Dorothea Mackellar in her poem My Country is often used to describe our exposure to the elements here in Australia, this stanza sums up what has and is being faced by many horse owners at the moment:
Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine
With each area faced with its own challenges, a herbal approach for your horse can be built around one or two key herbs that support the horse facing the current environmental trials and still leave room to tailor for individual need.
Too much water – Clivers
Wet weather can be the trigger for seedy toe and greasy heel, as well as skin conditions such as rainscald. Clivers supports the nutritional requirements to support the clearing of these issues, while strengthening the feet and skin so they are less vulnerable to what can be described as weaknesses in their immune system. The lymphatic properties of clivers also assists with issues such as puffy or swollen legs when your horse has not been able to exercise because of longer term confinement with ongoing rain conditions.
When the skin has opened up and become infected or swollen, calendula petals can be useful.
Too much smoke – Mullein
When bushfires are in the area, smoke can be an irritant to the airways. The particulates from the smoke can cause burning eyes, runny noses and affect breathing. Mullein as a demulcent herb assists the airways when your horse has difficulty breathing and is coughing. The demulcent aspect has a reflex on the eyes and upper respiratory tract as well as settling the gut, which can also be affected.
For older horses, hawthorn berry can support cardiovascular health and for horses visibly irritated consider eyebright. If the horse is showing the effects of heat or digestion is compromised, peppermint leaf could assist.
Far too dry – Chamomile
During times of drought, maintaining body condition can be a challenge. When feed is poor quality or lacking in nutritional value, chamomile can help settle the gut and the overall stress affecting your horse. The more relaxed your horse is, the easier it is to digest and get some value from the food that is provided, and with its magnesium content, chamomile helps with keeping some muscle condition on a horse in drought affected areas.
Horses with poor condition can also benefit from herbs like marshmallow root to help the gut function and nettle leaf for the nutritive value.
When it is too cold – Ginger
After the extremes of Summer, a cold Winter could be a shock to the body. In colder areas with older horses that get stiffer and slower, ginger can warm the joints and keep the digestive system actively able to utilise what is digested.
Ginger can be useful in boosting the effect of other herbs for joint issues and can be combined with turmeric or nettle leaf, is a helpful combination for any body system that slows during the cold months.
When deciding on what herbs your horse needs with the key herb, keep the choice simple. In most cases if you choose your herbs carefully, three to five herbs can cover several issues if needed. Occasionally with acute conditions you may limit your approach to pain management until the issue is manageable then support the restoration of good health with your tonic herbs. At other times, an acute condition may need to be addressed while still covering chronic issues that have been managed for a while and those herbs are best left in place with a short term additional herb. Allow yourself some flexibility, as herbs lend themselves better to a situation if you allow time for the body to best utilise their properties.
First published in Hoofbeats for Country Park Herbs (2020)