Competition season is in full swing, and those who don't compete actively are gearing up for those weekend and week-long trail rides. Most kids are out of school by now, and the breeding season is winding down. Longer days and warmer nights are our reward for seeing our horses through another winter. But, there are some people who compete on a daily basis, and most will never be known by you or me or any of our horsy friends. They are the people whose full-time jobs are to protect our horses. We do know the ones who chose to venture forth into the public sector--our veterinarians. However, there are many "degreed" people who remain in the university or private laboratories who do just as much for us as our favorite practitioner. There are many other veterinarians who choose careers in government. Although you have seen me give them difficulties over what I consider inappropriate actions or decisions, you also have heard me tout many times the benefits the entire horse industry receives from their dedicated work.

Without these "nameless" people, disastrous diseases would be allowed into our country that could wipe out the entire horse population of a state or region. New vaccines and medications would be left undiscovered in the rainforests or laboratories. Simple things, such as a better understanding of our horse's digestive system or respiratory system, mean that we can keep a horse with heaves not only happier, but healthier!

There still is so much to learn. I remember when veterinarians in Kentucky began to use ultrasound in broodmare work. They can better time a breeding and visualize the follicles within two weeks of conception. They can detect twins and "pinch" one to give the pregnancy the best chance of being carried to term. Today, ultrasound is a diagnostic tool in every reproductive veterinarian's truck. But in the early 1980s, there was widespread fear that ultrasound would be the demise of the Thoroughbred industry as we know it.

It was believed fetuses would be lost because of the "invasive" procedure or the sound waves. Mares would become sterile for the very same reasons. Infections would abound and reduce the mare population to one big festering, unproductive herd.

Needless to say, that didn't happen. But the early practitioners and users of this technique took a chance. They went against the mainstream and were criticized. Research followed to help vets better use the tool at hand and understand how it worked.

Today, ultrasound is not only a diagnostic tool, but a therapeutic one. And research is ongoing to gain a better understanding of how ultrasound can be put to even greater use.

There are techniques and modalities today that don't have the scientific basis some veterinarians would prefer. Much like ultrasound, these tools have been around for a while, but the research has lagged behind to prove their effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, and to guide practitioners in how best to use them.

I'm talking about some of the alternatives that are out there.

Some of them, no doubt, will be proven to be so much wasted time and money. Others will be useful tools that will take their places in the vet's truck.

I applaud the American Association of Equine Practitioners and their open-mindedness in funding research into alternative medicines and techniques. Without scientific research, we might throw away the next ultrasound as bunk, or we might pour money down the drain on a useless invention.

I know many readers of this publication use alternative medicines. I urge you to do so carefully and thoughtfully. Even veterinarians who are practitioners of these various techniques don't have the answers as to if and why some of them work. They warn horse owners to beware of endangering their horses by letting inexperienced or untrained people practice medicine. That is the job of your veterinarian.

Without a proper diagnosis, horse owners don't know the problem or problems their animals are facing. Most of the time, we have discovered that a simple lameness has several causes, and what you see as the main problem ("He's lame on the left fore, doc."), might really be caused by the right hind.

As a friendly word of warning from some of the most skilled and experienced veterinarians practicing alternative medicines, they urge horse owners to be cautious when allowing someone to "treat" your animals. Educate yourself on the practice you are seeking, and see if there is any science as a foundation for the therapy.

In this month's publication, we try to give you both sides of the story--veterinarians who practice alternative medicine, and those who think horse owners are getting fleeced by beliefs rather than using scientifically proven medicine.

Also, remember that treating humans and horses is not the same. While much of equine medicine has been adopted from human medicine, there are major differences in the way the two species react to medications and stimulations. Until we understand those sometimes subtle variances, we should keep our veterinarian as our main advisor to all things that pertain to the health and welfare of our horses.

Remember, they took and oath to "first, do no harm."

Value Added

With last month's issue of The Horse, you received a copy of The Horse Source. I wanted to take a moment and tell you a little about this directory, since there isn't anything else like it out there! First, we place all the listings free. This ensures that everyone--no matter how large or small the company or organization--has the opportunity to be contacted by people in the horse industry.

There are 3,810 individual listings in this book. Then, to make those people, groups, products, goods, and services easier to find, we broke them down into 90 categories. We have an advertising index in the front of the book with phone, fax, e-mail, and web addresses. In the back of the book, we created a "brand" index, so you can find Cosequin or Rambo or Zimecterin. That index tells you the company name so that you then can go to the all-inclusive alphabetical index and contact the company to ask questions or talk to a representative.

Put this book on a shelf near your computer or work desk. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that once you start using The Horse Source, you'll wonder how you ever did without it!

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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