"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 - everything from constant abscessing, constant laminitis, mysterious fat pads/inflammation on their body, or numerous symptoms that keep appearing despite heroic efforts on the owners to clear them up. More often than not their horse's entire gut barrel is in bits and can barely be touched; they're in real pain and more often than not very stressed. Sometimes they've gone from fit and healthy to total loss of topline and looking like a hatrack in a matter of weeks.
The owners have tried everything, often over months and months; their horse is no better, getting worse by the day, sometimes even labelled 'dangerous'. Insurance is maxed out, and vets have often thrown inappropriate meds into the mix in the hope that they 'may do something'. More often the vets have finally thrown in the towel, often accompanied with the final, dreaded, no-hope-PTS-saloon. Understandably the owners are now at an absolute loss as to what to do.
This is when people 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 are usually very sad and aren't always pretty - 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, and what seemed like ovarian pain. Her back was rigid with tension, she was full of fear/anxiety, her gut was beyond sensitive, she was grass-intolerant and full of varying metabolic syndromes, and just for fun she had early onset arthritis as well. 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 become a Systems Analyst (well, I did used to be a computer engineer back in the 80s/90s 😉) - I have to dig deep into my anatomy/physiology studying because we need to track all those symptoms downstream to the body systems that are affected. After months - if not years - of vet intervention, they've usually had every 'blocking' drug thrown at them to mask the symptoms, but of course this doesn't make the issue go away - all this will do is simply push the problems down deeper.
But - 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 down through the organs and all the way to cellular level, where the root cause lies, and here's a thing - it usually starts with deep embedded inflammation in the cells. And it's here where we have to start because in order to begin the fix, as the saying goes we have to 'Fix the cell to get well'.
Fix the cell to get well
In this particular mare's case we had the presenting symptoms relating to just about every system in her body - her hormone imbalance and metabolic state was connected to her endocrine system; her arthritis and back tension - musculoskeletal system; her chronic stress, fear and anxiety - nervous system. And her gut system was in meltdown - based on what the client told me, there was no doubt we were looking at dysbiosis/SIBO/leaky gut domino effect - when that very fragile microbe balance within the gut microbiome environment becomes disrupted and leads to leaky gut. And - everything starts with the gut, but everything begins with the microbiome.
This mare's disrupted gut function would have equally connected with her circulatory systems - both blood and lymphatics - and because the microbiome produces the immune cells, her immune system was poorly functioning, unable to deal with the high levels of toxic burden in her body, her liver's inability to biotransform the toxins, and her kidney's inability to eliminate them, never mind trying to manage her energy regulation. All in all, a massive systemic buffet all ricocheting off each other.
And here's the reason - 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.
As above, while the problem(s) usually start with a disrupted microbiome, the first effects are seen at cellular level, because the cells’ internal mitochondria (this is where the chemistry happens for the cell to perform its role) are no longer able to do their job. And if the cells aren't doing their job this means there's now a real problem - deep-rooted inflammation right down at sub-cellular level spreads up through the tissues and the organs that make up each system. By the time we get to see the symptoms at system level, metabolic 'function' - as we know it, or would like it - is now 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 is now presenting as symptoms, sometimes multiple. And very often this is no fun to be around - half a ton of angry, stressed, hurting horse is never 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.
The real deal
Basically, everything begins in the gut microbiome, because the microbiome literally creates the immune system (explained in our Microbiome page). This is where the immune cells are made - get the microbiome right and we're no longer trying to fight the battle - we win the war. This is relatively new science and makes for an eye-opening read, explaining that the microbiome is basically the body's CPU (Central Processing Unit) that literally runs the whole engine. Without a healthy microbiome, the body literally crashes.
However, when gut function becomes ‘sensitive’, it means the microbiome colonies of beneficial v. pro-inflammatory bad gut microbes has altered. This triggers a state of acidosis/dysbiosis/leaky gut in the gut microbiome - we've got hindgut acidosis in the colon, and gas in the small intestine, a place where gas should never be. This is because the small intestine is a thin tube, so when there's a build up of gas it feels like it's being pumped up like a balloon, and it hurts, not only from the pressure but because the pH levels have dropped to acidic, when the intestinal region should always remain at neutral, so it's also burning. (This is all covered in depth in our Gut System page).
The causes can be many - poor diet or stressors, or stressors caused by poor diet ... and collectively they create an unbalanced overpopulation (dysbiosis) of the pro-inflammatory, gut-damaging microbes - the 'bad' guys - which means an unhealthy microbiome, which is bad news.
The last thing we want is dysbiosis in the microbiome. The bad microbes' waste is 'gas', which creates bloat/inflammation. 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 trying to deal with all the toxicity, which leads to autoimmunity. There's a separate section in our Gut System section on leaky gut syndrome and how serious it is, to the point where it's now being considered an epidemic.
Here’s where it becomes serious
The immune system, which relies entirely on a healthy, well-balanced microbiome to even exist let alone stay strong and functioning, now 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, which as it grows it now starts to track its way upstream through the body's tissues and organs. It's only when it finally reaches the relevant system that we now see the symptoms - real pain, and a lot of misery. Finally us humans can get involved.
Using our mare example above:
- cow-kicking - this is very common due to the inflammatory effect of hindgut acidosis/dysbiosis - you'll see it along the right-hand side from flank forwards and halfway along the ribcage, as this is where the large intestine sits. And it hurts. You can commonly see a horse trying to cow-kick the pain away.
- fear/anxiety/tension – a stressed nervous system releases its survival - necessary but unfriendly on the body - stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol). The endocrine system triggers the sympathetic nervous system's auto-pilot survival-mode 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 inflames because of toxin saturation in the blood stream, and this hurts almightily as the inflammatory pressure has nowhere to go within that solid hoof capsule. Cue the dreaded lami risk.
- 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, and remember - inflammation is red-hot. This mare was in pain; she was stressed, there was hindgut acidosis/dysbiosis (SIBO)/leaky gut, and there could have been ulcers for good measure because of the stress/poor diet. There was 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, for that matter) is to help them return to their 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 microbiome, with the typical root causes being anything from stress, mental and/or physical trauma, antibiotics, bad feeds/haylage, nutrient deficiencies, hidden infections, toxic exposure, genetic deficiencies … the list is endless, and let’s not forget the dreaded green stuff, our friendly neon-green grass pastures.
Also, as at 2021, new science/research is now connecting all the above syndromes into a relatively unknown, yet now widespread, multi-metabolic detoxification disorder known as Cryptopyrroluria, or KPU for short.
Put simply, a prologonged disturbed hindgut intestinal biome can affect the liver’s natural detoxification function, meaning dangerous circulating toxins escape into the body where previously the liver would have performed its regular biotransformation (metabolising) process. This is now known to trigger a whole range of metabolic disorders, manifesting in a multitude of unspecific symptoms - often several at a time concurrently, with our horse never seeming to get better from one issue to the next despite heroic efforts from the owner. All explained in our KPU page, which is well worth a read to see if anything there resonates with you and your horse.
So how do we fix 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. NB - if we're talking KPU, the fix-kit is slightly more involved but it's all explained on our KPU page.
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, not bacteria-laden acidic haylage, and not potentially gut-disrupting alfalfa. Just hay, hay and more hay, as in long, stemmy, late-cut, grass preferably gone to seed so there's lots of lovely equine-gut-appropriate cellulose fibre in the stems type of hay. If you continue to feed your horse haylage, forget it. If you let your horse run out of hay, especially if stabled overnight, forget it.
If haylage was fed, the gut also needs to deacidify, so feed Spirulina for a couple of weeks which is an excellent toxin-binder and is mainly excreted via the liver-bile-intestine, thus relieving the kidneys.
Meanwhile, what not to feed. No beet, no alfalfa, no sugars, no pectins, no muslis, no pellets, no treats, and definitely no feedbags with wheatfeed, oatfeed, soya, NIS in any form for at least 6-months, basically anything listed in our ‘The Feedbowl – what’s really in those feedbags’ page. The more basic the feeding program – in other words, the more species-appropriate, as in what a horse is meant to eat and what a horse’s gut is meant to digest – the faster the hindgut biome will regenerate and the hindgut environment will restore itself back to normal.
The horse also 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.
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.
Each page has direct links to our Online Shop so you can build your own Fix-Kit to support your horse. Generally, though, you'll be looking at something along the lines of:
- Stress: our StressTonic
- our OptimaCARE three-stage full body detox. If you suspect your horse is a KPU candidate, after the detox take a 1-week break then feed our LKL-CARE for 1-month, alongside our WildFed mix as it’s vital to support the horse's natural eating behaviour. If your horse has leaky gut, feed our GutAminos, and to support the liver function you need the activated form of vit.B6 - Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate, aka P5P.
- Mineral balancing, to supplement the missing mineral nuts and bolts back into the diet - our EquiVita/VitaComplete mineral balancer range.
- Linseed (micronised) for the Omega-3 (included in our VitaComplete range)
- Salt (included in our VitaComplete range)
- Or - to avoid extra supplements in the feedroom and make life easier, our 3-in-1 VitaComplete combines our EquiVita, linseed and salt blended into one supplement.
That's it! It's a lot of reading, I know, but email back any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you'd like us to look at your feed/forage regime to see if there are any obvious triggers.