'Healthy Happy Horses, Naturally' with Catherine Bird

Archive for March, 2019

Chamomile – the calming herb

Chamomile, Anthemis noblis or Matricaria chamomilla, depending on the species you select, is an herb that can assist you with your horse. Lets explore the use of the herb, the homoeopathic remedy which only contains the vibrational qualities of the original plant, and the essential oil made from the distilled flower.

Chamomile the Herb

Chamomile is a hardy perennial herb that was often used in Europe as a pathway plant or strewn along walkways due to its aromatic properties in the Middle Ages. It was an herb that was employed in a garden to help ailing plants in its midst, and nine times out of ten it would see a drooping plant recover when a chamomile plant was placed close to it.

The carminative properties of chamomile have been documented over centuries and in one veterinary text I have from 1886 refers to the use of Anthemidis Flores for its carminative and stomachic properties.

Today we can use chamomile with our horses for complaints that are exaggerated by nervousness. A very effective and simple method of using chamomile that I have found is in the form of making up a bucket of ‘tea’ with the human tea bags and using it to dampen the hard feed. This is one of the simplest ways to use chamomile with your horses.

You can add the dried flower heads by the cupful to feed during times of duress, however it is not wise to rely on this long term as Chamomile has been shown to be toxic to the liver with long-term use. It is best not to give chamomile for more than three months at a time and when you do to give your horse’s system a month’s rest from the additive at the end of three months. Some horses can develop an intolerance to chamomile because of its effect on the liver, and if your horse gets itchy skin while on chamomile, take him off it.

Many commercially prepared calming blends do contain chamomile and at some levels of competition a certain amount is allowed, as in some countries chamomile is a field herb. However with more stringent rules constantly being introduced you do need to take care as to how much and when you give your horse chamomile.

The best application for using chamomile as a calming herb with a difficult to handle horse is in your preparation for competitions. It can be used as a tool to take the edge off a situation so that when your horse is facing a difficult situation he will simply accept it as part of the norm. It is not wise to become reliant on herbs; simply see them as a way to assist you to overcome a block in training, or in another instance to help with muscle soreness when you are working your horse in a different way. Some associations are now stating that the use of calming herbs is unsportsmanlike, so please check the rules that govern your sport before using chamomile close to a competition.

Chamomile is an excellent herb to include in your horse’s feed when you are stepping up his training or moving into a different style of riding. It has a high level of magnesium and can help the body ease away muscle spasm or soreness when the new routine has been introduced.

Another application for the herb is pouring a cup or two over the feed of a horse prone to nervous colic. This is very useful when there is an obvious change in seasons. It is also a useful pain reliever when there is inflammation in the body somewhere and can be used as a poultice for painful bruising or muscle injuries.

A tea made from the dried flowers can be useful in bringing out the “blond” in a flaxen mane. The tea can also be used to wash out wounds or to wash stubborn skin conditions, especially those that are hot and irritated.

Chamomilla the Homoeopathic

When giving a homoeopathic to your horse you are often following principles that seem at odds to other therapies; here we are giving the tiniest dose possible to achieve the maximum response. It is important if you decide your horse needs a homoeopathic remedy that you do not administer any other herbs, drugs or feed within twenty minutes of giving the homoeopathic.

Chamomilla is a useful remedy when your horse has a slimy green diarrhoea; you can give a dose of 30C as soon as you notice this and re-dose again in 12 hours if you have not noticed a change in the condition. Do not ignore these symptoms and do call your vet for an opinion.

Its primary use in first aid remedies is with children who are bad tempered when teething. With your horse, if his teeth are sore and causing him to resist the bit in a strong and forceful way, you can administer Chamomilla to ease his discomfort and then call your dentist to address the physical aspects.

It is also a remedy to consider with a horse who suffers a false pregnancy or has inflamed or painful teats. This is a remedy to consider with any horse that develops a thirst and becomes irritable and restless. However the best way to use homoeopathics is with the guidance of a homoeopath, as homoeopaths are trained to recognize all the signs as the symptom picture and match it to the appropriate remedy. While Chamomilla may help your horse, there may be an even better remedy you are unaware of.

Chamomile the Essential Oil

Spider yawning after inhaling chamomile essential oil

Spider yawning after inhaling chamomile essential oil

Roman chamomile is a very versatile essential oil. It is the one I will use with every difficult horse. If a horse is putting on a temper tantrum, chamomile’s calming properties will ease any hysterical or unruly behaviour. It promotes peace, easing worries and removing agitation.

The strong analgesic properties relieve dull muscular aches and stubborn spasms. It will also relieve overworked and inflamed muscles. It is useful for the horse competing in a multiple-day event. At the end of each day, chamomile will help calm the muscles and help the horse relax overnight for the next day. Chamomile has been mentioned as unsportsmanlike with some associations because of its calming properties. It does not contain the constituents that show positive in most prohibited substances tests, however this may change, so all due care should be taken if you are competing at a level where you will be swabbed.

Dry, flaking skin will respond well to chamomile and with chronic conditions use jojoba oil as your base carrier oil application as it is able to moisturise the skin deeply.

Consider chamomile when your horse has suffered repeated infections or is always lethargic. In a weekly blend it will stimulate the production of white corpuscles to aid the body’s defences against low-grade infections and fortify your horse’s immune defence system.

If your mare becomes unmanageable when she cycles, chamomile would be beneficial in her daily care a few days before. It is calming and also regulates the hormonal activity in the body.

Recently I was giving a talk at a college and we used a horse for the demonstration for selecting essential oils. This horse was very non-committal about any of the essential oils offered except for Chamomile. He constantly showed his interest in chamomile, and this suggested to me that he had some muscle soreness somewhere. We un-rugged him and found some massive spasms in his back and the back of his shoulder on the offside (it was his right nostril that kept inhaling the chamomile essential oil).

As you can see, Chamomile can come in many different forms and each can be used with your horse at various times.

When using any of these recommendations remember they do not replace veterinary care and always use common sense with natural therapies.

 

First published Natural Horse Magazine Volume 3 Issue 8 – 2001

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Summer relief

As the weather warms and we thaw out from the winter cold, your horse’s body can be sensitive to their environment. With our weather becoming more extreme it can be hostile to horses.

Herbs can support and strengthen your horse’s body from invasion, making it more difficult for the body’s protective barrier to be compromised.

By addressing the internal health of the horse you will have more success in dealing with this Summer’s allergies and common discomforts such as itch, photosensitivity, headshaking, and annoying bugs.

Relief

With many of these conditions, the herbs a herbalist may suggestion for each condition may cross over and cover other Summer conditions. This helps keep your selection of support to a focused minimum, and address conditions that may be linked.

A Summer herbal dispensary could include these herbs:

Burdock root, calendula flowers, cleavers, echinacea, eyebright, garlic, lemon balm, licorice root, lime tree blossom, marshmallow root, mullein, nettle, rosehips, wood betony, yarrow.

Which herbs to use?

When you first start selecting herbs for your horse, it can be difficult to narrow down the choice. People often think more is better, when two or three herbs will cover off on most of the clinical signs your horse is presenting. If your selection is kept to five herbs or less, you are more likely to achieve a result. It means you have enough of each herb to have them activate in the body. If you select more than five herbs to give your horse at one time, you can be dispersing the properties and in doing so not achieving the relief you are looking for. Look more closely at your selection and see which of your selected herbs is duplicating another herb’s action, giving only one of these duplicated herbs can be enough. Because ‘healing’ is a dynamic process, you can always substitute those other herbs as you see how your horse responds.

How much to give?

For the purpose of this article I am focusing on dried herbs, they are easier for the horse owner to obtain and most easily added to a feed. If you are giving five or less herbs, then the amount of each herb you are giving is most likely to be 1 to 2 tablespoons daily. This will vary with some herbs and some conditions, so use this as a general guide. If you end up selecting only one herb, give up to 1 cup daily. Any more and your horse will not be utilising all that you give, and your money is being wasted.

 

Thinking through your approach

Using herbs is a creative process. You can work through each of your horse’s clinical signs individually and see what herbs address each of these symptoms and where the actions of the herbs overlap. However, when you do this, do not limit yourself to the immediate signs, to be truly effective you need to consider the ‘whole’ horse. Sometimes the key element that helps trigger the healing process is not necessarily the herb you have chosen to heal inflamed skin, it may be the herb that helps the horse’s distress at being uncomfortable.

Itch

Henry at Ferrell Hollow Horse Sanctuary 'scratching his itch'

Henry at Ferrell Hollow Farm Senior Horse Sanctuary ‘scratching his itch’

 

A veterinarian may suggest an antihistamine to help your horse’s own inflammatory response. Calendula flowers have a histamine-like action which can be used for this sort of body condition. If your horse develops hives or hot spots with his itch, then nettles could be the herb you choose. If he wants to be left alone, settle his nerves with vervain.

This may be enough to start with, and apart for the reason they were initially selected, the calendula flowers will cleanse the skin via the lymphatic system; the nettles will strengthen the circulatory system and supports several glands within the body; vervain is a gentle liver and kidney cleanses tuning up these organs so they can better support the skin while his nervous system is settled by vervain’s nervine properties.

This way you are addressing the whole horse!

Photosensitivity

This is where your clinical signs and herb selection begin to overlap. Calendula is again a good herb to chose but this time supported with cleavers to emphasise the cleansing of the lymphatic system, especially if greasy heal is one aspect. This time you may want to support the liver and if the skin is also itchy, burdock root could be your next herb as it cleanses the blood and with its very bitter element wakes the liver up, and the liver can often be linked to photosensitivity.

Headshaking

Headshaking may be associated with an allergy or another aspect of the horse’s photosensitivity. If your horse has photosensitivity and you have read the previous article and decided on those herbs fit your horse, then wood betony may be the fourth herb you use with this horse. Wood betony has nervine properties that help relax tension held in the head and poll. Wood betony can also be selected for allergies which now links us into allergies.

Allergies

Allergies can many and varied and this is where your own insights of your own horse become the key to selecting what herbs to use. They may be a separate entity in themselves, or also be an expression of one of the previous issues. The intricacies of allergies they can be difficult to resolve, so you adapt your approach as you address each aspect with patience and thoughtfulness.

If your horse suffers from runny, watery eyes in Summer. Eyebright is astringent and also has an antibiotic-like action to help cleanse the eye. Eye problems can often be linked to digestion. You may have selected calendula for its histamine-like action, and in doing so it will be astringent and cleansing to the gut.

A cough may be the primary sign of an allergy with your horse, so then demulcent herbs such as marshmallow root powder may be the key herb you select and then with how your ‘whole’ horse determine what herbs you use to support. If your horse is stressed with coughing, lime tree blossom or lemon balm address upper respiratory inflammation and settle distress. Then you may add rosehips, although not noted as a liver herb, rosehip’s vitamin C content nudges the liver’s defences to help with inflammatory responses in the body, and is then a tonic to tissue that is healing.

Bugs

Summer wakes all creatures, and bugs are no exception. The saliva from their bites may be what your horse is allergic to, or they may simply irritate a watery eye. The person who develops a long term effective bug repellent will be the richest person on the planet.

Meanwhile, you can make your horse less tasty to bugs. If you have kept your selection of herbs above low, there is room to add one of these suggestions.

The sulphur in garlic is what repels the bugs when they get a whiff of it coming through the skin. If your horse is in strenuous work, needs medications, or has a sensitive stomach this may not be the best herb to give.

Brewers yeast is an alternate, being high in vitamin B. The theory being, if a body is low or deficient in vitamin B, their blood chemistry is more attractive to bugs that bite. Brewers yeast can also be good for the horse who needs his nervous system settled because to the vitamin B content.

Keep it simple

Keep your approach simple and stay focused so that you are responsive to the dynamic of the healing processes your horse’s body is working through. As you help your horse, your knowledge will grow.

 

First published Natural Horse Magazine 2014