Colic is probably one problem every horseman will experience with some degree of regularity, no matter what type of horse he deals with or how careful his barnmanship. Colic has been with us since earliest times and will continue to be with us in future times. A 1926 study on the horse population of the Prussian Calvary analyzed 71,532 cases of colic in the first study and 98,249 in the second study. It was found that the calvary horse population experienced 3-5% colic episodes on an annual basis. Further, it was found that 11-14% of these colic episodes resulted in death. I doubt seriously that these statistics have improved much at the beginning of the 21st century despite all of our high tech veterinary advances.

     Most horse people have a very fleeting knowledge of what colic is outside of it being a stomach ailment. We mostly know not to allow the horse to stand, to walk the horse incessantly, maybe give a patented colic tonic of some sort, but mainly to call the vet, post haste. Likewise, I have yet to read an herbal that has anything enlightening to say about equine colic. Most are like a modern popular equine herbal which was published recently. It tells you to phone a vet at once and only offers rudimentary "prophylactic" herbal cures. Pretty pitiful content to say the least.

     Primarily, colic is the term for a painful dysfunction of the horse's gastro-intestinal (GI) tract which may be based anywhere from in the stomach to the descending colon at the far posterior end. The equine structural gastrointestinal route from head to tail is as follows: (1) stomach ---- (2) small intestine (duodenum--jejunu--ileum) ---- (3) large intestine (cecum--ascending colon--descending colon) ---- (4) rectum. There are many causes of colic and many mechanisms. I am interested primarily in the race horse, and they tend to be afflicted by only a few common types of colic and causes. Exceptions can happen, but the acute colic, I am about to discuss is the most commonly observed types in race horse barns across the United States. In my forty years of training show and race horses, these are the only ones, I have observed. I have never lost a horse to colic, never been forced to make a dreaded trip to a University clinic. Hopefully, you won't either.

Herbal Treatment 

          The key is to catch and treat your horse early. You will find that acute colic is like a snow ball rolling down hill. The longer and further it is allowed to progress, the harder it will be to stop it.  In cases of intestinal impaction and distention, the objective is to get the gut moving the blocked ingesta as quickly as possible, to stimulate circulation, and limit as much as possible gas/fluid formation in the lumen.  My herbal protocol is modeled after the treatment originated with Dr. Richard Schulze.  He gained his experiences from a long human clinical practice and applied it to equine colic.  My formula and application differs slightly from his, but his is the model; and I tip my hat to his herbal ingenuity.  My herbal colic mixture is formulated as follows (parts = volume):

Cape Aloe Leaf      (2 parts)

Senna leaf/pods     (1 part)

Cascara Sagrada   (1 part)

Barberry root bark     (1 part)

Ginger root     (1 part) 

Fennel     (1 part)

Garlic aged powder     (1 part)

Wild yam root     (1 part) 

Cayenne powder   (2 parts)

Cape Aloe leave-----(Aloe ferox) was no stranger in 19th and early 20th century veterinary medicine. The aloes, of which there are several kinds were long considered a remedy most suitable for the equine. Aloes seems less effective in other types of domestic animals. The U.S. Dispensatory states that it's primary action as a cathartic (evacuating bowels) is exerted upon the large intestines and, accordingly, acts very slowly. This text goes on to curiously say of aloes that "A peculiarity in the action of this cathartic is, that an increase of the quantity administered, beyond the medium dose, is not attended by a corresponding increase of effect." The 1901 British Veterinary text, Veterinary Medicines states that aloes is a purgative (causing bowel evacuation) generally used in horses. "In torpidity of the bowels it is conjoined with nux vomica, which stimulates peristalsis. In flatulent or spasmodic colic it is prescribed either in bolus or rubbed down with warm water...". This text goes on to say, "Four to six drachms generally operate in 16 to 24 hours. The degree and continuance of the action are also liable to variation; in some horses purging is over in two or three hours; in others it extends over 24 hours." This seems to be the underlying theme in early Veterinary pharmacy texts. That aloes is slow acting and it is always suggested to not repeat the dosage before 48 hours has elapsed. They are continually warning against "super-purgation". This seems to be at odds with the U.S. Dispensatory's view that super-purgation cannot occur with aloes. It was very common to combine aloes with ginger, nux vomica, and aconite in past veterinary therapy. Traditional dosages for the horse were approximately .5 ounce to 1 ounce (15-30 grams). Aloes does seem to affect the female's reproductive tract, so pregnant mares should be treated with some degree of caution.

Senna Leaf and Pods-----(Senna alexandria) seems to be little used in early Veterinary medicine. I am sure this is in no way a reflection of this herb's effectiveness, but just that there were more potent cathartics favored, i.e. the aloes, linseed oil, castor oil, cascara sagrada, and rhubarb (rhei radix). The Senna most used was imported from India and Egypt. Like aloes, its action is centered on the large intestines by stimulating the vascularity of the mucous membrane and causing increased peristalsis. This herb seems most effective when combined with other cathartics. The suggested dose in horses was four to five ounces, from Veterinary Materia Medica and Therapeutics by Winslow.

Cascara Sagrada-----(Rhamnus purshiana) another commonly used cathartic in Veterinary medicine of the last and next to the last centuries, though its use tended be relegated to the canine. This is a common buckthorn shrub of the western USA. The aged inner bark (at least one year old) is what is employed medicinally. Its actions are very similar to Turkish rhubarb, being very mild in cathartic action. Cascara stimulates the large intestines, like Senna and Aloes.

Barberry Root-----(Berberis vulgaris) has not been routinely used in Veterinary medicine's past. The root bark, in general herbal traditions, has been used medicinally for its tonic, purgative, and antiseptic effects of the gastro-intestinal system. It is prescribed as a stomach tonic and in larger amounts acts as a mild purgative. Barberry is of value in gastric and intestinal dyspepsia (impairment). Organ Grape (Berberis aquifolium) may be substituted for this herb.

Ginger Root -----(Zingiber) was commonly used in Veterinary Materia Medicas of the past. Certainly no stranger to the horse, it was used as an aromatic stimulant, stomachic, and carminative (relieves flatulence). Given internally it promoted gastric secretions, digestion, and appetite. Finlay Dun's Veterinary Medicines of 1901 states: "It is prescribed in atonic dyspepsia, often along with antacids and laxatives. Conjoined with purgatives, it diminishes their tendency to nauseate and gripe, and also somewhat hastens their effects." The traditional dose recommendations for the horse was 4 drams to 1 ounce (16-30 grams). I think this is a key point, ginger "hastens their effects". Like capsicum, ginger acts as a blasting cap to the slower acting cathartics of aloes, senna, cascara. Ginger is not to be underestimated in value to this colic formula as a whole.

Fennel -----(Faeniculum vulgare) was never routinely used in Veterinary Medicine's past, though Veterinary Medicines states it can be substituted for anise which was a aromatic stimulant, stomachic and carminative. "It was used to relieve indigestion and flatulence...and to diminish the griping of purgatives." Both results always a nice addition to any colic formula.

Garlic -----(Allium sativum) was never formally embraced by the educated Veterinary practitioners of the 19th and 20th centuries. The European Gypsies were famous for ruthlessly employing garlic in may equine treatments. Garlic has long been employed in the Herbal traditions as a carminative and anti-microbial. These are the two main uses for including garlic into my colic formula. Garlic is selective about its anti-bacterial action, unlike our modern anti-biotics. Garlic will not kill the bacteria in the G-I tract that is beneficial. It will control an overpopulation of bacteria that may stimulate flatulence under impaction conditions. Garlic can also enhance the qualities of blood during stressful times. I am suggesting the use of aged garlic powder as this has shown to cause no gastric irritation in any amount, though do not take this as a dismissal of fresh garlic. The 1883, U.S. Dispensatory states that when taken internally: "Its effects on the system are those of general stimulant. It quickens the circulation, excites the nervous system...and acts upon the stomach as a tonic and carminative. Moderately employed, it is beneficial in enfeebled digestion and flatulence...".

Wild Yam-----(Dioscorea villosa) has the folk name of Colic Root. That should be explanation enough of its primary use in the past. The root has long been prescribed as an antispasmodic and in cases of bilious colic. Its autonomic nerve relaxant properties makes it a herb of choice in spasmodic colic. The Veterinary Materia Medica of the past did not embrace wild yam though its use in a number of veterinary patented colic remedies were wide spread.

Cayenne-----(Capsicum) is listed last, but is one of the most important constituents of this formula. It is the blasting cap, the catalyst of this herbal colic formula of which, without it, the whole formula is rendered impotent. Do not underestimate the power of capsicum. Capsicum does have a history of use in traditional Veterinary Medicine, though its power and importance were greatly underestimated by our ancestral medical and veterinary practitioners. In Winslow's Veterinary Materia Medica and Therapeutics:
"Capsicum is used mainly as a stomachic and a carminative in augmenting the appetite, gastric vascularity, secretion and motion, and intestinal peristalsis. Internally, capsicum. . . is indicated in atonic indigestion and flatulent colic in horses." The recommended dose of the tincture of capsicum in that text was 2-4 grams in the horse. Generally, large therapeutic dosages of capsicum were not given and in fact were warned against in the old Medical texts. Dr. Felter writes back in 1922: "Used within proper dosage it can scarcely do harm and generally results in incalculable good." Thus, the general feelings were that large amounts of capsicum could cause harm of some type, though specifics were never written of.

     Dr. Richard Schulze pioneered the use of cayenne to new therapeutic herbal heights. I was puzzled why he seemed to have such success using Aloes, Senna, and Cascara when all of the old Veterinary practitioners seemed to feel that these herbs were too slow acting and of minimal benefit in acute colic. Cayenne was most certainly the answer and the unique adjutant that Schulze combined with the more traditional colic cathartic herbs to obtain stunning results in his treatment of equine colic. He has revolutionized the use of the once common horse cathartics by combining them with substantial amounts of capsicum and ginger.


     The dose of the above formula will be in the 60g to 90g amounts or 2-3 ounces per horse. There are basically three methods of administering this herbal formula down a colicky horse. One can tube the herbal/water mixture as Dr. Schulze did via stomach tube, one can drench with a herbal infusion, or one can give it in concentrated tincture form as a limited drench, as many of the old fashion herbal colic tonics were administered.

     Dr Schulze's method involved having the vet present and having him tube down a mixture of the powdered herbs in warm water. This is sort of a hybrid infusion method involving the whole herb plus warm water as the carrier. It is necessary to mix the solid herb and warm water together to pass it down the stomach tube. Of course, the disadvantage of stomach tubing is that one needs a vet to be present, presuming that most lay-people do not have the expertise to safely pass a stomach tube into the horse. Sometimes one does not want to forego the cost of calling a Vet or one simply cannot obtain an Equine Vet. As an example, a mare of my nephew's came down with colic and all we had at our disposal was the local cow and hog vet. Since I am now wheelchair bound, I was unable to pass a tube, myself. This rural practitioner does not like horses in the first place and, accordingly, his act of passing a stomach tube into this mare was a very sloppy. He allowed the tube to damage the nasal turbinate, causing a gushing of blood to compound the whole procedure. I have on only a very few occasions ever felt the need to call a vet into my shedrow in cases of acute colic. Note that Dr. Schulze usually was called in, only in morbid situations, so his having a vet present was not unusual. You and I, hopefully will not have our colic cases advance to such seriousness and will be able to handle it on our own. At any rate, using this method involves having the herbs on hand in adequate quantities and ratios, though a strict alliance to the formula is not always necessary. The powdered form of herb would be the easiest to work with. Mix up a quanity of each herb in proper formula proportion and then weigh out approximately 90 grams or 3 ounces. This dose should be mixed into one or two quarts of warm water and then passed through the stomach tube.

     Without the Vet present and his stomach tube, one can quickly infuse the mixture of herbs into a pint of water, similarly as one would make tea. Place the 3 ounces of herb in a a porous brewer's ball or some similar device and add boiling water. Let it infuse for 10 minutes like you would tea. After it has adequately cooled, draw into a large dose syringe and drench the horse with it making sure that the animal swallows the herbal tea.

     The last method would involve making an actual tincture from the herb formula and dosing the colicky horse with the mixture much as you would the old fashion colic medicines of the past. This would be my favored route of administration and has the advantage of always being on hand for immediate dosing and repeated dosing--if that is called for. One can either use an alcoholic or DMSO solvent to dissolve the herbs which would also provide a concentrated way of administering the herbal formula.