Alternative Therapies: Quality or Quackery?

In spite of (or perhaps because of) the ongoing debate about the merits of chiropractic, acupuncture, and other alternative treatments, these and other modalities are exploding in popularity. First embraced by human medicine, methods ranging from”n spite of (or perhaps because of) the ongoing debate about the merits of chiropractic, acupuncture, and other alternative treatments” spite of (or perhaps b
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There’s a Great Divide in the equine community. It’s not the endless squabbling among hard-core breed or discipline disciples, and it’s not the uneasy relations between animal-rights groups and equestrian enthusiasts. It’s the split between those horse owners and equine practitioners who favor a solidly "conventional" approach to veterinary medicine, and those who believe that so-called "alternative" therapies should have a place in–or even replace–conventional methods. The debate seems a bit like the typical U.S. citizen’s perception of Congress: It’s all about Republicans versus Democrats, right-wingers versus left-wingers. And–judging from each faction’s jibes at the other–never the twain shall meet.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) the ongoing debate about the merits of chiropractic, acupuncture, and other "alternative" treatments, these and other modalities are exploding in popularity. First embraced by human medicine, methods ranging from herbs to homeopathy are now being used on the horses and house pets of enthusiastic devotees. Even horse owners who themselves have never had their spines adjusted or their ligaments lasered have turned to non-traditional practitioners when conventional methods failed to cure persistent, mysterious lamenesses or other problems. It’s easy to see why a frustrated owner who’s spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on conventional treatments and lost months of precious riding and training time, only to see little or no improvement, might become eager to give alternative treatments a try; after all, nothing else worked.

But are such horse owners the equestrian equivalent of the terminal-cancer patient who flies to far-flung lands for exotic curative "cocktails;" desperate and willing to try anything, no matter how outrageous? Some veterinary experts say yes, and warn horse owners against wasting their money on unproven and even potentially harmful substances and manipulations. Others argue that, when employed by experienced practitioners, certain alternative treatments can, indeed, produce good results.

With all the controversy, it might seem unlikely that experts would agree on any aspect of alternative therapies. But when The Horse talked with practitioners on both sides of the issue, we heard some common refrains and advice. In this article, we’ll explore the debate in detail, and we’ll give you some tools for making informed choices about the treatments your horse receives

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Jennifer O. Bryant is editor-at-large of the U.S. Dressage Federation’s magazine, USDF Connection. An independent writer and editor, Bryant contributes to many equestrian publications, has edited numerous books, and authored Olympic Equestrian. More information about Jennifer can be found on her site, www.jenniferbryant.net.

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