Q & A with Equine Herbalist, Rachel Kelly
Rachel Kelly is a fully qualified Master Herbalist who graduated from the Irish School of Herbal Medicine in County Laois. Residing in Castledermot, Ireland, Rachel offers consultations and specifically-designed herbal formulas for horses according to their individual needs. At present, Rachel is also working as a tutor with the Irish School of Herbal Medicine and helping to develop a post-graduate course in equine herbal medicine.
What led you to become an equine herbalist?
I started a four year training course in herbal medicine in 2006 with the Irish School of Herbal Medicine. My intention was to do the course for myself and my family at the time.
I had no idea that what I was embarking on would be life-changing—it became a way of life as the course progressed. One of my tutors, world-renowned equine herbalist Helen Begadon, took me on as an apprentice. I have always had a great love of horses and have always had horses in my life–this was the start of me combining my two greatest passions–horses & herbal medicine.
What I do is very unique. I do not sell any ready-made products. Every herbal formula I make up is for the specific horse that I am treating. This is done via iridology and full consultation including diet, medical history etc.
For which types of equine conditions do herbs work best?
I believe so strongly in what I do and have seen so many amazing results from using herbs and a natural whole-food diet. I believe all conditions, both acute and chronic, can be treated with a holistic herbal approach. I also believe herbs are useful for preventing and enhancing all aspects of equine health. (With the exception of some trauma-emergency medicine but herbs and diet can be an asset in the healing process).
Are there any herbs that are good to give for preventative measures or overall well-being?
First and foremost, diet is the key to a healthy body whether you are human or equine. Secondly, lifestyle is very important—such as how we keep our horses. Are they stabled 20 hours a day? Are they subjected to a lot of stress? Are you over-using medication? Are you feeding high-sugar, high-starch, processed feeds, etc?
Natural whole food can be as healing and health-enhancing as any herbs, and being mindful of what we are feeding our horses is the most important step to building a healthy foundation towards our horses’ health and well-being.
But yes there are foods and herbs that we can incorporate into the equine diet for overall well-being– anything that is rich in live enzymes, like green, leafy vegetables, sprouted seeds, celery, carrots, kelp, sea salt, sea vegetables, rosehips, garlic, and unfiltered organic cider vinegar. I believe in keeping our horses as naturally as possible and letting them live in the outdoors in a herd situation or at least with one other horse for companion.
Are there any situations in which herbs should not be used with a horse?
Some herbs (such as Valerian) are banned/prohibited substances in equestrian sports and should not be used in competition. Also, herb/ drug interactions can happen, so it’s important that if your horse is on any medication, you are aware of the fact that certain herbs may inhibit and/or reduce the required effect of the medication.
Apart from that, I believe diet and herbs will give the body what it requires to cleanse, nourish and heal itself.
How long does it take to see the effects of an herb with horses?
I think this depends on the situation–really every horse is so unique and every condition varies from horse to horse. It also depends upon the owner. Are they willing to commit to an herbal regime?
I’ve seen chronic head-shaking turn around in one month and chronic tying-up cleared in two days. I’ve also seen very dangerous nervous system problems start to turn around in as little as 3 days, and then another horse took 8 weeks. Remember, herbs are working on a physical and emotional level–cleansing organs, nourishing the body, and also balancing and supporting.
How can horse owners learn more about using herbs with their horses?
It’s very simple really. It’s all about educating ourselves on what we are putting into our horse’s body and how we are making them live. Know the side effects of medications and seek herbal alternatives if possible.
I think we also need the basic knowledge of how our horse’s digestive system works and we need to respect that. They are continuous grazers and need high-fiber, low-sugar forage in front of them 24/7.
We need to stop putting our horse’s health in other people’s hands– i.e. feed and supplement companies and the pharmaceutical industry.