Seeking relief during Summer
With our weather becoming more extreme it can be harsh and hostile to our 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 in the hot weather.
By addressing the internal health of the horse you will have more success in dealing with common Summer discomforts such as itch, photosensitivity, headshaking, and annoying bugs.
With many of these conditions, a herbalist may suggest herbs that cover the most issues with the minimum amount of herbs, often less means more of a result, especially when the digestive system is struggling or stressed with the heat.
A Summer herbal dispensary could include:
Burdock root, calendula flowers, clivers, dandelion leaf and root, echinacea, eyebright, lemon balm, lime tree blossom, marshmallow root, mullein, nettle leaf, peppermint, rosehips, wood betony. These herbs are categorised as cooling.
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 in fact 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.
If the choice is overwhelming, there are some carefully thought out commercial blends that have done the thinking for you. Then as you get to know your herbs and how they work, you might then pick out the key herbs for your horse and use individually.
How much to give?
For the purpose of this article, use dried herbs, they are easier for the horse owner to obtain and 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 of each herb, and try not to exceed 1 cup in total. 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, and often 2 heaped tablespoons is plenty.
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, 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.
A veterinarian may suggest an antihistamine to help your horse’s own inflammatory response. Calendula flowers have a histamine-like action. They are also helpful if your horse has rubbed the skin raw, as they will help reduce the likelihood of infection as the skin heals.
If your horse develops hives or hot spots with his itch, then nettle leaf could be the herb you choose. If he wants to be left alone, settle his nerves with vervain.
With skin being the biggest elimination organ, sometimes soothing the digestive tract with a demulcent herb can have the reflex effect and soothe the skin. This can be done with marshmallow root or slippery elm bark.
This is where your clinical signs and herb selection begin to overlap. Calendula is again a good herb to choose and this time supported with clivers to emphasise cleansing by the lymphatic system. 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 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 paragraph and decided 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 we have now linked back to allergies.
Allergies can be varied in their source and this is where your insights of your own horse become the key to selecting what herbs to use. The intricacies of allergies 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 has an antibiotic-like action to help cleanse the eye. Eye problems can often be linked to the stomach. You may have selected calendula for its histamine-like action, and in doing so these two will combine their anti-inflammatory actions and cleanse the gut.
A cough may be an allergy or sensitivity with your horse. Demulcent herbs such as marshmallow root may be the key herb if dust is the irritant. If your horse is stressed with coughing, lime tree blossom can address upper respiratory inflammation and settle distress that increases sweating. Then you may add rosehips, although not noted as a liver herb, rosehips 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.
Summer wakes all creatures, and bugs are no exception. The saliva from their bites may irritate the skin, or they niggle at watery eyes. 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.
The sulphur in garlic is what repels 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 and it is classed as a heating herb. A little goes a long way, and often every second day is sufficient to lessen the bugs interest.
Brewers yeast is an alternate high in B vitamins. The theory being, if a body is low or deficient in B vitamins, their blood chemistry is more attractive to bugs that bite. Brewers yeast can also settle the nervous system.
Dealing with the environment
At any one time across Australia we could be at the effect of bushfires or cyclones during the Summer months.
When there is too much smoke, mullein and peppermint can help with breathing. If your horse is coughing, fenugreek seeds are often useful when soaked before adding to feed. If your horse is stressed, lemon balm helps settle the nerves and respiratory distress.
When the ground is wet and your horse get thrush or greasy heel, clivers is the best herb to help clean the feet and skin. If your horse is stressed by the wet weather, vervain will support and settle the nerves as it cleans the skin.
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.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purpose only and is not meant to replace veterinary advice or treatment.