Our use of essential oils and herbs for natural healing and health are based on centuries of trials. The beneficial results have been consistently reinforced over time, writes Catherine Bird.
In Europe scientific evaluations of the constituents of essential oils and herbs have confirmed the qualities that natural therapists have known and used for so long.
I am introducing you to the idea of using these well established and proven practices to help maintain your horse at optimum health, or to aid in its recovery in conjunction with your veterinarian. It is of huge importance that you do not see this as replacing your veterinarian. Your vet is specially trained and under most legislation must be the one to diagnose any disease in your horse.
There will always be a role for pharmaceutical medicines and they are often the only option available to save the life of your horse.
The therapeutic application of essential oils is based on worldwide use over centuries, as well as the modern skilled observation and studies of the herbs and their impact.
Essential oils are much stronger than their source herb, sometimes up to 70 times more powerful.
Most natural therapists are operating under the philosophy of restoring a balance with the organism. This means seeking to achieve a state of homeostasis, or balance, in your horse.
My years of work with horses has given me the opportunity to evaluate how aromatherapy can be applied effectively in a wide range of cases. I have been able to work on animals who are used as house pets, week-old thoroughbred foals, and performance horses of many different disciplines, from beginners through to Olympic-level competitors.
My experience and studies in both Australia and America have shown me that tactile therapies are a very effective way of helping our horses reach their potential when combined with consistent training.
Every horse responds to touch; the key is finding the best touch for your horse.
Aromatherapy is exciting. I have gained so much from it personally and wish to share my experiences with you.
Some simple applications are:
Basil is traditionally used any sort of spasm. It is useful in old and new muscle spasm. I find it particularly useful in show-jumping horses where their shoulders tighten up and in front of the shoulder blade. The dressage horse and rider always benefit from a quick sniff of basil before a test, as it sharpens the mind and helps retain focus on the task at hand.
Bergamot will help relieve any skin irritations. It is useful in addressing mild skin eruptions usually caused by an allergic reaction or insect bites. Bergamot is a favourite for dealing with “butterflies’ in the tummy nerves. It eases away anxieties and clears the air so pre-event jitters do not incapacitate.
Chamomile is an expensive essential oil, but worth every cent. It helps the muscle utilise magnesium so you don’t have the muscles cramp or spasm from intense work. It is traditionally the ‘tantrum’ remedy in small children and will calm your horse in minutes if he is being the difficult, demanding child.
Eucalyptus is a handy essential oil to have around to ward off winter ills. If you have the scent of eucalyptus wafting around your stable it prevents germs from jumping through the air, acting as a negative ion generator. Eucalyptus is useful as a post-event muscle rub. It is also an essential oil that freshens up an environment and useful to have around for horses that are confined in stables for long periods of time as it lifts the spirits and creates a ‘bush’ feel in the stables.
Frankincense is an old-wound healer. I use this in a wash for wounds that are taking forever to heal. It also helps with respiratory disorders in a chest rub. This is the ‘fear’ essential oil and useful if a horse is reluctant to go on a float or you can feel a heart beat rise between your legs when you most need your horse to compete.
Geranium is another oil useful in addressing stuck, aching muscles. It helps relieve spasms while having a mild analgesic affect so you can massage the muscle more deeply when needed. This essential oil balances hormones and moods. I like using this on young, moody, and sometimes-temperamental race fillies.
Lavender soothes heat. Useful when addressing inflammation and can be applied gently to bruising and swelling to facilitate recovery. This essential oil will also take the heat out of emotionally steamy situations. When stress is causing disruptions to preparations during a competition, have lavender on a tissue or as a perfume; it will help minimise heated altercations between competitors and grooms.
Lemongrass has an affinity with myofascial tissue and is useful in the recovery of tendon problems as well as shin soreness. This oil is a favourite to burn at home when learning dressage tests, or to sniff while walking the course the day before a cross-country event. It helps you retain your learning.
Tea tree has traditionally been used by aboriginal horseman, brushing the branch of the tea tree bush across the back of a horse with Queensland itch. It is useful in a blend of essential oils for rainscald, ringworm, as well as in a wash for wounds to prevent infection.
Careful Use of Essential Oils
- As your horse’s skin is much more sensitive than your own, never apply essential oils to the skin undiluted.
- Always remember the strength of essential oils. You will get a response to a 3% dilution if you have chosen the correct oils, there is no ‘fools’ measure. So adding extra drops ‘just to make sure’ does not work, it only exposes your horse to the chance of a negative reaction.
- If your horse does have a reaction to essential oils or you accidentally get some in his eye, never use water to wash them off. Water will increase the irritability of essential oils to the skin; use your vegetable based oil or milk. The albumen content of milk will help dilute the essential oils and sooth the skin.
- Never give essential oils to your horse to ingest; they are strictly for topical applications only.
- Never use essential oils on a situation you have not had addressed by your veterinarian first. They are the ones to diagnose any problems and today many vets are willing to discuss the use of complementary therapies.
Enjoy the aroma
I hope this has given you an insight into adding another dimension to your time with your horse and his care. If you are using the oils for the psychological response, all you have to do is place a few drops on your hand, warm the scent and then let your horse inhale from your cupped hands.
Based in Sydney, Catherine Bird is one of Australia’s leading equine natural health professionals. Her experience working with horses goes back more than two decades from newborn thoroughbred foals and following them through all stages of racing, Olympic level competitors, NSW Mounted Police, mounts selected by various countries at the Sydney Paralympic Games 2000, and horses special to their owners. She also maintains a loyal clientele of humans.
Catherine is the author of Horse Scents (Making Sense with Your Horse Using Aromatherapy) and A Healthy Horse the Natural Way. She has provided the Equine Aromatherapy Correspondence Course since 1999 which boasts graduates on all continents.