Lillie–The Naturally Healthy Horse of the Month

lillie 2 1024x697 Lillie  The Naturally Healthy Horse of the Month

Lillie is the Naturally Healthy Horse of the Month for April.  The aged dun mare came to Serendipity Horse Rescue several years ago in very poor shape.  She was malnourished, depressed, and angry.   At first, Lillie did not adapt well to her new home.  She stood alone and would refuse to interact with people or other animals.  She also refused to eat. The owner of the rescue, Margo Malone, desperately wanted to help Lillie though.  And with the help of two other women—Susan Kilgore and Kathy Merrell—Lillie began to come around.  Through Reiki (an Oriental form of hands-on healing), acupressure, nutritional management, and loving care, Lillie has gained a new lease on life and is finally getting the well-earned retirement home she deserves.

A Reiki practitioner, Margo works on all the rescue horses at her farm.  She became concerned when Lillie wasn’t responsive to her treatments though.  It was then, that Kathy, an acupressure practitioner who volunteers at the rescue, stepped in to see what she could do. Upon examination, Kathy noticed that Lillie was very emaciated with a sunken back.  She had a ‘sickly smell’ with dull eyes and a dull coat as well.   Kathy proceeded to assess Lillie for imbalances and then chose several acu-points which she believed would help to balance Lillie physically and perhaps more importantly, emotionally.

lillie 3 Lillie  The Naturally Healthy Horse of the Month

“When I switched sides, I noticed small beads of sticky clear fluid sitting at the end of every hair on her body!   We continued the session and as I rubbed Lung 1 on her left side, she gave a tremendous sigh and started licking and chewing.  She gave a small reaction to each of the other points and as I finished, the owner doing Reiki reported that she felt her let go of a grief that was very powerful and hurtful.  We (humans) all felt exhausted, but better,” said Kathy.

It was then that Lillie, who had previously been despondent, turned around and appeared to suddenly notice that there were three people in the stall. “She then went calmly over to her feed bucket and started to eat,” said Kathy.

Kathy returned to the farm to perform acupressure on Lillie one month later and found the mare greatly improved.   Margo said the change in the mare had been nothing short of amazing.  Lillie had now bonded with the barn manager, Susan Kilgore (who has since adopted Lillie), was gaining weight, and was showing interest in being a part of the horse herd at the rescue facility.

Today, Lillie lives on Susan’s farm in a large pasture with her best friend—a donkey named Daisy.

Because of Lillie’s advanced age, she still has a few problems though.  “Lillie is missing some teeth and has TMJ, both of which complicate her caloric intake. Plus, she has a compromised spine which prevents her from being ridden so she doesn’t get a lot of exercise which may lower her appetite,” said Susan.

Kathy still does frequent acupressure sessions on Lillie to help with her TMJ problems.  Susan is grateful to Kathy and Margo for helping Lillie to overcome her emotional issues.  “Lillie is a different horse. She is happy, spunky, healthy and carefree,” Susan said.

lillie 1024x768 Lillie  The Naturally Healthy Horse of the Month

Kathy doing acupressure for Lillie’s TMJ issues


I’m honored to feature Lillie as TNHH of the Month, and I’m in awe of people like Susan, Kathy, and Margo who are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of horses.  Don’t forget that you can make a difference for rescue horses as well–you can donate money, supplies, feed and hay, or even your time or services! 

Natural Remedies for Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Last week, I wrote about preventing gastric ulcers in horses–which is mainly done by making modifications in diet and management practices.  This week, I’d like to expand on the issue a bit more and focus on some natural remedies for this very common condition.

First of all, we may not be aware of how many horses suffer from gastric ulcers.  As I stated in my previous post, it’s thought that 90% of race horses, 70% of endurance horses, and 60% of show horses are affected by gastric ulcers at some point in their life.  I believe this is due to a lack of understanding of how to best feed and manage horses.

Horses don’t always show symptoms of gastric ulcers, but here are a few signs that can be associated with the condition (from mild to severe):

  • change in appetite/ weight loss
  • poor athletic performance
  • poor hair coat
  • irritability (especially when being groomed or saddled)
  • anorexia
  • colic
  • teeth grinding
  • excessive salivation
  • dorsal recumbancy (lying on back)


Natural Ulcer Treatments

Omiprazole (Gastrogard) is the only FDA-approved drug for treating gastric ulcers in horses, but it is very expensive ($35-$50 a day).   For those interested in going a more natural route, there are several natural remedies that can be used to treat ulcers that have already formed.

It should be noted that no treatment will be completely successful unless dietary and management changes are made as well (see last week’s post for more on that).

With that said, here are a few herbs that are commonly used to treat gastric ulcers in horses:

Aloe vera juice: Aids in repairing the stomach lining and soothing the stomach and digestive tract.

aloe vera juice Natural Remedies for Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Slippery elm: Anti-inflammatory herb that reduces irritation and promotes healing in the stomach.  (Aloe vera juice and slippery elm are often combined for treatment–mix  2 ounces of aloe vera juice with 2 tsp. of slippery elm bark powder.   Administer with a syringe three times daily before your horse eats, if possible.)

slippery elm Natural Remedies for Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Marshmallow: Has properties nearly identical to that of slippery elm and can be used instead of slippery elm.

Licorice: Anti-ulcer herb which reduces inflammation in the stomach.  *Should not be used long-term though as it can lower gastric secretions.

licorice Natural Remedies for Gastric Ulcers in Horses


A few other natural treatments include:

Kombat BootsThis is a brewer’s yeast pelleted supplement which comes recommended by several professionals (including Dr. Kerry Ridgeway).  Yeast has been known to improve the percentages of ‘good’ microbes in the gut and improve hooves, but it also apparently helps to strengthen the integrity of the stomach lining.

Papaya fruit: Contains the active ingredient, papain, which resembles the digestive enzyme pepsin. Stimulates the appetite, soothes membranes of the esophagus and stomach.  Aids in improving inflammatory bowel disorders.  May work better on mild ulcers or as a preventative.  There is a commercially available equine product containing papaya called Natural Plan Stomach Soother.

papaya Natural Remedies for Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Natural lecithin with apple pectin: Lecithins are a naturally occurring type of phospholipid found in plant and animal cell membranes.  Commercially, they are most commonly derived from soybeans.  In studies, they have shown to reduce and even eliminate gastric ulcers by creating a barrier against gastric acid.  You can buy lecithin as granules at health food stores or online (such as  Also, there is a lecithin product made specifically for horses called Starting Gate.

Lecithin is often combined with apple pectin (compound derived from apples) for a better result.  Apple pectin is high in fiber and is known for reducing stomach inflammation as well as healing digestive disorders.



Note: This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any equine condition.  If you suspect ulcers in your horse, please consult your veterinarian.


Part 1: Natural Ulcer Relief for Horses

Part 2: Natural Ulcer Relief for Horses

Herbs for Health

Equine Ulcers: You Really Need to Know More

Lecithin Inhibits Bute-Related Ulcers

Preventing Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Once upon a time, I kept my barrel racing mare, P.K., in a dry lot for a good portion of the day to ‘help’ her lose weight.  I didn’t know it at the time, but not only are starvation diets  counterproductive for weight loss, but they can also lead to gastric ulcers.   I cringe at the thought now.  Oh, the things we do to our horses. . .

If you don’t know what gastric ulcers are, they’re essentially holes in the stomach lining (mucosa) that have been worn away by acid.   It’s been estimated that 90% of race horses, 70% of endurance horses, and 60% of show horses are affected by this condition.  This is a big problem, obviously, and one that can usually be prevented.

Foals are also susceptible to gastric ulcers because they secrete gastric acid (which is more acidic than that of adult horses) as early as two days old.   But for the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on adult horses.


Causes of Gastric Ulcers

There are two main factors associated with the formation of gastric ulcers in (adult) horses: feeding practices and stress.   The good news is that both of these can be managed more appropriately to greatly reduce the horse’s chances of developing this painful condition.

stalled horse 2 Preventing Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Acids are continually produced by the stomach, but food and saliva (which is formed primarily by chewing forage) act as a buffer against these acids.  When the horse has nothing to eat, saliva production decreases and there is nothing to protect the sensitive lining of the stomach from the acid.

Anatomically, the stomach is quite small compared to the rest of the digestive system.  Food enters and then exits in about a fifteen minute time span.  This works well when the horse is consuming small amounts of forage on a near-continual basis as he was designed to do, but as most of us know, many horses don’t get to do this.  (see this post for more info. on the horse’s digestive process. . .)

Grains and high-carbohydrate feeds are another contributor to ulcers as they increase volatile fatty acid production in the stomach.  Grain is not a natural part of the horse’s diet, especially in large amounts.  Incidentally, studies have been conducted and have shown that high quality forage can be substituted for grain in many circumstances.  (see  my articles on forage-only diets for horses in training and performance horses published in The Horse.)

Exercise, especially if it’s intense,  also increases stomach acid production.  The acid is then ‘sloshed’ around, continually bathing the stomach in acid.  In addition, stressors, such as hauling, competition, or stall confinement can also increase acid production.

young race horse Preventing Gastric Ulcers in Horses

I should also mention that NSAIDs like bute, flunixin meglumine, or ketoprofen,  decrease the production of the stomach’s protective mucus layer, making it more susceptible to ulcers as well.  These should never be given long-term!

It should be easy to see now why so many performance horses are affected by gastric ulcers. . . But let’s move on to how we can help prevent this condition.


Preventing Gastric Ulcers in Horses

The most important key to preventing gastric ulcers is managing and feeding the horse in alignment with his natural tendencies.  We tend to see our domestic horses as almost an entirely different species than the feral horses that seem to be naturally immune to problems like ulcers.  But the truth is that they are one in the same.  It’s only our feeding and management practices that are to blame here.

horses grazing1 Preventing Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Since an empty stomach sets the horse up for ulcer formation, ensuring that your horse has something to eat day and night is key for preventing (and also treating) ulcers.  If the horse cannot be put on pasture, hay should be fed on a frequent basis.  Implementing a slow feeding system can help tremendously.

Also, adding some alfalfa into your horse’s diet has been found to be helpful.  According to this article from The Horse, ”researchers at University of Tennessee, (University of) Kentucky, and Texas A&M discovered that alfalfa hay was more efficient in buffering against stomach ulcers than grass hay, due to the higher level of calcium (and protein) in alfalfa. The extra protein and calcium can both act as potential buffers for stomach acid.”

(However, I would like to point out that feeding a diet of primarily alfalfa isn’t recommended as it can create a major mineral imbalance and increase the risk of enteroliths–see this post for more. . .)

We should eliminate stress however we can for the horse.  Allowing him to live with other horses, giving ample turnout time, and minimizing intense exercise are all crucial in preventing ulcers.

So to review, here are some tips for preventing gastric ulcers in horses:

  • Keep horses on pasture, feed hay frequently or free-choice, or use a slow-feeder;
  • Reduce or eliminate grains and/or high carbohydrate feeds from diet;
  • Limit or avoid use (especially long-term) of NSAIDs (firocoxib and/or bute alternatives can be used instead);
  • Feed hay or allow grazing before exercising your horse;
  • Limit stressful situations such as intense training and transport; and
  • Allow horses to live with a pasture mate or herd to minimize stress at home.


Stay tuned for another post coming soon on natural treatments for gastric ulcers in horses!




Keeping Horses Healthy: Update on Gastric Ulcers

Diagnosing and Treating Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Reducing the Risk of Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Preventing Equine Gastric Ulcers

Part 1: Natural Ulcer Relief for Horses

Equine Ulcers: You Really Need to Know More!


EIPH in Horses

A friend recently asked me about ‘bleeding’ in horses.  Bleeding is technically called Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH) and is common in race and performance horses.  The following article, by holistic veterinarian, Dr. Madalyn Ward,  explains the condition and a few treatment options. 

race horse EIPH in Horses

A certain amount of pulmonary hemorrhage, which is bleeding in the lungs, can occur in any horse engaged in fast or intense exercise. The amount of bleeding can range from just a few red blood cells, detectable only by sensitive tests such as a bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), to the much more obvious nosebleed. The greater the severity of EIPH, the more the horse’s health is affected. Blood in the lungs acts as an irritant resulting in inflammation, and also creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

The most widely accepted theory about the cause of EIPH is that the high blood pressure from heavy exercise coupled with vacuum-like effects that occur during a deep inhalation causes the capillaries to rupture. The only gap in this theory is that it does not explain why almost all of the bleeding occurs in the upper back lobes of the lungs rather than uniformly throughout.

Another theory that helps to explain the location of the bleeding focuses on the anatomy of the running horse. Since a horse’s forelegs are not attached to the spine with any bony structures, the action of running causes the shoulders to compress the ribcage. This wave of pressure then spreads outwards causing a shearing force on the tissue in the upper back of the lungs, resulting in bleeding. This type of hemorrhage is similar to the bleeding that occurs from a blunt trauma to the front of the chest or head—that is, the bleeding does not occur at the location of the trauma but on the opposite side of the body. This theory might explain why some horses are more likely to bleed after running on a hard surface, and why some “bleeders” do not respond to Lasix (furosemide).

I have my own additional theory as to why horses bleed. I feel that EIPH occurs because of weakened capillaries secondary to inadequate nutrition. Just as some people bruise easily, some horses bleed easily. The bleeding in horses, however, does not go into the tissues but moves instead into the airways. Many horses also have thick, toxic, and poorly oxygenated blood due to repeated exposure to chemicals and drugs, causing the heart to work harder and the blood pressure to rise. This increased arterial blood pressure, with or without weakened capillary walls, sets the stage for EIPH.

To definitively diagnose and determine the severity of EIPH it is best to do an endoscopic exam 30 minutes to one hour following intense exercise. A sample scoring system for diagnosing EIPH might include the following grades:

Grade 1: Flecks of blood in the trachea.
Grade 2: More blood than Grade 1, but less than a continuous stream.
Grade 3: A continuous stream smaller than half the tracheal width.
Grade 4: A continuous stream greater than half the tracheal width.
Grade 5: Airways awash with blood.

Treatment and Prevention of EIPH

For many horses, 250 to 500 milligrams of Lasix (a potent diuretic) given one to four hours before a race will reduce blood pressure and prevent bleeding. For a significant number of other horses, however, Lasix is ineffective. In these cases it may be worth looking into the concussion theory as a cause of bleeding. While hard ground is certainly a factor in these cases, I suspect that many of these horses also run with a greater percentage of their weight on the forehand rather than working off the hindquarters.

Another factor to consider is upper airway resistance caused by the combination of blood pressure and inhalation vacuum pressure. Conditions such as laryngeal hemiplegia (a whistling or roaring that can be heard when the horse is breathing deeply from exertion), dorsal displacement of the soft palate, nasal, pharyngeal (at the back of the throat) or tracheal collapse, guttural pouch disease, excessive head flexion, or pharyngeal inflammation could cause an increase of the pressure in the lungs during inhalation . Treating any of these conditions would remove the underlying cause and may remedy the bleeding.

Herbal supplements can be useful in preventing EIPH. Many herbal supplements contain vitamin C and bioflavonoids, both of which support capillary integrity. Also useful are supplements that have mullein, yarrow, and lungwort, which reduce inflammation and strengthen weakened tissue, and shepherd’s purse, which has coagulant factors. While I do not believe that a primary deficiency of clotting factors is the cause of EIPH, these clotting factors can be depleted by frequent bleeding episodes.

You can keep your horse’s blood clean and well oxygenated with careful management that includes:

  • Feeding whole food nutrition that includes supplements such as probiotics, antioxidants, and blue- green algae (spirulina).
  • Avoiding drugs, excessive vaccination, and chemicals.

Lasix is the most effective preventative for EIPH for horses that respond to it, but it is still important to explore all the possible factors that might cause your horse to bleed. Make every effort to keep your horse as healthy as possible, but do not risk a severe episode of bleeding by withholding Lasix if you know it to be effective for your horse. In order to receive the full benefit of the diuretic action of Lasix, water must be withheld between giving the dose and the time of intense exertion. Therefore, as soon as possible afterward, replenish your horse’s electrolytes and offer plenty of fresh, free-choice water to combat dehydration. Some research suggests that smaller doses given closer to the actual run (250 mg. one hour before a race) can be effective.


About the Author

Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. She has authored several books and publishes at her blog.

Note:  For more information about EIPH as well as another treatment option, see my interview with Jim Chiapetta, the co-inventor of Flair Equine Nasal Strips.

Why Barefoot Doesn’t Work for Horses

It seems many people are giving barefoot a try these days, but all too often, I hear of someone giving up, becoming convinced that barefoot just doesn’t work for their horse.  They find that their horse’s hooves are just too sensitive, especially on rough terrain.  So shoes are nailed back on and all seems well once again.  But what they may not know is why barefoot didn’t work for their horse in the first place.

If you’re simply going barefoot because it’s the latest fad, it’s easy to give it up when the going gets tough.  I’ve never been one to follow the crowd though, and I didn’t go barefoot with my horses to be trendy.  I went barefoot when I became convinced that it was the only way to have a naturally healthy horse.  I’m in it for the long haul.  I’ve witnessed the detrimental effects of  horse shoes and I’m not going back there again.

I don’t want to judge people who do shoe their horses though.  I know most of us are just doing what we think is best.   Or maybe just doing what we’ve always done–simply because we don’t know any other way.

But, shoes, plain and simple, are not healthy for horses’ feet.   The entire hoof as well as the structures inside it become weakened when a metal shoe is nailed on and left in place for any length of time.  Shoes do not allow for the natural contraction and expansion of the hoof that comes with movement and weight bearing.  This, in turn, impedes blood flow in the hoof.  The truth is that shoes really don’t allow for any part of the hoof to function as nature intended.

Horses are meant to be barefoot.  It’s the unnatural ways in which we manage them that makes them unable to do so.  If we provide the most natural lifestyle we can for our horses, they can develop and maintain naturally healthy hooves.  But it’s also going to take some effort on our part.

We have to look at the whole horse if we want barefoot to work–especially his diet and lifestyle.  There are many pieces that need to be in place in order for the hooves to be healthy.  Take just one piece out, and the more likely that barefoot just won’t seem to ‘work’ for your horse.

Here are a few reasons why barefoot doesn’t work for horses:

1. Too much sugar and starch in the diet.  Horses did not evolve to eat the lush green grass or the high-starch feeds that many consume today.  They evolved to eat sparse, dry grasses that were low in sugar in starch.  Most of us know that a sudden overload in sugar/ starches can cause laminitis, but even steady, lesser amounts of these two components in your horse’s diet can cause hoof sensitivity.  A diet comprised of mostly low-sugar grass hay (12% NSC or less) is the best way to support healthy barefoot hooves.

2.  Not enough movement.  If your horse is in a stall or small pen all day, he’s not getting enough movement (unless you happen to be riding several miles every single day.)  In order to promote circulation and toughen barefoot hooves, movement is crucial.  Allowing your horse to live with a herd in a pasture or a Paddock Paradise will increase natural movement.

3. Mineral deficiencies or imbalancesZinc and copper are deficient in most horses’ diets, and these happen to be two very important minerals for the hoof.  Another common issue is that of too much iron, which can block the absorption of whatever zinc and copper the horse may be getting.  It’s also important to provide both major and trace minerals in the correct ratios (see this post for more information on mineral balance).

4.  Your horse is pastured on soft or wet ground.  We can’t expect our horses to fare well on rocky or rough terrain when riding if they are only exposed to soft ground at home.  It’s just not going to happen.  The only solution here is to add some varied terrain into your pasture or loafing areas  (pea gravel is a great way to do this) and/or  gradually increase your riding time on rough terrain on a consistent basis.

5. Not trimming frequently enough.  The whole idea of the barefoot trim is getting a tough and functional sole and back of the foot.  If the hoof walls and/or heels are consistently allowed to overgrow, this just isn’t possible.  Most horses aren’t going to get the wear that they need to keep the walls in check on their own so trimming on a frequent and consistent basis is CRUCIAL!  I trim my own horses at least every four weeks.

6.  Your horse has been in shoes for too long.  There’s a chance that if your horse has been shod back-to-back for most of his life, he may not ever be completely comfortable barefoot.  I have one like this.  Kady wore shoes year-round for about eighteen years before she came to me.  She’s also insulin resistant.  Although she is barefoot now and okay in the pasture, she needs boots when she’s ridden anywhere besides the arena.

So if barefoot doesn’t seem to be working for your horse, hopefully, this post has given you some insight as to why.  Barefoot isn’t just about pulling the shoes, but providing the foundation for healthy, strong hooves.  Don’t give up though–the benefits of barefoot are worth it!