to perfect everything in his or her discipline of choice to be among the best in the world. A competitive researcher does the same, except if his or her work is successful, it benefits everyone. The competitive rider seeks out sponsors to help defray costs of training and traveling with a top-class equine; the researcher must do the same in the form of seeking out grants and donations.

However, while a competitive rider has one, sometimes two, horses to care for, a researcher might need 50 or 100 horses housed and maintained under rigorous control standards. The competitive rider might need the best saddles and equipment, costing thousands of dollars; the researcher might need several pieces of equipment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The competitive rider might travel with a groom or trainer; the researcher needs a laboratory full of the best and brightest to keep up with the daily demands of testing, not to mention people to take care of the horses. The competitive rider basically answers to himself or herself, the coach, and possibly team members; the researcher is working for every equine and every owner in the world.

If you're starting to see the enormity of the pressure on equine research scientists, then you are beginning to understand how the business of research frequently interferes with the science of research. And, you might have a clue as to why someone as talented as Granstrom might choose an entirely new career path.

There are no easy answers, and certainly no magic remedies. However, perhaps the solution starts with something as simple as an industry that shows its support and appreciation to those who are in the trenches trying to make life better for our horses. In the battle between data and dollars, our horses, and their progeny, should be the big winners. Here's a case where they lost.

Our Newest Arrival!

With this issue of The Horse, you also received your complimentary copy of The Horse Source '97: Your Guide To Equine Supplies Equipment, and Services. This is the first all-breed, all-discipline directory of goods and services in the industry. It took many months of research to make this supplement the most useful reference tool in your barn or farm office. We invite you to contact us with comments, suggestions, or listings for next year's Source at Happy reading!

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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