As spring creeps up, the body systems go from the slumber and store mode to a more active spring-cleaning phase. We can help our horses this time of year by recognizing that the body has specific needs at each new season. The transitional time between seasons is the most stressful time of year for horses. This is the time that we see a large percentage of colics, lamenesses involving ligaments/tendons, arthritis flare-ups, and metabolic stress symptoms.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, within the Five-Element theory, each season is affiliated with a natural element: Earth, Fire, Wind, Wood, Metal. Each element governs a different organ or system. Because the Wood element governs the horse liver, and spring is the time of Wood, this organ often becomes taxed during this time. Given the modern life-style our horses lead and the processed diets and synthetic nutrients they eat, the body already has significant taxes on the digestive system, not to mention dealing with the spring-stressed liver in addition to this.
Imagine if the horse who has liver stress is also eating processed grains, commercial supplements, and processed fats. This creates a situation where the gut is always stressed and therefore the body cannot take care of the liver stress simultaneously. The body is “focusing” on healing the gut above all else because the gut receives constant dietary stress and is supposed to absorb nutrition that would help every other system. However, the gut is not functioning at full capacity so the other organs suffer. At this point, because the liver stress remains unaddressed, we begin to see symptoms that are seemingly unrelated in western medicine; yet are intimately associated with an imbalanced liver in eastern medicine.
There are many variations of horse liver imbalances. The majority of them begin with a stagnant liver where Qi is not flowing. This can lead to a variety of generalized symptoms, which include tendon/ligament stress and injury, “popping” in joints, muscle problems, indigestion, nervous system disorders, allergies, eye issues, and even cycling problems in mares. All of these symptoms correlate with very specific horse liver issues that cannot be addressed in the scope of this article. However, you can still help your horse to re-balance this time of year without knowing exactly which liver pattern he fits into.
The diet is the easiest variable to manipulate and is extremely effective in this situation. When feeding commercial processed grains and synthetic supplements (anything not in a whole food form), keep in mind the following: the body can only absorb about 10% of synthetic nutrients, the heat processing transforms foods into food products that need to be stabilized with many other artificial ingredients, and fats often become de-natured and rancid when processed at high temperatures. In keeping up with the demand to constantly filter out un-absorbable nutrients and digesting de-natured proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, the gut is working hard 24/7 and the liver is backed up with unfinished work. The body cannot keep up with any other system needs. It can only do the minimum in order to survive. When the gut rests, the entire body can do other “housekeeping, ”(including re-balancing the liver,) in order to heal other cells, tissues, and organs.
Dealing with inflammation, injuries and insults is a constant stress for even a healthy body to appease – never mind a weakened one. When this happens, we see the horse exhibiting symptoms of sub-optimal health, commonly manifested as: hard-keeping, chronic lameness, slow wound healing, poor performance, weakened immune system, and fatigue. To de-stress the gut, and to help the liver to return to normal function and Qi flow in the spring, the body needs different types of foods depending on the time of year for the best function.
A few basic ideas to improve horse liver health are: bitter greens, whole grains, sprouts, antioxidant fruits, and raw honey. These are basic foods that can dramatically help a horse to come into spring while maintaining top health and peak performance. In any case, things to avoid are: any processed feeds, synthetic supplements, and sweetener.
For example, in Chinese Medicine, a healthy liver in the spring strengthens, nourishes, and moistens tendons and ligaments. Therefore, if we feed the liver nourishing and cleansing foods, chronic connective tissue stress can be minimized. It is always best to feed foods appropriate for the season, as many of our common horse problems rise out of an imbalance within one of the Five Elements. If we can support the horse’s body especially during these times, he will be much better able to cope with the coming season.
What would your horse’s body do with this newfound source of energy? He could heal his chronic hoof inflammation, deal with his allergies, resolve a metabolic imbalance, mend a chronic gastric ulcer. There are so many things the body is capable of healing by itself, if given the right foods. Creating a diet for your horse this spring is one of the most positive things you can do for your horse’s long-term health, soundness, and performance. A diet utilizing whole foods with the goal of balancing the organ systems is simple to formulate and easy to feed by anyone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lizzy Meyer lives in Cypress, TX where she works as a holistic and intuitive horse consultant as well as a representative for BioStar EQ. She sees the horse as a “whole” and utilizes a wide variety of tools in her work; including functional foods, herbs, and energy modalities. She highlights owner education and does rehabilitation work with horses. She has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a degree in Veterinary Technology. With ten years of experience working in the veterinary world and a lifetime of experience with difficult horse cases, Lizzy is available for consultations via phone, email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or in person.