Alternative therapies can sometimes be a complement to--never a replacement for--conventional veterinary care. Here are two of the more unusual ones.
Flower Essence Therapy
Bach flower essences and similar products are produced in a similar way to the method used for homeopathic remedies, says veterinarian and holistic practitioner Dr. Joyce Harman. (However, flower essences are not homeopathic remedies.) The essences contain plant extracts diluted beyond the point where you can detect the original ingredient.
Treatment: You put a few drops of the remedy in your horse's mouth or in his food, or mist it on his nose.
What they do: Essences of specific plants are said to help people in various emotional states--wild rose for apathy, pine for guilt and so on. Some of these states apply more readily to horses than others. One formula often used for horses is Rescue Remedy, a blend said to relieve stress.
Evidence: There are no sound clinical studies showing benefits from flower essence therapy in animals, or in people for that matter.
Red warning lights: Flower essences are safe--the worst that they can do is nothing, says Harman--but they are not designed to treat medical conditions. If your horse is sick or injured, you need a veterinarian.
Where to find them: You can buy floral essences at health food stores, through catalogs and online.
What to expect: If you don't see results in a couple of weeks, move on.
Cost: A 20-milliliter bottle of Bach Rescue Remedy costs about $15.
Reiki is one of several "energy therapies" that seek to influence a universal life force, like the qi of Chinese medicine. ("Reiki" means "universal life energy" in Japanese.) If this energy isn't flowing freely, proponents say, the body doesn't function properly. Reiki practitioners study to become "attuned" to the energy and develop an ability to channel it through their bodies to others. The technique was developed in Japan in the early 1900s.
The treatment: Practitioners typically place their hands on or over various points on the horse's body--charkas (centers of spiritual energy) and places where they detect disturbances in energy flow. Some direct energy over distance--they do not have to be present or even in the same county. "During a session, a horse may drop his head and exhale deeply as he accepts the energy," says Virginia practitioner Deb Dewey.
What it does: "Reiki affects horses on many levels," says Dewey. It can help behavioral problems, physical issues left over from old injuries and general well-being, among other things, she says.
Evidence: There are no clinical studies of Reiki in horses. For people, scientists haven't found benefits that can't be ascribed to the placebo effect.
Red warning lights: Reiki is not a substitute for veterinary care.
Where to find it: There are Reiki practitioners in most areas, but they are not licensed or regulated. Some practitioners spend years studying; others get some sort of certification at a weekend clinic. Ask how long and to what level of attunement (level 3, master, is highest) a practitioner has studied, Dewey suggests. With patient study, she adds, Reiki is a skill you can learn yourself.
What to expect: Dewey says horses may seem different for a few days after Reiki--sometimes more energetic, sometimes more subdued, as they "outprocess" the effects. "In most cases a treatment lasts more than three weeks," she says. "It often 'fixes' the issue permanently."
Cost: Rates vary. Dewey charges $75 for a session that lasts about an hour.
For information about more alternative therapies, see the September 2007 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.