An Iconoclast In The Horse World

(Original post January 14th, 2021, updated April 22, 2023)

It is the start of 2021, and the world is disrupted. Our lives are nothing like they were a year ago. So why not join in?

I am a self-described iconoclast (a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions) in the horse world. I intend to drill a small hole into all your assumptions about horses, place a large stick of dynamite in that hole and then blow up your preconceived ideas. Disruption at its best! All for one reason – to help our horses thrive in a human world.

For a while now, I have seen the demise of our horses across America in small ways. It started with hearing from so many horse owners that their horses were lame from a suspensory ligament strain. From the perspective of a vet visiting so many barns in an extensive area, the total amount of horses developing this lameness grew exponentially. I started to ask myself why this could occur. In vet school from 1980 to 1984, there was little mention of suspensory ligament disease. Was this increasing, or was the discovery of so many cases correlated to improved technology (ultrasound imaging)?

My practice focuses on the teeth and oral cavity of horses. I started to see an increase in cheek tooth fractures and the development of a disease I called the “ugly teeth of old horses.” This became known as EOTRH (Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis). Reflecting on the textbooks in my veterinary education, neither of these problems was mentioned and certainly doesn’t need advanced technology.

Other diseases and lamenesses in horses grew exponentially from no mention in my texts in 1980 to the inevitable acceptance of horse owners that their horses would soon succumb to them. I will list them here:

  • DSLD (Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Disease) or the collapse of horses’ fetlocks resulting in pain and death for many.
  • Suspensory ligament injury other than DSLD.
  • White line disease in the hooves.
  • Laminitis is becoming more prevalent in horses instead of being mostly in ponies.
  • Insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and obesity are everywhere.
  • Cushing’s disease seems to be in every other horse.
  • Kissing spine and arthritis of the vertebral facets.
  • An increase in anhidrosis (non-sweating) in horses.
  • Cheek tooth fractures and EOTRH of the incisors and canine teeth.

The Disservice To Horse Owners

Many horse owners I contact are confused, frustrated and dumbfounded in understanding how to care for their horses with any of these issues. They want answers; however, they get products claiming a cure or tailored to their condition or veterinary care aimed at fixing rather than preventing. The result is the increased cost of horse ownership, the demise of their horses, the loss of use and eventually, their premature death.

I have been there. With my veterinary degree, I still have spent on my horse tens of thousands of dollars on care for COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or “Heaves”), followed by 18 months of laminitis and the eventual loss of our loved horse. There was also another Thoroughbred we raised from birth who never could keep weight on that, developed severe laminitis and had to be euthanized. It was my worst euthanasia ever.

So I have been where you are. I am angry. I want answers that tell me exactly why these here-to-for unusual illnesses and lamenesses are now in almost every horse I see. I want to know how to prevent them from ever occurring. 

You will never hear from me that something occurring is due to genetics. That answer is a garbage pail. The truth is that you and your horses have ALL the genetics to create any disease we want. The conditions you or our horses live in allow for the expression of the genetic code. That is called epigenetics. I aim to look for the conditions causing the expression of the “bad” genes. In turn, many of these diseases can be prevented. Here is an example from a discussion on kissing spines in horses.

The average age for detecting the “kissing spine” condition in horses is 6 ½ years of age. This disease was unheard of until about 30 years ago. The reason for this, according to the veterinarian presenting this information, is due to genetics. Really? Could there be another reason? I believe there is.

I decided to become an iconoclast disrupting the thoughts of diagnosticians and surgeons with alternatives. Who is correct? I don’t know, but I know one thing is sure. What we all are doing right now isn’t working. The veterinarians, the various horse professionals, the suppliers of food and supplements, the trainers, the marketing gurus and all the others seem to be swatting at flies. One human researcher calls this “Whack-A-Mole” medicine.

2021 will be disruptive, and I will be a part of it. Through blogs, podcasts and a private server where no one can censor exciting discussions and debates, I will offer a safe place for horse owners to hunt for, debate and find solutions that prevent the future loss of horses. I don’t have all the answers, but I will find them without pressure. So stay tuned for the start of something special for horse owners. An honest and thoughtful space where we all can Help Horses Thrive In A Human World™.

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