"The only way to fix your horse is to help them return to their natural state."
Juliet Getty, Getty Nutrition
I get so many enquiries from owners whose horse is in dire straits. They've tried everything, often over months and months; their horse is no better, getting sicker, sometimes even labelled 'dangerous'. Insurance is maxed out, vets have thrown in the towel, often with the final, dreaded, no-hope-saloon PTS option, and they're now at an absolute loss as to what to do.
This is when they tend to find me, usually courtesy of a referral, when there's no-where else to go (and a huge Thank-You from me to all those lovely people who've suggested me). Their stories I hear aren't always pretty, and usually very sad - their horse has really been through the wars, with so many Red Flags that it's difficult to know which one to put at the top of the flagpole. As I type, the most recent 'Everything' client was an unbearably itchy mare, allergic to just about everything, presenting with reactive cow-kicks, ovarian pain, tense back, fear/anxiety, sensitive gut, grass-intolerant/metabolic, early onset arthritis … I saw the video, and believe me when I say this mare was not in a good place. Her owner had tried everything with her vet, and every supplement on the market, all at great cost, over many months, to no avail.
This is where I have to dig deep into my anatomy/physiology studying - I almost have to become a Systems Analyst because we need to track all those symptoms down to the body systems that are affected. And trust me when I say that just masking the presenting symptoms won't make the issue go away - this is usually all that's happened so far which simply pushes the problems further down.
By working downstream through the presenting symptoms to the affected body systems, we can then see the Big Picture. We can then take it deeper, through the systems and down through the organs and tissues to cellular level for the real root cause.
Fix the cell to get well
In this particular mare's case we had the presenting symptoms relating to her endocrine system (hormone imbalance and metabolic state); the gut system (based on what the client told me, there was no doubt we were talking dysbiosis/SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overload) - when that very fragile microbe balance within the gut microbiome environment is disrupted and the biome ratios are not what they're supposed to be anymore - which had led to leaky gut); her nervous system (her fear/anxiety); and her musculoskeletal system (arthritis and back tension), although I also had her back tension connected to her nervous system as well.
These 'affected' systems would all have equally connected with her circulatory systems - both blood and lymphatics - and her immune system, collectively affecting her toxicity levels and her body' ability to eliminate them, as well as her energy regulation. All in all, quite a big systemic buffet all ricocheting off each other …
And this is the thing - every system in the body is connected to the other. In human health alone, nearly every one of 155,000 diseases listed in the Disease Classification System (ICD-10), is caused by imbalances in one or more of the seven interconnected systems (all explained in our Functional Medicine page). And when we're talking multiple issues we're talking inflammation across the board that has spread from deep-rooted inflammation right down at cellular level, up through the tissues and the organs that make up each system.
It all starts at cellular level, which means the cells’ internal mitochondria (where the chemistry happens for the cell to perform its role) aren’t doing their job. And if the cells aren't doing their job this means there's now a real problem as 'function', as we know it, or would like it, will now be affected.
So, we know a disturbance has happened at cellular level, and the cells have become inflamed to the point where the inflammatory damage has worked its way up through the physiological levels - cellular to tissue to system - which by default has now got to the stage where the disturbance is now presenting as symptoms, sometimes multiple, very often not pretty. This is why symptoms are so useful as an indicator that 'something's wrong' - at least now we know there's a problem. However, symptoms also mean business and can't be ignored, so, we need to follow the Fix the Cell to Get Well protocol - we’ve got this all covered further on.
Meanwhile, here's a snapshot. Basically, everything begins in the gut microbiome, because the microbiome literally creates the immune system (explained in our Microbiome page). This is relatively new science and makes for an eye-opening read, explaining basically that the microbiome is basically the body's CPU (Central Processing Unit) that literally runs the whole engine, and without a healthy one, the body literally crashes.
This is also where the immune cells are made - get the microbiome right and we're no longer trying to fight the battle - we win the war. However, when gut function becomes ‘sensitive’, it means the microbiome has altered, and it's usually because a state of dysbiosis/SIBO has created itself.
The causes can be many - poor diet, stressors, not being allowed to be a horse ... which all create an unbalanced overpopulation (dysbiosis) of the pro-inflammatory, pathogenic gut microbes, the bad guys, which means an unhealthy microbiome, and trust me when I say this is bad news.
The last thing we want is dysbiosis in the microbiome, because the bad guys create inflammation in the very thin tube that is the GI tract, so the pressure of this unwanted inflammation makes it feels like it's being pumped up with a bicycle pump and is very, very uncomfortable. This forces the very tight junctions of the intestinal wall membrane to unzip and create ‘leaks' , through which that undigested toxic matter that should only ever stay inside the intestinal wall, is now leaking out into the bloodstream. Cue manic immune cell overreaction, which leads to autoimmunity. We've got a whole other page on leaky gut syndrome and how flipping serious it is, to the point where it's now being considered an epidemic.
Here’s where it becomes serious
When a friendly gut microbe is killed off by an ever-increasing over-population of the bad guys, it releases an endotoxin, which is badbadnotgood, which now merrily merges with that toxic undigested food matter which is now 'leaking' its way through the damaged intestinal wall membrane, straight into the bloodstream, mixing with all the other environmental toxins that we can't do anything about (all explained in our Detoxification page), which, you've guessed it - now spreads round the body and heads for the cells.
Meanwhile, the immune system, which relies entirely on a healthy, well-balanced microbiome to even exist let alone stay strong and functioning, suddenly goes into manic overdrive at this toxic flood of onslaught leaking through the intestinal wall. It tries its hardest to fight it but it's overwhelmed by the levels of toxicity. We're now on the cusp of autoimmunity, a runaway immune system overreacting to try and manage the overload of toxins. And so begins the autoimmune cycle, leading to chronic health conditions - various allergies are very often the result of this.
So, the bloodstream has flooded the body's cells with toxins, and now begins the inflammation cycle. However, we're not going to see much of the symptoms yet - maybe a bit of lethergy, a bit off-colour, a bit of discomfort - because the inflammation is still too deep, so it's left unattended to track its way upstream through the body's tissues and organs. When it finally reaches the relevant system, now we've got real problems and real pain. This is when us humans usually get involved because we haven't known what’s been going on until we see those symptoms, so we have to track it back. Using our mare example above:
- cow-kicking - this is very common with leaky gut/dysbiosis/SIBO/acidosis/inflammatory state in the GI tract, and specifically in the mid to rear barrel area of the small intestine, because it hurts. You can commonly see a horse trying to cow-kick the pain away.
- fear/anxiety/tension – an unbalanced nervous system alongside its own systemic issues of unfriendly stress-hormone release such as adrenalin and cortisol, brought on by the endocrine system triggering the sympathetic nervous system which acts on auto-pilot survival-instinct via the well-known fight/flight response, where every sinew is tensed in anticipation to cope, or defend, or scream a message. In other words, the body is literally ‘stressed’. And screwed, if the fight/flight response stays switched 'On' - see our Stress page.
- digital pulses - the laminae inflaming; cue possible laminitis.
- ovarian pain – inflammation.
- arthritis – inflammation around the joint.
You can see there's a lot going on here, with the word 'inflammation' featuring pretty much everywhere. There's certainly pain; there's stress, we could be talking ulcers, SIBO/leaky gut, hindgut acidosis - or all of them together. There's definitely a struggling, poorly functioning immunity. You’re probably no doubt familiar with the saying “No Hoof, No Horse”; well, these days that saying’s been upgraded to “No Gut, No Hoof, No Horse”. My personal take? “No Microbiome, No Gut, No Horse”. Never mind the hooves.
Alleviate, Detox &Fortify
Before you hang your head in your hands, there is some Good News! In that there’s a very simple 3-stage process to get a horse, or human come to that, back to optimal health when they’re clearly not. We follow the Alleviate, Detox & Fortify protocol. To quote Juliet Getty again, "The only way to fix your horse (or human) is to help him return to his natural state."
In simple terms nearly all dis-ease (with dis-ease meaning the body is ill at ease) is traceable back to a damaged or abnormal gut environment and gut flora (microbiome), with the typical causes being anything from stress, mental and/or physical trauma, antibiotics, bad feeds, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies/sensitivities, hidden infections, toxic exposure, genetic deficiencies, leaky gut … the list is endless, and let’s not forget the dreaded green stuff.
So how do we fix this?
Alleviate – First up we need to alleviate and stabilise those symptoms to initiate the repair. This is usually very straightforward because the horse is either in pain, or stressed, or in pain and stressed. So, we need to reduce the pain/inflammation and calm the stress symptoms to a more 'normal' stress response, so the horse is no longer solely focused on the pain which continues to feed the stress, which in itself creates its own toxic and acidic residue. While a horse remains unstable, i.e. in pain or stressed, there are no open pathways receptive to initiate the repair.
Detox – We'll now be addressing the root causes with a clean-up, aka detox, aka getting rid of the bad stuff and replacing with good stuff. We're talking a full-body clean-up, eliminating the toxic pathogens from cellular-level up, while replenishing the microbiome and rebooting immunity.
An organism/ body relies on a healthy blood circulation to move round the body delivering the nutrients to fuel it. If there's the slightest indication that an organism isn't 'right', this won't be happening. Thing is, healthy blood relies on a healthy lymphatic system which drains out the congestion, which relies on healthy kidneys and the liver (the body's two main filtration organs, alongside the lymph nodes) to send the bad stuff out for elimination, and they both rely on a healthy gut, which relies on a healthy microbiome. See? Everything's connected!
Ultimately, what we have here is a chain of negative events, starting in the gut, and getting blocked at every natural process. In order to progress we need to clean it all up, starting with the gut and working upstream through the major filtration organs and circulatory systems.
If we don’t do this? We end up spinning our wheels while throwing a lot of hard-earned cash on all kinds of supposed fixes, trying to get our horse better, which we've already seen isn’t working because ultimately, what we're actually doing is still continuing to feed those stress toxins, those gut toxins, those immunity toxins, and every other pro-inflammatory toxin that's causing our horse's chemistry and cellular function to break down.
Pulling all this together, to get the body clean we need to clean out anything that’s blocking a function, which means giving the body a full-body clean-up programme to clean everything up. Once done, your horse – and you – can start with a cleaned-up blank canvas and a rebooted immune system.
Finally, or should I say alongside the clean-up, we Fortify. This is where we re-look at the diet - feedbowl and forage - looking at switching up to a species-appropriate - what a horse is meant to eat and not what the feed industry wants to sell us - nutrient-rich, correctly balanced diet, in order to benefit – to fortify – the whole body, the gut and its defence system, the immune system, with a nutrient-rich protocol. When you fortify a body, you literally transform it.
So how do we actually do this?
So back to how we do this, and we've got this all covered for you here on the website.
Alleviate If it's pain/inflammation, head to our Pain page - while a horse is in pain they'll be more focused on this than anything else so we need to alleviate this. If it's stress, or worse if your horse has shut down, our Stress page explains exactly what chronic stress actually does to the body and what systems it shuts down - this urgently need stabilising. NB - an ongoing state of chronic stress can very likely cause glandular (pyloric) ulcers, so all the more reason to stabilise the stress response.
Detox All on our Detoxification page. Clear out the bad stuff and replenish the microbiome which will reset the immune system. As I said earlier, it’s pointless throwing expensive ‘fix kits’ at your horse while the toxic overload is still blocking the body's basic function to be healthy. Also, don't forget - if we've got leaky gut, this needs to be fixed too.
Finally, Fortify, and a quick reminder that a horse is nothing more, and nothing less, than a hindgut fibre-fermenting machine - that's it, full stop. A horse has an absolute requirement for forage fibre.
Thing is, there's good forage, and bad forage. In our UK climate, there's only one good forage and that's lovely, stemmy, fibre-filled hay - not our neon-green grass or bacteria-laden acidic haylage, or gut-disrupting alfalfa, but hay, hay and more hay, as in long, stemmy, late-cut, grass gone to seed so there's lots of cellulose fibre in the stems type of hay.
The horse then needs its body's chemistry balanced by correct mineral ratios because our UK grass/forage is deficient in certain nutrients that a horse needs to thrive - it’s all about the chemical information from those micronutrients in their forage that radically influences their body's genes, hormones, immune system, central nervous system, brain chemistry, skeletal and soft tissue structure; you name it – everything from mood, energy and physical health of the whole organism (body), at cellular level, with every single bite - all connected.
Put simply, nutritionally unbalanced forage means a nutritionally unbalanced horse. The source and nutrient-density of our horse’s food plays a huge role - the absolute role - in their health.
Calories are also not created equal - in a lab, all calories are the same when you burn them, but they aren't when they’re eaten. They're information that the body's cells need to function, information that the metabolism can use to either run efficiently or not. When we feed our horses the right information, the body will function at its highest level of balanced homeostasis and performance.
This is all covered in the Feeding our Horses section off the main menu, and specifically the 'Why what we feed has to be right' page, plus there's my own feed routine for my horses in the What I feed page. Feel free to email over to me your entire feed/forage routine - everything that goes in the feedbowl, brands, supps, the lot, then onto their forage - grass/hay/haylage, what type, how often, how much - and I'll have a look at it.
Each page has direct links to our Online Shop so you can build your own Fix-Kit to support your horse.
It's a lot of reading, I know, but email back any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org