Thursday, April 26, 2012

Buyer Beware

There is nothing unique about this experience. It happens frequently in the horse industry, but the point is it shouldn’t. A man buys a horse, the horse turns out to have problems man knew nothing about prior to purchase. Although a recent situation with a horse one of my Interns is working on inspired this post, it has been a recurring theme for my entire horse career, starting with my own purchase of my very first horse.  In the coming months we will be following Cimarron’s training with posts from both myself and my intern, Nicole Sulick.  We hope to educate and help keep others from making the all-too-common mistake of getting in over their head by purchasing a horse that turns out not to be what they bargained for. I would both encourage and caution you that if you are interested in purchasing a horse to pay a trained professional to assist you and to be careful that, if that professional is your trainer, they have your best interest at heart.

As part of 3TF’s Massage Intern program, Interns are required to work on horses under my supervision. Nicole had been working with Cimarron, a lovely brown Quarter Horse, since the end of January for massage, along with some training, as he was having some behavioral issues that affected Nicole’s ability to massage him. Nicole submitted notes for my review, and presented her experiences to the Intern class. I gave Nicole suggestions and recommendations, but she felt like she was continuing to struggle since the horse just didn’t seem to be making the progress other horses that she worked on did. She discussed her concerns with me, and at this point I felt it was time to see for myself what was going on. Nicole and I decided the best thing was for me to meet the horse and provide a professional massage for him, with Nicole available to observe and ask questions.

When we got to where Cimarron was boarded, he was standing tied to a horse trailer. I prefer to use a round pen or arena for a massage so that I can watch the horse move freely, which has the added benefit of warming up the muscles as well.  I also find horses tend to be more receptive to massage when not tied up. I find this method safer for me, too, as the horse does better when he sees he has room to move if he needs it and does feel trapped. I knew this facility did not have either. I could also tell just by looking at the horse when we pulled up that he wasn’t going to be comfortable, no matter what I did. Because of this, I decided to jump in and start working with the horse while he was tied.

The first thing that struck me was how tight Cimarron’s muscles were over his entire body. He held himself in such a state of anxiety that all his muscles appeared to be firing at once as though his entire nervous system were on fire and ready for flight or fight. I was told that he was going off to a trainer’s in a couple of days to try and “fix” his training issues. Over the years I have learned to listen to my intuition and when listening to the plan I got this sick feeling in my stomach that I get when I shouldn’t do something. I didn’t know the trainer, but from what I knew of the horse I thought it would take a fairly special person to be able to integrate the body issues of this horse with his training problems. I also felt Nicole would be a more suitable choice than an unknown trainer, since I knew Nicole would ask for help and not allow ego to stand in the way of helping a horse. The owner said he would feel much more comfortable with this choice as well.  Nicole made the arrangements for the horse to come to where she boards her horse, which does have a round pen. The next step (and blog post in this series) would be getting him there.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Continuing with our theme of misunderstood and underappreciated herbs, we come to Nettle (Urtica dioica). Most of us have spent our lives referring to this plant/weed/herb as “Stinging Nettles” because of the instant contact dermatitis reaction when we touch it. It hurts, it burns and it can leave lovely tiny blisters that continue to itch and burn.
Surprisingly, when it comes to taking Nettle internally, it’s like an entirely different plant. Nettle is a lovely mild herb internally that provides a wide variety of easily-assimilated minerals including calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins such as A, C, D, and B complex. It manages to do all this in a gentle manner that does not put stress on the liver, kidneys or digestive tract. Nettle is a great choice for those with chronic digestive or urinary tract problems. I have taken over half a cup in a day without noticing any unpleasant digestive consequences at all. I think I would get along better with vegetables if I could say that about more of them! Nettle is most associated with hair, skin and eyes, but it also provides relief for allergies when taken consistently.
Pre-flowering, Nettle can be harvested (long sleeves and gloves a must!) and dried, or it can be steamed and eaten as an asparagus substitute. I am not a good cooked vegetable eater, so I prefer my Nettle dried. I don’t notice a strong taste and I add it to everything, including tomato soup, eggs, oatmeal, and rice dishes. I don’t take vitamin supplements and since vegetables don’t always agree with me, Nettle has become my favorite way to insure I am getting a vitamin and mineral boost.
When it comes to the animals there are so many things I appreciate about Nettle. It makes everyone’s coat nicer. I have this purple measuring scoop which is about half a Tablespoon I use and the horses get anywhere from one and half scoops for Poppy, up to three scoops of the Nettle twice per day for some of larger horses. The way I gauge dosage is based primarily on coat hair quality. When their coats are nice and shiny and the dry flaky skin is gone, as just happened with Lucius, I know it’s the correct amount. Even though Nettle is associated with the eyes I was still surprised when I noticed several of my chronic “eye booger” horses (Konah, Poppy and Cassander) suddenly dried up, which is another way to help gauge when correct dosage has been achieved. I have been doing a great deal of work with my little dog Katie’s diet to help with some chronic dry, itchy skin issues on her hind end. Increasing her Nettle to a heaping tablespoon twice a day seems to have finally taken care of the problem. For Taylor, my digestively-challenged Great Dane, her coat took on a really beautiful hue of almost ebony black when her dose was increased to this amount as well.
Hopefully, the next time you are hiking and feel the burn, you will be able to appreciate this plant a little more than before.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yellow Dock

In keeping with our theme of “herbs that we mistook for weeds”, probably no other herb has been as underappreciated by me as Yellow Dock (rumex crispus-- also commonly known as Curly Dock, for the wavy edges of its long leaves). We had been treating Nehalem’s liver with Burdock Root, when we started running low on funds for her herbs. It was late summer and I had pretty much exhausted our supply of Dandelion. I went to Heather at Mrs. Thompson’s Herbs for a suggestion and she said Yellow Dock is plentiful--I probably had some around the property-- and was excellent choice for what I needed. Armed with feeding instructions from Heather, I went home and looked up a picture of Yellow Dock so that I could go on the hunt for it. Upon seeing the picture in my Herbs for Pets book I laughed out loud. I have spent years digging this annoying, pervasive weed out of my horses’ pastures because it has a way of coming in with hay and taking over. Despite eating an entire humble pie composed of Yellow Dock, when Rachel suggested collecting some of the seeds from the few existing plants we had on the property so that we could plant some, I vetoed the idea. I simply could not bring myself to actually plant something I had such a history of removing. I was confident that we wouldn’t be able to keep Yellow Dock out of the fields if we wanted to and since there was plenty around at Whispering Meadows Equestrian Center and at friends’ fields we kept to just foraging for it as needed.
Yellow Dock is primarily used for the digestive tract, liver and skin. It stimulates bile production and helps clean the blood (this is what we were looking for to help Nehalem with her lymphoma). It also acts as a laxative. Yellow Dock is considered a quick cleansing herb. You will notice as you read our other blog posts we place a great deal of focus on the importance of getting the liver and intestines healthy, and Yellow Dock is an herb that gets right down to business in that department. Yellow Dock is an aggressive herb and not one that should be used long term. It works well with Dandelion, Marshmallow, and Slippery Elm. This is an excellent herb to feed if the problem is related to a need for a systemic flush.
Since Yellow Dock has a way of appearing to most of us as an annoying weed, make certain that the Yellow Dock you feed has not been subjected to chemical treatment. Now, when you are digging Yellow Dock out of your pasture, you can save and dry the root to be used whenever your horse might need a quick detox or liver boost. Just remember: a little bit goes a long way, so start out feeding minimal amounts, and monitor your horse carefully before increasing the dose.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Sum of Our Parts

As we gear up to provide you with more stories and posts of our healing successes (and heartaches) it will be helpful to make certain we are all on the same page about Three Treasures Farms’ methods and beliefs when dealing with the health paradigm. We see all the horses as individuals and treat each horse on a case by case basis. We have also learned to focus on the big picture, recognizing symptoms for what they are (the tell-tale signs of underlying causes). This method requires a much higher degree of involvement, awareness and commitment than most Americans have traditionally experienced in health care. It also requires time, patience and a pro-active mind set. We will show you how we utilize the wisdom of alternative forms of health care while blending it with the advances of Western allopathic forms, in order to provide a more complete heath picture.
Most of us grew up learning that if you had a headache you took aspirin or Tylenol, if you had a stomachache you drank some pink stuff and it was fine. We never gave any thought to why we hurt or what our bodies might be trying to communicate to us with that pain. It takes a huge shift in the way we think to realize we are getting angry too easily and should therefore check in with how our liver is doing, or to try making the leap that the eczema on your leg may be due to a problem in the small intestines. Then there is the even greater leap in thinking about how the emotions you are experiencing and your thoughts may be planning a role in your health as well. Now imagine that you have to think about what is going on in the mind and emotional landscape of your animals accurately enough to use that information in choosing a healing route. It’s really not as easy as we make it look.
People tend to think in treatment terms of the antibiotic paradigm, which is you take this pill twice a day for ten days and the symptoms are gone. People will read about herbs or homeopathics and think “it does this” and when they take that herb or remedy they expect results instantly, and when they don’t get instant results they assume it’s because the herb or remedy doesn’t work. There is an art to working with herbs and homeopathic remedies that is not a linear equation. I tend to think of herbs in terms of friends. You have the friends you see regularly and depend on for emotional support. You have the friends you keep in touch with on Facebook. You have the friends you feel you don’t get to see enough, but love the time you have with them. You have the friends that can’t be around certain other friends, and you have the friends that you do things together with as a group. I often think about herbal formulas in terms of seating at a wedding reception. Mind you, I have never had to do this for myself, but have marveled at the headache it has caused several friends over the years. Over the next few months we will be introducing you to some of our healing friends and giving you the opportunity to make them your friends.
We invite you to take this interesting journey into a different health perspective and welcome your questions. We hope that you enjoy the process as much as we have.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Horse lessons learned on an Elephant Stand

During one of our advanced equine massage classes over the 2010 winter, we took a break from the usual trigger points and Pranic Healing to explore the trail course that had been set up for the Ranch Versatility Competition that had been held the previous day. The course included an "elephant stand"- a raised platform that is just big enough for a horse to stand on. One of the horses I worked with that day was Shekhinah. Shekhinah is a Danish Warmblood and Ferronato’s show and demo horse.

When we got to the elephant stand, Shekhinah would willingly step up with her front legs, but wanted to step the front legs down when stepping the hind legs onto the platform. The idea is to get all four legs on the stand, so after asking Shekhinah a few times with the same result, I asked Ferronato for assistance. Shekhinah stepped all four legs on the stand for Ferronato. As she stepped down, Ferronato told me to watch her hips and low back as Shekinah got down off the stand. It was easy to see that she was very tight and stiff in the area as she stepped down. At Ferronato's suggestion, I took Shekhinah aside and spent 10 minutes (or less) massaging her lower back and hips with a combination of trigger point and myofascial release. We then returned to the elephant stand where she proceeded to step up with all four feet on my first request A lightbulb went off in my head- it wasn't a behavior or training issue behind her unwillingness to get on the stand with all four legs in the beginning- it's that it was physically difficult and painful for her to execute the maneuver because of the tension in her body. I began to wonder, “How many ‘training’ issues are really bodywork issues?” It seemed that Shekhinah really benefited physically from the massage, but it also increased our understanding of one another for me to acknowledge and address that she is a physical being with a body that has physical limitations.

Nicole Sulick

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dandelions: King of the Herbs!

For our new section, “Herb of the Week”, I thought it might be nice to tweak our readers just a little in their thinking by starting off with herbs that have a history of being mistaken for a weed. One of the things that continues to both delight and frustrate me on my own herbal education is how so many of the really good things my horses needed for enhanced health have been literally right in front of me the whole time! Over the years I have put a great deal of time into pasture maintenance and now it seems the weeds I used to pull out of the fields in my younger years are the same herbs that I am putting into them now.
Few herbs do as much, or are as underappreciated, as the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Every part of this herb is healing and nutritious. The flowers provide mild pain relief, the leaves are an excellent diuretic, and the roots are a wonderful liver tonifier which also provides support to the gallbladder. This herb is often a first choice to bring an out of balance system back online, as it helps the body assimilate nutrition more effectively and eliminate wastes, which is sometimes all a body needs to right itself.
Dandelions are everywhere and because they have been treated like a weed, i.e. sprayed with noxious chemicals, one needs to be careful about harvesting. Herbs are best if they are fresh and organic, so if you don’t know for certain that your Dandelions are clean, move on to some you do. Also don’t be fooled by imposters. A Dandelion’s leaf has sharp tooth-like appearance (hence the name, which in French means ‘lion’s tooth’) and its leaf is the texture you would expect to find in a salad at a nice restaurant. The false Dandelion, also known as “prickly lettuce”, has rounded leaves, with a furry, prickly feel to them, (something you would definitely send back if it came with a nice meal). It does not possess the healing properties of the Dandelion.
This herb we feed fresh to all our horses. In the spring especially we dig it out of the yard, rinse off the roots and feed it by the fistfuls. In the past we have had working students dig up a big bag of dandelions and then store them in the fridge, so that we can feed Dandelions to Nehalem with every meal. Dandelions were one of the first herbs we tried to get Nehalem to eat that she refused, and like Cleavers (the other herb Nehalem originally boycotted) now she can’t get enough Dandelions, literally we have started collecting seeds. When Dandelions around the home site go to seed we encourage the kids to pick them, making wishes by blowing them all over the yard. We know what we wish for, more Dandelions!
A fun, healthy way to experience Dandelions is in the spring (the leaves are the least bitter this time of year) pick some leaves off of your more robust plants (that have not been exposed to chemicals) and mix them in with your salad at a dinner party. See if your guests can identify the tasty addition to their normal greens.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Introduction to Equine Massage Class

Introduction to Equine Massage (aka Equine Massage 101) is one of our most popular classes. The goal of the class is to provide students with an introduction about what massage is and how it can benefit themselves and their horses. Each class is designed to maximize and retain learning of the material by utilizing the three main learning styles visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

Each class begins with a classroom component, in which hand-outs are given detailing what is covered in the up-coming class. During this time questions about homework, previous classes or general life experience are answered. Once students have had time to review the class material and had any questions answered the class moves into the Hands On phase, where horses participating in class are moved allowing everyone to study the various gaits of the horse. Students are taught insights into injury prevention by learning how to visually identify problems in equine movement and locate its most likely point of origin with Gait Analysis. To further integrate motion and movement of the horse, students explore and confirm with touch what they have just seen with their eyes. The class then practices the material in the hand-outs while under supervision of the instructor. In each class, students get the opportunity to see and touch a variety of different horses with different massage needs, muscle types and previous injuries. Class ends with another Q&A period, while watching the instructor provide professional massage to a horse utilizing techniques practiced in class as well as ones that will be taught in future classes.

In this class students can expect to learn: safety, correct posture when giving a massage, basic physiology and anatomy of the horse, gait analysis, receive exposure to a wide variety of different massage styles and the ability to practice those techniques on a number of different horses and ponies, be introduced to emergency massage, learn to identify basic problem areas and problem behaviors that lead to the most common causes of injuries in horses, and develop a new way to communicate and enhance their relationship with horses.