NO HORSIN’ AROUND WITH ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Boston, Mass. July 14, 2001 — The beautiful gelding romped in the pasture, nickering loudly, the picture of health to the average observer. But Dr. Joyce Harman, one of the growing number of veterinarians practicing alternative along with traditional medicine, saw that the horse’s eyes were dull and tense, clues to what she would later discover to be liver disease.
More veterinarians, and more pet owners, are turning to chiropractic, acupuncture, herbs and homeopathy (very dilute substances) to treat cats, dogs, and horses. Dr. Harman has an equine practice, the Harmany Equine Clinic, in Washington, Virginia, where she has a client base of 700 to 900 horses in a 50-mile radius. She includes traditional veterinary medicine whenever necessary, especially in the field of diagnostics or drug therapy, but estimates that acupuncture and chiropractic account for 75% of her practice.
“The main premise behind complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM) is that the whole horse is taken into account. Traditional examinations are expanded upon, including all past health history, current clinical conditions, environment, living quarters, workload, nutrition, and even the rider’s skill and balance on the horse,” said Harman at the 138th Annual Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in Boston, July 14-18, at the Hynes Convention Center.
Dr. Harman was a member of the AVMA Task Force on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, which recently revised the AVMA guidelines on complementary and alternative veterinary medicine. According to the AVMA, all veterinary medicine, including CAVM, should be held to the same standards. Veterinarians should ensure that they have the requisite skills and knowledge for any treatment modality they may be considering; diagnosis should be based on sound, accepted principles of veterinary medicine; and recommendations for effective and safe care should be based on available scientific knowledge and the medical judgment of the veterinarian.
Dr. Harman is certified to perform acupuncture and chiropractic. She agrees that it’s very important that clients do their homework and check out a practitioner’s credentials prior to the first holistic examination.
Most of Harman’s clients initially come to her when traditional medical routes have failed. After years of unsuccessful treatment, many horses with chronic conditions, such as arthritis, skin allergies, and coughing, have found some relief with alternative therapies. However, it is not always a case of “like horse, like owner.” “Some of my clients have never stepped foot inside a health store,” Harman said, “but they know CAVM works on their horses.” And, once enlightened, they don’t wait to bring in their next horse.
Like many of her peers, Harman doesn’t advertise. She doesn’t need to market herself. Harman’s clinic has grown rapidly by word of mouth and repeat business. Among her many interesting success stories is a high-performance dressage horse that had fallen and was still lame after traditional treatments. For six months, Harman treated the horse with acupuncture, chiropractic, and homeopathy. He is now free and of lameness and back to performing well.
About half the horses seen by the Harmany Equine Clinic are pleasure horses; the others are high-performance horses that compete in shows, rodeos, and even Olympic events. Some are semi-retired or retired, but well loved and well cared for by Dr. Harman, a solo practitioner who often speaks in pluralities.
“I work as a team with my clients,” she explains. “Together, we try to ensure optimal health for their horses.”
Optimal health may include defining the reasons for subtle lameness by examining each vertebra chiropractically, or determining whether nutrition, heredity or chronic disease is causing reproductive problems. “In conventional medicine, chronic conditions are accepted, as long as the animal is considered free from devastating illness,” Harman said, “but these horses are not truly healthy.”
Although the bulk of her practice is acupuncture and chiropractic, Harman only uses the modalities that are necessary for each patient. For instance, she chose a nutritional program and homeopathy to treat an overweight chestnut gelding with laminitis. With many years of unsuccessful traditional therapies under his saddle, he is now a healthy 20-year-old that is thriving in a CAVM maintenance program.
“I’ve wanted to be a horse vet since I was three,” Harman said, “and alternative medicine has opened up many more avenues to treating diseases and conditions. It’s exciting to be a part of this growing segment of veterinary medicine.”
The AVMA is a professional organization of 66,000 veterinarians. More than 750 seminars were presented during the 138th annual convention, which is one of the largest gatherings of veterinarians in North America. The next AVMA annual convention will be in Nashville, July 13-17, 2002.