have been a part of the American West for centuries. The animals
were used for work, war, pleasure, and even food. Today, many
working ranches still rely on the horse to gather and move
cattle, brand and work calves, sort and separate animals,
and visit neighbors. Pleasure and recreation, however, is
the primary use of these animals today. Racing, rodeo, horse
shows, trail rides and pleasure riding are popular in all
fifty states and Canada. Keeping these animal athletes fit
and healthy is a mega-million-dollar per year industry.
a minute," you say. "This is an elk breeder's publication.
What is all this stuff about horses?" Well, there are millions
of horses in the work and most of them suffer from various
wounds, strains and sprains throughout their lifetime. If
the elk breeders of the world, particularly those involved
in the production of velvet antler, could access this potential
market, the elk industry would thrive into eternity. But until
we produce some data and educate this industry, we can't blow
our horn. This article represents some initial work into a
new potential market. The work is inconclusive an embryonic
at best, but certainly work the effort. Mention it to your
veterinarian. Try one of the quality products on the market
on your animals and see if you detect a response. Although
we are excited about the possibilities, more work needs to
be done, and more people need to hear about it. Velvet antler
is not a panacea, but it has tremendous potential and the
horse will not lie to you. He will either feel better or he
As I watched
my assistant, Royce lead the powerful bay mare away from me
ant then back toward me, I realized her persistent foreleg
limp was as bad or worse than the last time I had seen her.
When standing, the graceful animal shifted her weight and
pointed her painful-foot away from her body to ease the pain.
She was owned by a young Navajo girl and was a top-performing,
barrel racing horse. She was a running quarter horse and had
spent the early part of her life on the racetrack. Many rodeo
horses in our area of the Southwest get their start on racetracks.
Rodeo is the favorite sport in this region, and only the best
horses successfully compete in the demanding competition.
was suffering from a painful, often career-ending condition
known as navicular disease. Navicular disease is a degeneration
of a small bone in the foot of a horse called the navicular
bone. The disease generally occurs in horses that stop and
turn hard, and usually the horse is affected in the prime
of its life. Star was nine years old and barring injury would
have been competitive for many more years. During the course
of my career, I have seen countless valuable horses either
retired or destroyed because of this ailment.
the prognosis and option possibilities with the Navajo family,
and the sobbing young lady finally realized the gravity of
her horse's lameness. I had previously searched the literature
for a reference to use of velvet antler in horses, and had
found none. Based on the often dramatic results we were seeing
in dogs for treatment of chronic arthritic conditions, I mentioned
velvet antler use as a possibility in Star's treatment. I
explained the experimental nature of the treatment and told
them the worst-case scenario would be no change in Star's
condition. Other options included continued use of anti-inflammatory
drugs such as butezolidin or Banamine, corrective shoeing
and even a surgical procedure called a posterior digital neurectomy.
I do not approve of the surgical procedure, which involves
severing the sensory nerves to the navicular area, because
it merely affects the horse's ability to perceive pain and
numbs the entire posterior aspect of the foot. The family
elected to try velvet antler in combination with Banamine
and to totally rest Star for 30 days. We would reevaluate
Star at that time and decide how best to proceed.
Star returned in thirty days, I detected significant improvement
in her condition. I could still see a slightly abnormal gait,
but the shifting of weight and pointing of her affected foot
were no longer noticeable. Her spirits were excellent, and
she was in fine condition. The family told me they began noticing
a difference in her about fifteen days after we had started
treatment. Star was on five grams of powdered velvet antler
daily, and I decided to reduce the dosage to three grams daily.
The powder was mixed into a sweet grain mixture to improve
the family to start star back into training from light to
heavy workouts over the next few weeks. I also suggested they
continue to use Banamine after competing. Star did not win
her first race after her long layoff, but she did not come
up lame. She continues to compete but with less frequency
than before, and seems to be holding her own. Is Star's improvement
only a transitory effect, or has the velvet antler improved
the environment of the navicular bone? I can't answer this,
and time will tell. I do know, however, that the use of this
product has improved a chronic condition, if even for a short
and several other hospitals, including a major university
teaching hospital, are currently evaluating the use of velvet
antler in navicular disease. It is too early to draw conclusions
on the effectiveness of the compound, but we will report our
findings as more animals are tested.
watched Jeff unload the big sorrel from the trailer, I was
shocked at the horse's condition. His entire body was swollen;
even breathing was an effort. The swelling extended from his
head to his hooves, and his feet were throbbing and hot. Jeff
is a rodeo cowboy, and his horse helps him pay his bills as
they compete in rodeos around the country. Jeff team ropes
and steer wrestles, and takes excellent car of his animals.
"Doc, are we gonna have to put him down? He can't move, won't
eat or drink. Me and this horse have been through a lot, and
I can't stand to see him suffer like this."
he's in bad shape, and he may never be the horse he was. We'll
have to treat him and see how he responds." The horse was
suffering from a condition known as Purpura hemorrhagica.
A few weeks earlier we had treated this horse for distemper,
or equine strangles. This is a bacterial disease caused by
streptococcus equi. It causes large abscesses, usually under
the jaw, in the mandibular lymph nodes. These abscesses have
to be opened and drained, and normally recovery is incidental.
In some cases, the bacteria con compromise the immune system
of the horse, causing the animal to bleed into its muscles.
Jeff's horse was one of the worst cases I had ever seen. My
immediate concern was pain relief, but my long-term concerns
were permanent muscle damage, laminitis and, most importantly,
loss of athletic ability.
horse was started on high doses of penicillin, steroids and
velvet antler at the rate of five grams daily. The powdered
antler was mixed into a paste with molasses and administered
orally with a large syringe. Within a few days, the horse
began responding and his appetite returned. As the swelling
receded, he began moving with much greater ease. The antibiotics
and steroids were discontinued after ten days, but he remained
on velvet antler. Thirty days later, the horse appeared normal
in every respect, and Jeff stated that he was as competitive
later, the horse performs as well as he did before his illness,
and his owner says, "I don't know what that stuff is, but
my horses will be on it forever." The human literature states
that velvet antler boosts the immune system, speeds soft tissue
repair, and increases muscle activity and recovery. In this
case, it helped to just that. I must again caution folks.
This is not a cure-all; it is just another weapon in our arsenal
of drugs to treat disease and injury. Would this horse have
recovered as quickly and as effectively without velvet antler?
Possibly, but my feelings are probably not.
STEER WRESTLING HORSE
these x-rays are not good. Your uncle's horse has a condition
called high ringbone, and the prognosis is not good at all.
We have tried everything known to equine medicine, and a few
other things, but the results are the same. This is an arthritic
condition of the small bones of the lower leg, and the animal
will get progressively worse."
is another chronic arthritic condition of horses, caused by
hard use, and it usually ends the careers of competitive horses.
This particular horse was a steer wrestling horse, and a good
one. It was not uncommon for several cowboys to mount this
animal in a rodeo for a share of his winnings. We have tried
blisters, pin firing, freeze firing, anti-inflammatories and
numerous home remedies on this condition to no avail. Generally,
the horse goes until he can no longer perform and is retired.
the condition in detail to Royce, and he understood we were
experimenting. We started the horse on five grams of velvet
antler for thirty days, followed by reevaluation. Royce explained
to his uncle what we were doing, and they took the horse home.
later, I asked Royce what the situation was with his uncle's
horse and why they had not brought the horse back. He explained
to me that the horse had quit limping a couple weeks after
starting the velvet, and that they were using the horse again.
"Have they used the horse in completion again?" I asked.
they used him last weekend. He ran thirteen times and placed
first and second."
dumbfounded. This is a situation veterinarians deal with constantly.
One more race, Doc, one more run. Many times the well being
of the animal is secondary to winning. I have not seen this
horse again, so it is difficult to draw any conclusions; but
thirteen runs in one day sounds pretty substantial.
presented in this article are clinical observations. Many
other conditions in horses are being evaluated, and much more
work needs to be done before we can draw any conclusions.
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