Nia Cooke DEP MEPA(UK)
Alistair Taylor DEP MEPA(UK)



The Greek philosopher Hippocrates, of Hippocratic School of Medicine fame, some 2,400 years ago believed in viewing the whole in regards to finding a cause of disease. He also firmly believed in using the laws of nature to induce a cure. He was one of the first to believe that disease was caused by environmental influences, rather than being punishment from the Gods. So I guess that makes him the first Holistic Practitioner?

Basic Holistic Principles are as follows:       

  • The healing power of nature

  • Identify and treat the cause

  • Do no harm

  • Treat the whole

  • The healer as teacher

  • Prevention is better than cure.


So, let's consider those principles one by one in terms of Equine Podiatry:

The healing power of nature

Nature has an innate ability to heal, if it didn't we'd all be either dead or wrapped in bubble wrap! Every time you cut yourself, nature immediately starts working to send blood to the cut to clean it up, it makes it nice and hot with inflammation to kill any bugs, then clots form to stop the bleeding, and your skin then starts creeping back together to heal you. When  you think about it, it's amazing!!

As an EP, I work with what a hoof will naturally do to heal itself - mainly to grow - to improve the shape, condition and strength. That might be to remove flare at the bottom of the hoof wall, so as the top of the hoof now has a straighter angle for new growth to follow, or other mechanical adjustments. It might be apply a natural disinfectant to a thrushy  frog, and to trim to remove any surface infections and encourage ground stimulus, so as the new growth has a chance of being healthy.

Identify and treat the cause

There is always an underlying cause. Sometimes it's mental, sometimes physical, sometimes environmental, and sometimes in the being themselves. 

The holistic approach is to treat the underlying cause and not just the symptom. Symptom management is important, but it is more important to find and deal with the underlying cause of disease

When thinking of a hoof, the flare and the thrushy frog in the above scenario are generally associated with sub-optimum hoof growth, which could be due to inflammation or dietary imbalance reasons in either case, and/or mechanical forces in the case of the flare, or the stabling conditions in the case of the frogs. Or a combination of all those and more! As an EP, I try and identify and remedy any negative influences of hoof health, we'll discuss, diet, turnout, everything that can influence the hoof. Which is just about everything!


Do no harm

Never use any treatment that may cause further damage or induce other conditions.

In the case of a hoof, we never trim more than is necessary, the horse should always be at least as sound after a trim as they were before the trim - after all the aim is to improve the soundness and movement of the horse!

We EP's have ten golden rules which start with do not harm and go from there, which ensure that the horses overall wellbeing is always paramount. This is both in terms of the treatment and trim used, and in terms of the horses mental wellbeing and overall comfort during the trim.

Going back to the thrushy frogs and flare, I would only trim away as much infection as was safe to do so, and the flare would never be totally removed if there wasn't sufficient wall to do so, to keep the hoof strong enough to prevent further cracks or splits and to ensure no pain.

Treat the whole 

When devising a treatment, all aspects of a being are taken into consideration.

Sometimes this principle is taken in psychiatry or mental health context as well as in holistic/natural/alternative medicine practices. But it can also mean to ensure that the lifestyle, environment and even personality traits (nervousness, fear etc.) are all considered in both the cause and the treatment.

In the context of horses and mental health, there is some interesting stuff out there linking crib biting and wind sucking to stomach ulcers, the thinking being that the action of taking air into the stomach reduces the pain caused by an ulcerated gut. So whereas wind sucking is traditionally thought of as a behavioural condition or a stable vice, there is much evidence to suggest that by treating these stable vices with digestive ulcer remedies, they have reduced or removed this behaviour entirely.

In the context of the thrushy frog above, perhaps ideally a 45 minute soak in a non-necrotising disinfectant would be the ideal treatment for the thrush. However, if the horse is generally nervous or fearful, it's probably not a good idea to try and make them wear a large, rustling, cold and wet soaking boot, full of liquid for 45 minutes!!

The healer as teacher

Helping the patient to take responsibility for his/her own health by teaching self-care.

As an EP, I only visit for about an hour every month or two, which means most of the time, it's in your hands!! Barefoot might be best in my opinion, but it's often not the easy option.  This means, I have to give you the owner the knowledge to look after and improve the hooves in between my visits.

In the case of the thrushy frog, I would provide information on how often to disinfect and which options are non-harmful, whilst considering the behaviour of the horse and the time constraints and facilities etc.

Prevention is better than cure

This one is a bit obvious!! Removing harmful substances and influences from a patient's lifestyle to prevent the onset of further disease. So, making sure the grazing and feeding regime do not contribute to hoof inflammation, advising on the use of hoof boots if the soles are thin to prevent bruising and consequent abscessing.

So, I think using those definition, you could call Equine Podiatry an Holistic Approach. It is a scientific approach, which uses an entirely holistic methodology.



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