Essential oils for the barn environment

Throughout history essential oils have been documented during times of disease and plagues as having reducing the effects of viruses and in some cases credited with protecting people from pathogens.

A quick search on the Internet will find such examples:

  • The Romans using hyssop to ward off disease,
  • Medieval plagues where folk lore suggests ‘perfumers’ were protected,
  • The use of Lavender essential oils to prevent gangrene in wounded soldiers during WW2.

It is believed that all essential oils possess a certain degree of anti viral and bacterial action. Some have been proven to do so in scientific studies while other essential oils have a long history that aromatherapists rely upon when selecting essential oils to assist a human or horse’s immunity.

Traditionally essential oils have been linked to specific viral initiated diseases. Some examples are:

  • Frankincense and Ginger to colds and flu,
  • Peppermint and Bergamot to fevers and high temperatures,
  • Geranium and Lemon to warts,
  • Melissa and Chamomile to herpes.

Today tradition can be supported by science. There are constituents that can now be identified as having anti microbial action and this information can be used to refine the selection of essential oils when faced with viruses.

  • Cloves contains Eugenol,
  • Bergamot and Clary Sage contain Linalyl acetate,
  • Rosemary and Thyme contain Beta-Caryophyllene,
  • Tea tree contains Alpha-Sabines,
  • Juniper and Niaouli contain Gamma-Terpinene.

Ideally the aromatherapist then combines all this knowledge to combine a selection of essential oils to create a synergy where the the outcome is even more effective. An aromatherapist takes into account the odor intensity and evaporation rate of each essential oil, their own known history of use of each essential oil and how it blends with the other selected essential oils and the horse they are blending this blend for.

This is the key area of differentiation with aromatherapy, taking into the whole of the horse and focusing all the components that is creating a vulnerability to disease for that individual horse. There are many good proprietary blended products which will achieve results, however when they don’t meet expectations this is when you need to follow the true art of aromatherapy and take your approach up to a different level. As aromatherapy encompasses not only the physical aspects of disease but also the emotional and mental aspects, offering different essential oils to a horse assists the aromatherapist to determine how to approach the horse’s well-being.

If you suspect your horse may have been in contact with a virus and possibly going to develop the disease there are some essential oils you can offer to help you monitor the horse’s health and be ready to follow on with veterinary care if an illness takes hold or isn’t dealt with by the horse’s own immune system easily.

I have used Bergamot in a racing stable when the winter chills increase the likelihood of being vulnerable to a respiratory infection. There are two theories as to why Bergamot can be used as an indicator – one is that the horse senses the properties the Bergamot has to help its immune system, the other is that Bergamot is an essential oil that is light and lifts spirits. We all know how flat we can feel just before we realize we have a flu and the horse may be selecting this essential oil because his energy levels need a lift. Whatever the reason for the horse’s selection, Bergamot was a useful indicator for the trainer to have staff monitor those horses more closely and call their veterinarian as soon as their temperatures rose rather than discovering a serious chest infection days later where therapy would have to be more intense.

Ginger is another essential oil to use to ward off the chillier climates vulnerabilities. Early physiomedical herbalists saw ‘cold’ as the main cause of disease. The gift ginger brings to a stable block that may be vulnerable to viruses spreading easily is ‘warmth’. Simply inhaling ginger can warm the inside of the body, and in this way the body is less ‘cold’ and less vulnerable. If your horse is keen on this scent, you can make a chest rub by mixing one to two drops of ginger essential oil into aloe vera gel. Ginger blends well with Frankincense and Orange for the horse recuperating from a viral chest infection.

To make a barn a less hospitable environment to visiting viruses, you can diffuse essential oils. There are commercially available diffusers designed for stables if you have an environment that can be contained.

A personal option is your horse’s own potpourri bag. You need to position the bag where he won’t be able to eat it. Use a piece of thick felt pad or other absorbent material, one inch square or smaller. Choose your essentials oils for your horse, include Eucalyptus for this purpose and I find up to three essential oils can be added, often letting the horse select these. Simply place three or four drops of each essential oil on the felt pad and place this into a small gauze bag. Hang this bag on the stable door (out of reach) or tie the small bag to a plait made into the horse’s mane. Do not underestimate how effective the scent molecules create effective barrier to air borne pathogens over the next 4 to 12 hours.

The way to succeed with your use of essential oils with protecting against viruses and in supporting your horse if he does get invaded by a virus is to keep your approach personalized. Consider your horse’s choice of essential oils and adapt your selection as his choices change. Take into account your horse’s personality. If you do not have the confidence to make your own blends, start with prepared blends, once you learn to read your horse’s reaction to these, and you have taken the time to build on your own knowledge, follow your own creativity to assisting your horse to better health aromatically.

There are many claims published on the efficacy of essential oils, however each situation and how it responds will vary. Also apply good old fashioned commonsense and be mindful not use essential oils to the exclusion of your veterinarian’s advice.

First published Holistic Horse 2010

2020 Disclaimer: this article is for historical reference, not to be considered advice in regard to current coronaviruses and other new viruses currently circulating the world in an uncontrolled manner. 

Hopefully it does not come to a point where our animals need to wear masks, if so, we may be scenting their masks to help ease stress, both ours and theirs. 

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