Cushings 101

Guest Post by Jessica Lynn of Earth Song Ranch


Growing up in the 1950’s, 60’s and into the early 70’s with horses, we did not have all the vaccines, nor all the chemical dewormers that are, or have become, part of the modern horse keeping conundrum– especially if your horses are in a boarding facility.

We did not have hay sprayed with Round-up, we did not have GMO-ready crops, and horse owners did not have all of the concentrated bag feeds available with huge marketing budgets from the manufacturer’s telling you how great they are!

We did not have horses that had laminitis or other health challenges, as they grazed on pasture, were supplemented with oats and alfalfa, had a natural spring fed pond to drink from, and lived in a herd environment run by a pony named Cricket.

Our horses got a tube wormer once per year when the vet came, and they only got a Tetanus vaccine–receiving none of all the other “stuff” that has become so common and apparently is not in the best interests of the horses we love.


What is Cushings:

Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), or what is commonly known as Cushing’s Disease, is due to the development of a benign tumor of the pituitary gland. The growth of this tumor subsequently disturbs the delicate balance which exists between the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, the thyroid, and the adrenal cortex. It is the disruption of this mechanism that leads to the “presenting symptoms” we all associate with Cushing’s disease.

The visual symptoms of Cushing’s seem to come on more often in the fall, along with what is known as the Fall cortisol release:

  • Fat pockets and cresty necks develop
  • Horses start growing heavier and longer winter coats than normal, which occurs as we have fewer daylight hours and the evenings begin to get cooler.
  • Horses do not shed their winter coats like other horses do or at the same time
  • Geldings may get swollen sheaths
  • Some horses lack energy and stamina as the first sign that something is wrong

hair shed 2

There is also a cortisol release in the Spring  – which may be related to the horses hanging on to their winter coats and not shedding like the rest – but is also more likely to bring on a bout of laminitis, signaling to owners that their horse is starting to becoming a “Cushing’s Horse”.  Since Spring is when most laminitis episodes occur, this also leads me to believe it is all brought about or exacerbated by the “annual or bi-annual” spring vaccines and deworming, often done on the same day in many cases!

The first case of Cushing’s I saw was more than 15 years ago, in a senior Arabian mare. Her first symptoms were laminitis and not totally shedding in the spring. With Dr. Wessner’s help, we got her turned around with homeopathy and several herbs known for their anti-inflammatory properties. We realized kelp was a necessary natural ingredient that the horses needed because it supports the thyroid and seems to support the pituitary as well. We know Chaste Tree Berry supports the pituitary but what we have found is that in the powder form added to feed, it is not absorbed as readily. Instead, a “tea” seems to work best.

Over the years of seeing more and more horses develop Cushings, I have had many discussions with multiple holistic vets, and we all have come to the same conclusion: it is the over-vaccination, over chemical deworming, and the bagged feeds with all of the byproducts and GMO ingredients that triggers this dis-ease.

So what can you as a horse owner do? Educate yourself, read the labels on the bagged feeds, then switch to oats or Crypto Aero Whole Food feed. Stop vaccinating and get blood titers done to see where your horses levels are; only use chemical dewormers after you have done a fecal and there is a need, otherwise practice prevention– keep pastures and pens picked up, use an herbal blend or DE, also use herbs to detox your horses liver and kidneys twice per year, usually spring and fall to help them overcome the chemicals they are exposed to daily in their lives from the fly sprays to the plastic feed buckets.

Please go to our FAQ page for more information and also to our Articles Page and read Sunny’s story, as published in Natural Horse Magazine, where we changed his feed and put him on the program of herbs and tea bringing his ACHT from 293 to 27 in just a few months!


If you have a horse with Cushing’s symptoms, stay tuned for a giveaway which will start tomorrow. It will be for “Sunny’s Kit” from Earth Song Ranch. The kit sells for $159 and comes with free shipping, plus a a 15 minute nutritional review/consult with Jessica!



Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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13 Responses

  1. Helena says:

    Very interesting read

  2. Sandy Carr says:

    How can you recommend Crypto Aero horse feed when I checked their guaranteed analysis and it shows OBSCENE amounts of sugar and starch? Sugar and starch, as any nutrition savvy horse owner knows, should be less than 10% of a PPID/IR horse’s diet. Crypto Aero contains 28.3 %!!! Doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

  3. Carol myson says:

    Excellent article. Thank you

  4. Lotta says:

    Dear Casie, last year I promised that I inform you about resuts of using Chate Tree Barry. Our girl Icelandic Mare is Cushing’s horse. At that moment it is on the same doses of medicines (Prascend) as it was at he begining two years ago. Every year all our horses get natural deworming liquid, mix of minerals produced special for the ground here in Europe all over the year, twice per year liquid for suport liver and for her ChasteTree Berry and Mg. Because of her illnes the other horses has better natural support. Since it got the Chaste Three Barry powder it sheeded very well, late and not as other healthy horses, anyway she done it well. She still needs shaving over the summer. So, what can I say, it was a good decision and yours advice to use Chaste Three Barry. Thank you.

  5. Donna says:

    I’ve been around horses some the 60s and we supplemented pasture with commercially prepared bagged grains. We also kept a close watch for spring founder, which did happen. There were also numerous pesticides applied to wheat, soybeans and corn. If you read about pesticide use, GMOs, antibiotic use, etc you will find that it is not a new issue. Additionally there are plenty of examples of Cushings and laminitis in the ‘olden days’. What is new is better diagnostics, social media and the booming pet healthcare business which bring more attention to these issues. The is no reason to use scare tactics to steer to a product when they should be heading towards a nutritionally balanced no grain approach

  6. Debbie Moloznik says:

    We’ve been fighting IR and laminitis since March. Her insulin levels were 201 so we double dosed her Pergolide for 45 days and retested. It came down but still high. The laminitis is really rough. She has wooden clogs to ease the pressure on her coffin bone. I’m game for trying anything that will improve her quality of life.

    • Sandy Carr says:

      Debbie….I am so sorry about your horse and the IR. I have one too. Was the doubling of the Pergolide recommended by your vet? Pergolide is used for Cushing’s Disease, not insulin resistance.

      What has saved my sanity and helped my horse SO much is finding the Equine Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance Group. ( Go there, read, benefit from all the FREE help. Run by Dr. Eleanor Kellon VMD, a world leader in this field and the field of nutrition, she and the “troops” will guide you through what you need to do to bring relief to your horse’s life. In most cases lowering sugar and starch in your hay (feeding NO concentrates) is the key to success, and lowering the horse’s weight if necessary. Please go there…they have all been in your spot and will help you with diagnosis, diet, trim and exercise recommendations….for FREE. No gimmicks, just science. (And don’t feed the CryptoAero…it is hideously stoked with sugar and starch and not ever recommended for Cushing’s or IR horses!)

      • Susi Sanders says:

        The ‘advice’ might be free, although questionable in value as all those horses remain on drugs for life and are restricted from hay, which is rather inhumane and increases stress and cortisol levels. Dr. Kellon however is using this forum as a platform to sell supplements by Uckele and is getting paid by them/ she is employed by them. Those supplements contain soy as well as distillers dried grains and solubles, which are contraindicated in metabolically challenged horses. They also contain citric acid, which can increase iron absorption by over 40% and hence worsen IR and more importantly laminitis. So while it might be free, she has great monetary gain and it is not very helpful.

        • Sandy Carr says:

          No where on the ECIR group is anyone told not to feed hay. We mostly feed only hay, no concentrates. No where is Uckele passed on to be the supplement to use for mineral supplementation. It is suggested for some, but I buy my raw minerals mostly from Horse Tech, Platinum Performance and I only get my iodine from Uckele.
          YES! Your horse must be on Pergolide for life. Cushing’s is caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland. It doesn’t go away. It is very treatable with Pergolide. It is cheap to dose your horse through a compounded form of Pergolide or you can have your vet prescribe Prascend.
          I am sorry you don’t have much knowledge about ECIR or Cushing’s and IR. If you join us over at the ECIR website we can help you too. Debbie can do the same and we will help her, for free with advice that is based on over 9,000 other horse owners who have filled out case histories and been advised by cutting-edge veterinarians, nutritionists, farriers. This is the largest sampling of metabolic horses and their conditions in the world and I’m sorry you make a call on something like the ECIR Group without knowledge about it beforehand. Good luck to you.

  7. Sandy Carr says:

    And Debbie…try EasyBoot “Clouds” for her laminitic feet. My guy is so much better. You will learn about trims that need to be done on They will have you take pics of the feet and will then send you recommendations and markups for your vet and farrier to follow. Yes, again, for FREE.

  8. Gwyn Dykstra says:

    I would like to purchase the cushings kit for my pony. Could you send me a link for the info.

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