Our horses have been adjusting to us being home and spending more time with them. It is an excellent time to work on some of our riding glitches and help our horses with nervous patterns and behaviours.
Essential oils can give you some space to come together
If you are ready to ride again, especially if your horse is used to a weekend trail ride and you are feeling like a Grand Prix dressage star after all these weeks at home, you might notice your horse starts to get a worried look or creases above the eyes – juniper is a a good scent to offer to alleviate the worry. It is also useful if the extra work is creating stiffness, it encourages the removal of lactic acid from the muscles.
For the horse that retreats to the back of the paddock when he sees you head for the tack room, sweet orange will give a scent of reassurance. It will be like receiving a nice warm hug from you and encourage him to leave the corner.
If you have been worried about what is happening around you in the outside world and stressed, and your horse is getting jittery when you are out riding – he may need to inhale some patchouli or vetiver to help him feel more grounded. It will also help you leave your stress before you ride.
If you are distracted while having your horse time, and this is easy to be if you have watched the news before you head to the barn, your horse could become distracted by how you are when you arrive. Basil and lemon are both good essential oils to help you both focus on your time together.
Anxiety is contagious, if everyone at the facility is anxious, bergamot is a light scent to help alleviate the anxiety floating around in the air.
These few essential oils are handy to have in your tack room, and all you have to do is let your horse have a sniff or two from the bottle.
And then there are herbs …
As there are no competitions at this time you have scope to introduce “calming herbs”. These are normally considered prohibited but can now be utilised to help while you are at home spending more time in the saddle rather than a normal daily commute.
Keep in mind that over excited, volatile, highly strung, anxious, apprehensive or worried behaviour is not always a demonstration of bad behaviour. Identifying the cause of the problem can help with how you deal with the behaviour.
A good knowledge of the horse’s background and behavioural patterns is useful. Sometimes irregular behaviour can be pain related or through a lack of experience (horse or rider) or fear. Horses are by nature very insecure and stress is natural when asked to do something new, or repeat something that was not a good experience.
If you try any of these herbs to help your horse relax and there is no measurable response to the herbs, check that gear is not causing pain, book a massage, and talk to your veterinary surgeon.
These herbs will help your horse relax. The herbs are not meant to replace steady and consistent training. For this reason, where the behaviour is dangerous, the herbs are not to be relied upon as the only solution.
For younger horses, or those who act like they are having a tantrum. May settle an irritated gut with a girthy horse. If unsure of which herb to use, start with chamomile. When giving in combination add 1 to 2 heaped tablespoons, once or twice daily; if giving chamomile only you can give up to a 1 cup daily.
In gypsy folklore hops was used as a nervine with young colts. It can be used with aggressive stallion or stallion-like behaviours and is useful with watery stress diarrhoea, especially if it is stinky. Give 1 to 4 heaped teaspoons; once or twice daily. This amount applies if given on its own or in combination.
For horses that appear depressed, especially when left alone in a paddock or where they have lost a companion. May be useful when developing an understanding between a new horse and rider. When giving in combination add 1 to 2 heaped tablespoons, once or twice daily; if giving lemon balm on its own, 1 to 3 heaped tablespoons daily.
Is useful with horses that sweat when they are fearful or experiencing anxiety and claustrophobic travellers. When given on its own or in combination, give 1 to 2 heaped tablespoons, once or twice a day.
Passionflower helps with anxiety, especially helpful for horses that pace the fence or stalls and combines well with lemon balm. It can be useful for horses who suddenly shy at shadows. Start with 1 to 3 heaped teaspoons, two to three times daily.
Can be useful for anxious and worried horses. Vervain is often indicated with horses that react to being touched. This herb works best when combined with other calming herbs, start with 1 heaped tablespoon up to three times daily.
Is settling after a shock or trauma. This herb easily conflicts with medications and if a horse is sensitive, valerian can have the opposite effect, especially if too much is given. When giving, start with half a teaspoon two to three times a day and work up to 1 tablespoon, once or twice a day.
Amounts suggested may vary with individual horses or when used in a professional program.
It may take up to three weeks to begin to see a change in behaviour. Once you have helped your horse ‘reprogram’ his responses to a stressful situation, and this may take up to three months, start to ease your horse off whichever herb or combination you have chosen. Reduce the amount you are giving to every second day and while doing this test what has been your horse’s challenge. If he responds well to the challenge allow the herb to phase out and finish.
Primarily during these restrictive times, calming herbs can assist with overcoming basic patterns of stress and re-establish a sense of confidence for when competitions and outings are allowed.
When competition resumes, ideally you have finished the herbs and the new behaviours have become a natural way of being. If not and you want to compete, most herbs that could be considered prohibited need to be stopped at least a week before competing. However, this may need to be longer depending on each horse’s individual metabolism.
Whatever essential oil you choose you can wear yourself. With a herb or combination you choose for your horse, with good quality herbs you can also make yourself a brew each day. With the stress in the world at the moment, this is one way to lessen the effect of your stress upon your horse.