What is health?

Posted by Joyce Harman, DVM on Mar 10th 2024

What is health?

When looking at your horse from a holistic standpoint, the first question to ask is: is my horse healthy? Dumb question, you might say, of course he/she is healthy. I ride regularly and am having no issues. Or you might say, of course not, I am struggling with insulin resistance, itchy skin, or a myriad of other things.

So, what is health? Health is defined as freedom from disease. According to this definition many domesticated horses are not truly healthy. In conventional medicine “normal,” chronic conditions are accepted as healthy, as long as the animal is considered free from devastating illness. In other words, many signs of chronic disease, when not life-threatening, are accepted as normal health.

True health in holistic terms is freedom from any signs of disease. It includes the ability to acquire common, self-limiting infectious diseases, such as the flu, and have adequate immunity such that the illnesses are short-lived and require little medication to recover. A healthy individual should mount a strong reaction to an infectious disease, often running a high fever (up to 105°F or more) for a short period of time, followed by a quick recovery.

Less than perfect health

A horse, by nature, is a prey animal. It lives in areas with scrub-type vegetation, and moves twenty hours a day eating, with about four hours spent resting and sleeping. Humans expect horses to adapt to our ways of living, eating and exercise, and, for the most part, horses do this very well. However, the levels of stress brought on by the unnatural living conditions create and exacerbate chronic disease and cause weakening of the immune system. Recognizing the nature of horses helps us understand how best to evaluate and treat them in a holistic manner.

Signs of disease can be mental or physical symptoms from mild to severe. Any deviation from health can be considered a sign of disease or of less than perfect health but may only indicate a poor-quality feed or a parasite overload.

Here is quick list of a few of the common things to look at in more detail: weight issues (over, under), chronic cough/respiratory disease, skin issues, stool not normal, allergies, chronic joint issues. The list is much longer, but this gives you an idea to expand your thinking about health.

Once you identify the more subtle signs of health concerns, the next question is what to do about them. For this I have been working for many years to bring a complete, independent nutrition course online so people can learn to really improve their horse’s health. I am sharing my knowledge in a fun, interactive masterclass, so you can figure out what your horse needs for optimal health. You will have 42 short modules with lots of exercises to reinforce the knowledge and apply it directly to your own horse.

Take My Course! https://harmanyequine.com/introduction-to-horse-healthmanship/

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