CONDITIONING - 'Fit for purpose' Can herbs help?

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Fit for Purpose
Can Herbs Help?
'Conditioning' and 'fittening' are interchangeable words for the same process of enhancing a horse or pony's physical capacity so that it is better able to cope with the job in hand - be it hacking, Trek, dressage, endurance, or eventing.
In the natural state horses and ponies spend over 60% of their time grazing, but are at the same time continually on the move, and their 'trickle feeder' digestion system has not evolved at all since man's intervention. This is why domesticated horses find the varying conditions under which we keep them so constraining, and why they now suffer from behavioural and physical conditions which do not affect feral animals.

However the domesticated horse is here to stay so the best that we can do for him is to practise a form of 'damage limitation', much of which is already common knowledge, a base diet of long and short fibre, as much turnout as is practical in the company of other equines, and the under-standing that the horse is very much an animal and not a surrogate child or 'friend'.
A feral horse has a basic level of fitness by virtue of the fact that he is always on the move and a cardio-vascular system which has developed to enable him to utilise short bursts of speed to escape predators.  Domesticated horses are kept at best in relatively small paddocks (often with rich grass compared to what their ancestors would have had access to) and at worse confined to a stable for many hours.  Therefore this base level of fitness is absent so it is generally accepted that depending on how long the horse has been inactive you can't pull him out of his field and take him hunting without some preparation.
So how can herbs help with conditioning? 
HH Calendula_flowers                           HH Valerian_root                                 HH Centella

Whatever the ultimate aim most conditioning programmes start from the same point i.e. a period of slow work steadily increasing in speed and duration or ‚Äö√Ñ√∫legging up‚Äö√Ñ√π as the Australians call it.  

This initial period is critical but can be terminally boring for both horse and rider, so calmative herbs such as
valerian*, vervain, skullcap, and chamomile are useful during this time and will help ensure your horse keeps all four feet on the ground! However progressive this period of work older horses, or those who spend several hours a day in a stable, may benefit from herbs to stimulate the lymphatic system and prevent filled legs.  Combinations such as cleavers &marigold are 'sister' herbs that are so effective in improving lymphatic drainage they could be called 'herbal stable bandages'. 
HH MedowsweetOnce the initial period of slow conditioning is over then training can become more specific depending on the horse's ultimate discipline.
 At this point herbs to support joints and soft tissue, particularly for older or 'high-mileage' equine athletes are essential.  
Old favourites such as Devils Claw*and Meadowsweet*, with anti-inflammatory properties, combined with classic circulatory herbs such as Hawthorn and Nettle to stimulate blood circulation to joints and soft tissue, are the best bet.

The old adage 'no foot no horse' is even more applicable today as it ever was and many competition
HH Rosehiphorse's are shod more regularly than many leisure horse's so anything that will help promote hoof growth and ensure good quality corn should be considered.
 Rosehip is another classic combo with over 60 minerals and trace elements in the seaweed and a healthy dose of vitamin C in the rosehips to help hoof growth.

 'No lungs no horse' could be considered to be another adage and certainly any horse spending several hours a day stabled should be considered as having compromised lung function.  Other than good quality forage and plenty of ventilation consider expectorant herbs such as Elecampane and Liquorice combined with Plantain and Thyme to ensure your equine athlete doesn't run out of puff on the cross-country.
Some horses and ponies in hard work, again particularly the older ones, may need a 'pick me up' at some point during their competitive season with herbs such as Milk Thistle and Burdock to support the liver along with Cleaver and Dandelion for the kidneys.

HH LinseedMany equine athletes, particularly those on cereal-rich diets and in hard work, may become 'picky' with their food and this is often an indicator of a digestive problem of some sort.  Linseed and fenugreek is a classic herbal combination providing a rich source of oil and an appetite stimulant in one low-volume feed supplement.  Consider also soothing and restorative herbs, Slippery Elm, Marshmallow, Liquorice and Gotu Kola, along with a fibre rich diet, to help support an absence of gastric ulceration.
As always bear in mind that none of the above-mentioned herbs, either individually or in a mix, are a replacement for sound nutrition or an effective training programme.  When in doubt as to your horse's health or nutritional needs consult either your veterinary surgeon or an independent equine nutritionist.
Heather Giles
Sales & Marketing
Hilton Herbs Ltd
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