Creating Your Health Care Team

You are ultimately responsible for your horse, for all issues from training to health care. In this day and age, you have access to a variety of health care providers and to a great deal of information--and misinformation--from people claiming to be alternative medicine practitioners. Who can help you decipher all this as it relates to your horse's situation? The best person is your regular veterinarian, who knows your horse's health history and should understand your desires and concerns.

The best way to look upon your resources is as a team, which should have one focus--your horse's health. These team members should communicate with you, provide you with information, and respect your decision as to how you act upon their advice.

Many of you are saying, "That sounds great, but my veterinarian and farrier won't talk to each other, and my horse's chiropractor lives in another state and does not tell me what is going on." The unfortunate truth is the horse world is not immune from professionals with big egos, nor from charlatans in all aspects of medicine. However, there are also excellent, caring, well-trained professionals who really do have your horse's best interests at heart, who will work with you, and who are very willing to discuss their credentials and experiences. These are the people to seek out for your team.

More and more veterinarians are becoming educated in alternative medicine and incorporating it into their practices. If your veterinarian is learning about alternatives, then you're in great shape--you won't need to look any further. However, many don't have that luxury. If you're interested in trying an alternative therapy, the best thing to do is ask your veterinarian for a referral. He or she might know someone who is educated in that modality and can work as part of the team.

If your veterinarian is not interested, or does not believe that alternative medicine works, first ask the veterinarian why. There might be a valid reason for avoiding the modality for your horse; if so, your veterinarian should explain it to you. If he doesn't have a good reason, you need to locate a competent professional through one of the recognized veterinary organizations (see "Alternative Therapy Associations," Article Quick Find #3420 at www.The Horse.com). Ask the alternative veterinarian if he would be willing to talk to your regular veterinarian if there are any questions. Go ahead and have the treatment done, and be sure to get good records of the work performed. Remember, you are your horse's caretaker.

The next time you see your veterinarian, let him know what you have done and the results. Also offer to show him your records, or give him the phone number of the other veterinarian if there are any questions to be answered. And let him know that you respect his opinion, although you still went ahead with the alternative treatment. You should be very clear with your veterinarian that he is still the primary person on the team, and that you want him involved. Do not ask the alternative medicine veterinarian to take a Coggins test or to do other routine matters your veterinarian usually does; this will create resentment.

There still might be veterinarians who are skeptical or disapproving. If you have done your part to communicate your thoughts and include him as a team leader, do not keep pushing the point. Respect his feelings, but be sure to keep him posted. This allows your veterinarian to practice the best medicine possible because he knows the alternative treatments your horse is receiving.

Many alternative therapies--including acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage therapy--are performed on horses who are basically healthy. You want to keep them healthy and pain-free as well as maximize performance. The alternative therapies are excellent in this capacity, and the work your regular veterinarian does should not be disturbed.

When your horse is sick, you have a different situation on your hands. Your primary care veterinarian is usually the one attending the horse's routine needs. Therefore, if you wish to add alternative therapies, it is very important that your veterinarian be willing to be involved. This is especially true in hospital cases. The attending veterinarian is responsible for the horse and might be unfamiliar with how an alternative therapy can affect the illness and conventional treatment. Again, you have to respect the knowledge of the professional in charge.

In all cases, you're entitled to a second opinion, and your veterinarian should respect that decision. In modern medicine, second opinions are often sought as horse owners rely on more specialists, similar to the way human patients are using more specialists. If everyone communicates, the second opinion and alternative treatment can complement the primary veterinarian's work.

About the Author

Joyce C. Harman, DVM, MRCVS

Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS, owner of Harmany Equine Clinic in Washington, Va., focuses on alternative treatments and equine care.

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