I have as much of a sense of nostalgia as anyone.  I love history.  I think that there is lots to be said about the “good old days,” whenever the heck they were.  I do not, however, think that the “good old days” generally include medicine.

nostalgiaThe fact is that it’s only been about 100 or so years since medical practitioners really got their acts together and started to be able to figure out if they were actually doing anything good.  Prior to that, medicine was a world of humo(u)rs and miasms, treated by bleeding, burning, and purging, plants and animal matter of all sorts (the 6th century Chinese apparently liked otter feces) and all sorts of other awfulness.  In light of some of the things that were done, it’s kind of amazing that anyone survived their treatments.  Mostly, people (and horses) survived in spite of the crazy things that were done to them.

Nevertheless, in those wild and wooly days of yesteryear, enterprising medical entrepreneurs turned out an endless stream of products, with some pretty fantastic claims.  They designed some absolutely artistic advertising cards to go along with those claims, too.  These trade cards surged onto the scene in the 1870’s, coinciding with the advent of color printing.

Look as hard as you’d like – you won’t find any of those products today.  But the claims?  Well, the claims are still around, and they’re pretty much the same as they were 100+ years ago!  Seriously, today, you will find people making the same ridiculous claims for their particular nostrums as they did over a century ago.  Here are some examples –

1.  Are you worried about your horse’s blood being impure?  According to an archaic and somewhat ridiculous line of thinking, “impurities” of the blood are one serious problem.  Of course, no one ever says what those impurities might be, but, no worries, you can get the blood purified anyway!  And, according to a modern text on veterinary herbal medicine, the herbs turmeric and sweet Basil are “Blood purifiers”  – Wynn, S and Fougère, B.  Veterinary Herbal Medicine, 2007, p. 69.

You could have purchased this “blood purifier” over 100 years ago!

2.  Worried about pain?  Why not try some “essential oils?”  According to the website, “The Holistic Horse,” essential oils of peppermint and eucalyptus are a must!  It’s hard to say what the oils are essential for – certainly not for the relief of pain!  There’s certainly nothing wrong with the pungent smells of eucalyptus or peppermint, and, of course, peppermint is a popular flavoring agent.

Of course, oils as pain relievers are nothing new.  If you wanted to buy some pain oil in 1897, you could!  Who knew that people would still be buying this stuff 127 years later?

KidneyandLiverRemedy3.  Concerned that your horse’s kidneys need rejuvenating?  Don’t worry if you didn’t know that they weren’t juvenile enough – inventing problems is one of the great ways to come up with a cure.  If you’re concerned, just go to the website for WolfCreek Ranch and pick up some “Kidney Rejuvenator.” In case other members of your menagerie have problems, it also works on elephants and giraffes.

Or, if you were around 127 years ago, you could have picked up some Hunt’s Remedy.  Not only was it “Never Known to Fail,” you could take care of a lot of other stuff, a sort of one stop medical shop.  I’ve never seen a medicine that never failed – I wonder why you can’t buy any today?  After all, it was good for your cattle, hogs, and poultry, too!

4.  Worried about your horse’s condition?  Who wouldn’t be?  If so, why not try “Pink Powder?” As advertised by Wessex Animal Health in the UK, “For everyday equine life, Pink Powder maintains perfect condition.”

TradeCardsOr, perhaps you might be persuaded by this ad, from 1905?


Look, medical conditions occur for specific reasons.  Horses don’t have unnamed “toxins” circulating around in their body, their blood doesn’t need to be “purified,” their kidneys don’t need “rejuvenating,” and as long as you feed them properly, their “condition” will generally be just fine.  If you look at most any of the claims made for supplements, you’ll find that, at the bottom of it all, they’re pretty much nonsense.

Don’t expect that some untested over-the-counter product that you can buy in a bucket in the feed store is going to somehow bring health and longevity to your horse (or any other animal that you want to take care of.  The best way to do that is REALLY old-fashioned – it was known even prior to glitzy advertising and vague promises – through good feed, regular exercise, and attention to a few routine health details (such as deworming, and vaccination).

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!



Posted by David Ramey

David Ramey, DVM, is a 1983 graduate of Colorado State University.  After completing an internship in equine medicine and surgery at Iowa State University, he entered private equine practice in southern California.  Dr. Ramey is an author of numerous books on equine health care, and a prominent voice for the application of evidence-based standards to veterinary medicine.  He was a member of the task for on "Therapeutic Options" of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, as well as a member of the task force that wrote the current guidelines for the use of "Complementary and Alternative" veterinary medicine for the American Veterinary Association.  He has published numerous articles and books pertaining to "alternative" approaches to veterinary medicine, including the 2004 "Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine Considered," co-authored with world renowned veterinary ethicist Dr. Bernard Rollin.