'Healthy Happy Horses, Naturally' with Catherine Bird

Archive for the ‘Aroma’ Category

Essential oils for moving to a new home

Your horse will select his preferred essential oil by leaning forward toward the open bottle; he will show his lack of interest by simply turning his head away.

Your horse will select his preferred essential oil by leaning forward toward the open bottle; he will show his lack of interest by simply turning his head away.

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils, pure plant extracts usually obtained by distillation, to assist your horse in maintaining a balanced physical body and emotional state of being. Horses are creatures of habit and enjoy a regular routine; when something comes along to disrupt this routine such as a move to a new farm, you can use the aromas from essential oils to assist make the transition gentle and welcoming for your horse.

Before introducing your horse to a new place, it is important to prepare it for him. I find horses are very sensitive to their environment so to make the environment welcoming you need to energetically cleanse his new home. If it is a stabling complex, often the previous occupants may have dumped their frustrations or other negative emotions when working with their own horses. This is simple to cleanse and the essential oil that helps clear away other peoples’ dropped negativity is eucalyptus. If you are able to do so without feeling uncomfortable, you can wash the walls of the stable down with water that contains a couple of drops of eucalyptus essential oil. If you are not sure of what the owners of the property may think of you if you do this, simply take a spray bottle with either a eucalyptus hydrosol or with water containing the eucalyptus essential oil and a dispersant, and spray the stable your horse will occupy with your intention to clear away any “junk” from any previous occupants.

When it comes to helping your horse with this adjustment, one of the most nurturing essential oils is sweet orange, from the peel of the fruit. If you picture the shape of an orange, it is inviting and bright and sunny, and what the scent does is create a space that feels like a warm motherly hug. It is a reassuring scent especially if offered to your horse when he needs a little extra special attention.

Juniper is useful for the horse that worries and finds change difficult to accept. It also assists the horse who is joining a new herd to a move into his rank in the pecking order. It is also for the horse who is always looking to his owner with the look of “Am I getting it right here?” or the horse with a crinkled look above the eye.

Frankincense will dispel any fear your horse may experience when you bring him to a new home. It can be useful if your horse, once moved, begins to shy at shadows when riding. It can also be used for clearing off past problems if you have had to move your horse from a “not so friendly” property. You can do a daily wipe of your horse for the first week. You simply place a couple of drops of frankincense on your hands and warm them together, then deliberately and slowly work over your horse from head to toe, sweeping away any bad feelings that may have been directed at him or you from the past.

For a young gelding who may need assurance, especially if he has been gelded recently before the move, ylang ylang will bring that assurance. For the young filly, clary sage can bring the same assurance. Lavender is the essential oil to help the horse who is brought into a stabling complex, when he has previously been a pastured or paddocked horse, adjust to a more frantic and active environment where there are people and horses about all the time. For the horse who has been stabled most of the time going to pasture, patchouli will help this horse not feel overwhelmed by the space.

It takes some intuition on your part to assist your new horse or a horse you are moving with. You can also offer a horse in this situation essential oils including mandarin if there is an element of frustration, sweet fennel if the move has been traumatic, geranium if anger has an expression, possibly Roman chamomile if you are moving a young horse and he is showing behaviour you would describe as a childish tantrum.

If your horse likes more than one of the suggested essential oils, you can blend them together for him into a carrier. As you are looking at this being his “comfort” scent for the day, add a 2.5 percent dilution to some aloe vera gel and apply where your horse is showing a physical stress. Sometimes when a horse is uncertain if his environment is secure, you will find his back will tighten. In this type of horse simply wipe your aloe vera containing the blend of essential oils along his back.

If your horse creases the top of his eye and looks heavy in the head while trying to mentally process the move, this application may be most appropriately applied to his poll. For the horse who has moved and left behind paddock mates he has been attached to, rose essential oil in jojoba oil applied to his chest will help with the grieving process and strengthen his sense of self while adjusting to his new home.

The key to selecting the best essential oils for your horse is to have a small selection and offer them to him on a daily basis. Each day during this transition period, his attraction to the essential oils will vary. For this reason it is best to make up any blends as each day dictates. Your horse will select his preferred essential oil by leaning forward toward the open bottle; he will show his lack of interest by simply turning his head away.

The benefit with using essential oils when moving is you will benefit just as much as your horse when you use the essential oils to help him. Inhaling essential oils will work with both your limbic systems within the brain so that this move will become a pleasant memory, so that in the future if another move has to be faced, you will be able to recall the “good” memories to assist you again.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional veterinary care.

First published Volume 4 Issue 3 – 2002 Natural Horse Magazine

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Immune system enhancing essential oils

Your horse’s body often gets compromised by microorganisms. Aromatherapy can be used to help your horse with any infection, however it is adjunctive to your horse’s veterinarian care, so the suggestions in this article are for your information and not to replace his advice.

The use of any essential oils will help your horse maintain a stronger and healthier immune system

The use of any essential oils will help your horse maintain a stronger and healthier immune system

Microorganisms that cause disease are called pathogens and can include bacteria, fungi and viruses. They can cause infection and they actively reproduce causing damage to healthy cells, often being responsible for producing toxins in the body. Infection can be systemic where it spreads throughout the body, or localised, and when your horse’s body responds to an infection, the severity of this response is displayed by the symptoms you see. With the use of essential oils we aim to strengthen your horse’s own defence system and lessen the intensity of symptoms so your horse can recover with less stress as his body destroys the offending microorganisms.

Early recognition of an invader is important for any treatment to be effective. Your horse’s body is designed to minimise attack of its body by microorganisms. As orifices are often the points of entry they are designed to keep the body protected. Eyes have tears to wash away microorganisms, mouths fend off invaders with mucous membranes and alkaline saliva, the hairs in the nostrils minimize entry of microorganisms, the respiratory tract secretes mucous to trap microbes, the urinary system contains healthy bacteria to prevent harmful microorganisms taking hold, the stomach and intestines produce acid, enzymes and beneficial bacteria that destroy unfriendly bacteria, and even the sebaceous glands of the skin secrete chemicals which are highly toxic to bacteria. It is important when we use essential oils we assist these natural barriers, and not compromise their function.

Essential oils in themselves all have varying anti-microbial properties. Depending on their chemical makeup, they will be more effective with different microorganisms, however to some degree all essential oils exhibit anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral properties. They act to directly oppose threatening microorganisms and help build a healthier body resistant to attack.

Bacteria

Bacteria are what we commonly refer to as germs. They can include the bacteria Clostridium tetani, which causes tetanus and Streptococcus equi, which causes strangles. Your horse’s body will attempt to fight invading bacteria and sometimes this is successful without treatment, but in some cases your horse may need an antiserum, such as with tetanus, or antibiotics as in bacterial pneumonia.

Essential oils such as tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, have been shown to be very effective in helping fight Streptococcus bacteria in human trials. When a horse has been infected with this bacteria and you need to quarantine him, regular diffusion of a blend of essential oils including tea tree will assist the infected horse with his battle against this invader. An immune-building blend to help your horse if this is an issue would include tea tree, bergamot (Citrus bergamia), and lavender (Lavendula officinalis or angustifolia). If other horses have come in contact with an infected horse before his quarantine, you can also strengthen their immune systems by diffusing their stalls with a similar blend.

Not only would these essential oils inhibit the progress of the bacteria, they would also assist any horse in dealing with the stress of confinement. Simply add 5% of equal parts into a bottle of distilled water with a dash of alcohol or detergent to help disperse the essential oils and spray the horse’s stable throughout the day. Alternatively these essential oils could be added to an electric diffuser undiluted and left to disperse throughout the day and night to support the animal.

With any wounds where your horse may have come in contact with the bacterium responsible for tetanus, you can use tea tree essential oil to wash the wound while monitoring the horse and checking with your veterinarian if further treatment is necessary.

Fungi

Fungi are relatively simple invaders, however they can penetrate into the tissue of the horse. One common fungal infection is ringworm. Your horse can also suffer fungal infection of guttural pouch from the fungus Aspergillus. Tea tree oil is also highly antifungal and our first choice as an essential oil when it comes to fungal infections. Patchouli, Pogostemon patchouli, is also a highly antifungal essential oil and useful applied to skin fungal infections. A lesser known antifungal essential oil is manuka, Leptospermum scoparium, a native of New Zealand and often referred to as the New Zealand Tea Tree, it is similar in scent yet softer, though this does not diminish its action. Another essential oil from the same family is niaouli, Melaleuca viridifolia. Each of these essential oils may be applied undiluted to small areas, less than one square inch, or on larger areas in aloe vera gel.

Viruses

Viral infections can include something as simple as a wart to extremely serious diseases such as rabies, as well as a cold virus. Viruses can be inhaled in droplets or swallowed in food or water; they may also be passed through the saliva of biting insects, or may enter the horse’s body during covering/ breeding.

We have a wide selection of antiviral essential oils including Eucalyptus globulus and Eucalyptus radiata, which are useful in fighting adenoviruses responsible for the common cold. Introducing eucalyptus in a body rub or diffused in the air can assist the body to produce white blood cells to help it fight infection. When it comes to localised infections such as warts we can look at topical applications of lemon, Citrus limonum, which can be applied undiluted to small warts or in aloe gel to larger areas. Lemon is not photosensitive, especially the essential oil obtained by distillation, so it is safe to use over a period of time no matter what time of the year your are working with your horse.

Building up Your Horse’s Immunity

It has been shown in human health that for those who are exposed to and use essential oils regularly, their immune systems are more finely tuned and often fend off attack by invaders with little effect on the body. I have seen this with horses that have regular aromatherapy sessions or where owners incorporate aromatherapy into a weekly grooming routine.

Most essential oils from the Myrtaceae family are anti-infectious and can be used around your horse to protect him from any disease that may be circulating in your area. They include Cajeput (Melaleuca leucadendra), niaouli, clove (Eugenia caryophyllata), Eucalyptus, and Myrtle (Myrtus communis). They will also assist the sick horse with his battle to overcome disease states.

The regular use of essential oils such as bergamot, which is also antiviral, and lavender, ravensara (Ravensara aromatica), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), pine (Pinus sylvestris), palmarosa (Cympopogom martini), kunzea (Kunzea ambigua) will not only help build your horse’s immune system, it will also create a barrier in the form of negative ions. When there are plenty of negative ions in the air, it is more difficult for any invader to move unimpeded through the air.

Blue cypress (Calitris intratropica), lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora), lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora), lemon tea tree (Leptospermum petersonii) can also make effective insect repellents, offering limited protection from disease-spreading mosquitoes while also helping your horse build his immune system.

As an aside, the scent of an essential oil, once inhaled, is filtered by the limbic system of the brain and then this information is fed on to the hypothalamus gland. The hypothalamus gland in turn then sends out instructions to the endocrine system, whereby each gland in the body is affected and given a “tune-up”. It is the glands that help keep the immune system healthy. With this in mind the use of any essential oils will help your horse maintain a stronger and healthier immune system.

First published Natural Horse Magazine Volume 5 Issue 1 – 2003
Bibliography:
Equine Science, Health and Performance by Sarah Pillner and Zoe Davies, Blackwell Science.

Positive aromatherapy responses from horses

After a recent visit to a regular centre in Wyee – I received this photo from the human that belongs to Girsh.

Girsh - smiling for the camera during a positive response to his essential oils during a recent aromatherapy session.

Girsh – smiling for the camera during a positive response to his essential oils during a recent aromatherapy session.

When first discovering essential oils for use with horses, it can be tricky deciding if your horse likes an aroma – hopefully from the archives of a class session I presented at Orange TAFE in 2007 you will gain some insights. Even on a day where it had snowed the day before, we were able to elicit a variety of responses that will help the reader see a sample of what could be expected.

Orange TAFE on a very cold July in 2007:

Yes please

Yes please

 

 

 

Ideally, the essential oil bottle is held a little further from the nostril and wafted across both nostrils.

 

Moving the uncapped bottle away from our ‘Maybe’ friend would help to determine if he really likes the aroma – if he stretches further forward – take that as a positive.

Maybe

Maybe

May I have some more

May I have some more

With the “May I have some more response” – this is a good distance to hold the bottle from the nostril.

 

Some horses will just hang out with the aroma – you will notice a softening of the eye, and often appearing zoned out.

F1000002

Ahhhhhh I like this one

I'm back for more

I’m back for more

 

 

 

Just be careful that your horse does not try to grab hold of the bottle in his mouth.

 

 

 

Essential oils for colic

Yesterday when visiting one of my favourite properties  the morning was disturbed with the thought that another horse on a property down the road was in need of assistance. Fortunately the vet was called and knowledgeable horse people were on hand to help the owner get her horse upright and eventually releasing some good sized poops. It reminded me of this article I wrote a decade ago, the advice is still valid and hopefully you won’t ever need the information.

 

Colic

The word ‘colic’ is one most horse owners fear hearing. There are many clinical signs that can be associated with colic to give an owner an early warning. The most common include pawing repeatedly with the front foot, looking back at the flank region, curling the upper lip and arching or twisting the neck, repeatedly raising a rear leg or kicking at the abdomen, lying down, rolling from side to side, sweating, stretching out as if to urinate, kneeling, straining to defecate, distension of the abdomen, loss of appetite, and a decreased number of bowel movements.

In its strictest definition, the term “colic” means abdominal pain. Over the years, it has become a broad term for a variety of conditions that cause the horse to exhibit clinical signs of abdominal pain. Consequently, it is used to refer to conditions of widely varying etiologies and severity. To understand these etiologies, make a diagnosis, and initiate appropriate treatments, the veterinarian must first appreciate the clinically relevant aspects of the horse’s GI anatomy, the physiologic processes involved in movement of ingesta and fluid along the GI tract, and the extreme sensitivity of the horse to the deleterious effects of bacterial endotoxin that normally exists within the lumen of the intestine. Reference Merck Manual www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/21700.htm

As most horses will not exhibit all the above clinical signs, they are a reliable indicator that your horse is in pain. For your veterinarian to make a diagnosis and decide on appropriate treatment he will need to thoroughly examine your horse and consider your horse’s past history for any such episodes. Your horse may have colic because the wall of the intestines has become excessively stretched or otherwise damaged by gas, fluid or feed, excessive tension or obstruction of the bowel, twisting of the intestines, or inflammation or ulceration to all or part of the intestinal tract.

For your vet to be best able to assess your horse, have the following information ready to provide:

The history of the present colic episode and previous episodes, if any. This must be ascertained to determine if the horse has had repeated or similar problems, or if this episode is an isolated event. The responses to treatment are important information as well.

The duration of the episode(s).

The horse’s heart rate, and whether it is normal or has changed.

The colour of the oral mucosa and its speed of refill.

The severity of the pain.

Whether feces have been passed, and their quantity and characteristics.

The horse’s deworming history (schedule of treatment dates, drugs used).

The horse’s dental history (when the teeth were floated last, and whether anything was extraordinary)

Whether any changes in feed or water supply or amount have occurred.

Whether the horse was at rest or exercising when the colic episode started.

Even the colicky horse who shows little interest in anything else may show a keen interest in an essential oil.

Even the colicky horse who shows little interest in anything else may show a keen interest in an essential oil.

When using aromatherapy with a horse who has suspected colic, our aim is to help relieve his pain or stress while waiting for the vet to arrive. As you can see from the brief points extracted from the Merck Veterinary Manual, colic can have several causes and it is very important that you have your veterinarian do a thorough examination to have the best possible outcome for your horse.

Some horses can become dangerous when they are experiencing pain. They can strike out as a reaction to the pain or to annoying outside stimulus you provide while they are distracted by the pain. Because of their olfactory application, essential oils are easily implemented and of remarkable benefit while waiting for your vet.

All you have to do is waft an open bottle under your horse’s nose and let him tell you which essential oil is going to help him the most.

Essentials Oils to Offer in a Colic Situation

Roman Chamomile is very useful to let your horse inhale if he is pawing and chewing at his side; it helps with more aggressive behaviour in a horse that is in pain. It is also useful with a horse that is becoming difficult to handle while uncomfortable.

Peppermint, Fennel and Aniseed will assist a horse that has gas; the scent will assist with its dissipation. These essential oils are also digestive stimulants so in some cases can help improve the motility of the gut.

The cleansing effect of Lemongrass or Lemon may also appeal to your horse. Lemongrass particularly stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and has an affinity with smooth muscle, such as that which lines the large intestines.

If you or others at the barn are generating fear around this horse, you can use Frankincense. A few drops in a spray bottle of water with a dash of white alcohol or detergent to disperse can make it a useful spray to clear the air. This can be combined with Bergamot for its ability to clear anxiety; Bergamot is a digestive stimulant and commonly referred to for keeping in check “butterflies in the tummy”. Bergamot is also useful if your horse’s colic has been preceded by a bacterial or viral infection.

Where you suspect some of your horse’s pain may be due to spasm, you can still use Roman Chamomile, however you may also offer Basil or Marjoram to help ease discomfort. Combining these will address spasm effectively and without feeling intrusive, especially with winter time colic where the body needs warming – and for this you could make a blend in cold pressed olive oil, as it also warms the body to apply, if your horse is obliging.

One blend of essential oils I have used with success with horses that are showing early signs of colic is 2 drops of Basil, 5 drops of Bergamot and 3 drops of Lavender in a tablespoon of cold pressed vegetable oil applied to the abdomen of the horse. This blend eases discomfort and stress so the horse is more comfortable while you wait for the vet to arrive.

During winter, Ginger or Pepper essential oils can also bring warmth to the body just from their scent. As some early herbalists believed that most illness was caused by cold invading the body, these two essential oils may just be what is needed. They both target the digestive system and stimulate it into working with more ease.

When recovering from a bout of colic, your horse can be offered essential oils such as carrot seed, garlic and thyme to help his body rebalance the gut and its function so he can again have an efficient digestive system. However you can also offer any other of the above essential oils to your horse; his response may give you further insight into his general disposition after the event.

The added bonus with having these essential oils with your horse while waiting for the vet is that as you offer them to your horse, you also inhale and smell the scents and this will help you with your stress levels. The calmer you are when your horse is in pain, the better both of you will deal with the situation.

It is important that you do not replace veterinarian care with essential oils. Some horses with colic may need either medical or surgical treatments which can only be determined by your veterinarian.

First published Natural Horse Magazine Volume 5 Issue 5 – 2003 written by Catherine Bird

Energizing Oils – essential oils for the unambitious

Do I have to?

Do I have to?

Well, this could be a delicate topic, as no horse really likes to be referred to as a plodder, or worse still – stubborn, resistant, possibly even lazy! Now, it is important that you make sure there is no physical reason for your horse being called one of these names. Perhaps his muscles are not able to do what you want, or, as in the case of George, you may find a medical problem – my mate here had a bladder stone, and no matter how many essential oils we would have used before the discovery we would have had a very resistant horse with anyone on his back.

Essential oils provide a gentle way to give our equine friends a little push along, to save us squeezing until our legs just seem to have no more squeeze in them. The scent molecule is underestimated in its ability to have an effect on how our horses “think” and “feel”. This tiny entity registers with the cilia in the nasal passages and this sends impulses to the brain where we can stimulate the mind and body, or calm the body. The limbic system reads the impulses and then the hypothalamus gland sends a myriad of messages to the whole body and its glands. It is believed to even communicate to every cell in the body when it instructs the release of neurochemicals, which then have the body wake up, or slow down.

So let’s look at essential oils that will help motivate the “unambitious” horse.

Basil for its amphoteric action

Basil essential oil is one that can bring focus to the mind. Sometimes a horse can be perceived as being lazy, where he is really having trouble comprehending what you are asking of him. You need to get clearer in your asking, as well as helping his mind tune into your way of communicating. Amphoteric,
from Greek amphoteros, “each of two”, from ampho, “both”, means basil will either relax or stimulate the mind and body. This is often an early choice when working with an unambitious horse, as sometimes it is not necessarily in need of stimulation, but more a need to have some focus amongst too much stimulation.

Bergamot to uplift

Bergamot is one of the essential oils we get from citrus plants. It is expressed from the peel of the plant and can be the trigger for photosensitivity, so it is best not to apply to the skin if your horse will be exposed to strong sunlight. However it is a wonderful winter time essential oil to waft under the nose of your horse – if he is a bit tentative during the colder weather, Bergamot will ease these anxieties and help him move forward with confidence.

Grapefruit to brighten

Not every horse is able to be paddocked 24 hours a day, and in some countries where land is limited and performance horses need to be stabled most of the day, grapefruit is the essential oil to bring a little sunshine into their lives. Before morning feeds for these horses, it will help lift their spirits, improve their digestion and have them a little more giving when asked to work.

Frankincense if the horse is recovering from illness

Frankincense was once one of our most highly valued commodities, many battles fought over the land it was cultivated on. The religious connection in raising the soul and cleansing the spirit can also assist a horse who is reluctant to return to ridden work after an illness or spell due to the need to recuperate from surgery or injury. Frankincense is used to assist with rejuvenation and this is useful when the unambitious horse needs to be freshened up.

Rosemary is one of the most stimulating

Rosemary is one of the most stimulating essential oils available to non-aromatherapists, and will assist in lifting your horse out of any lethargic state of being. A sprig of rosemary is often worn in remembrance of soldiers who have fallen at war – “Lest we Forget” – r for rosemary, r for remembrance – so it will also help your horse remember his cues. Be careful as most rosemary essential oils contain camphor and this is a prohibited substance on most show circuits.

Ginger to spice things up

At the beginning of the 1900’s racehorses used to be “gingered” (by rudely placing some ginger root into their, ummmm, anus). The stewards would sniff under the tail of the winners to determine if this had happened. Ginger is a warming essential oil and will wake up the senses if you waft this essential oil under your unambitious horse’s nostrils.

The Horse’s Olfactory System

In the case of stimulating and invigorating essential oils, the locus ceruleus is the part of the brain triggered which releases noradrenaline. Other essential oils that will have some relationship here include cardamom, juniper, lemongrass, lemon and peppermint.

The compelling power of odours on the psyche has been recognised since the earliest of times Aromatic woods, gums and herbs were burnt in ancient temples to drive out evil spirits who had often been perceived in making those around them tired and lethargic. An ancient Egyptian perfume was said to “lull to sleep”, while the Ancient Greeks documented certain odours to improve mental alertness and concentration.

The Romani gypsies across Europe would often rub herbs together to release the scent under a horse’s nose to have a desired effect.

We have all individually been influenced by a perfume, for better or worse.

Essential Oils are not for the competition circuit

These are just examples of how you can use essential oils to “wake-up” your equine companion. However, you do have to respect ‘where your horse is at’ when you do this. Always have your veterinarian check your horse for any other medical reasons as to why your horse may have become lazy. Are you making his training and time with you interesting enough for him as well? Don’t forget to have some fun time with your horse and really enjoy your time together.

If your horse has a career as a race horse or is on the show circuit, do not breech any codes of conduct or competition rules. These ideas are to assist you with training and spending time with your horse; they are not to be used to stimulate your horse during competitions nor are they to be used when a horse is exhausted from not being prepared adequately for such a competition.

Along with rosemary, other essential oils such as peppermint and eucalyptus are stimulating but also contain camphor. Some associations list these as prohibited substances and will test for their presence because they can be used to screen the presence of other banned drugs. However if another competitor reports you using these essential oils at a competition you may find yourself being called before a committee for disciplinary action, and in some of these cases, testing is not required.

To get your desired results

Simply take the time to offer your horse a selection of any of the essential oils listed. Don’t push the bottle up his nostril, simply waft each bottle about six inches away from his nose. He will be able to assess if this is an essential oil that will help him with his lack of ambition. If it is, he will lean towards the bottle, deepen his breathing, and maybe even give you a flehmen response by curling his top lip to trap as much of the essential oil in his nasal cavity as he can.

He may decide the essential oil you offer him is not to his liking. If this happens he will turn his head away or even try to walk away from you.

Note each of his responses and this will also give you a guide as to why your horse may be a bit lazy to your requests. Also note how his choice changes each time you spend time with him, as his responses will not always be the same each time. He may have a strong attraction to one essential oil for a week or so; other days he may change his choice on an hourly basis.

The more you explore these responses, the more you will begin to understand your own horse’s individual needs, and your own relationship will take on a fuller dimension. Over time you will find your horse will become a more willing companion as this develops further.

First published Natural Horse Magazine Volume 5 Issue 3 – 2003 written by Catherine Bird

 

Repelling Insects, Naturally

Lily peering through her fly mask from Katy Wicks

Lily peering through her fly mask from Katy Wicks

Bugs, flies, midges, mosquitoes; why are our horses plagued by them? Whether we like it or not, insects are just another part of nature. But each horse that is pestered by these little beasties can, thanks to nature, also enjoy some relief. Essential oils (natural aromatic essences from flowers and plants) provide a unique approach and are chosen to complement the individual. Also helpful are herbs and supplemental nutrients.

While no horse will be – or should be – totally free from biting insects, a healthy horse tends to be less tasty and appealing to them. A healthy horse is also less susceptible to the problems these pests could cause. So your first line of defence is to keep your horse’s insides working properly. If your horse is not at his optimum health, he can give off detectable odours that attract bugs, similar to how odors of decay alert and attract bugs.

It is important to minimise the intake of feeds high in chemical residues and unnatural feed supplements; these slow the horse’s metabolism. The topical use of cortisone based drugs eventually weakens the skin and leaves horses even more vulnerable to attack. You may have to use them in an emergency, but long term use is best avoided.

Rosehips are a very versatile herb, and adding the granules to your feed daily can assist your horse to be less attractive. Rosehips are high in vitamin C in a form that assists the liver to detoxify, which in turn encourages a clean internal system. They are also high in copper, and one theory developed by Pat Coleby (author of Natural Horse Care) suggests a copper deficiency is more likely in darker horses, so if your horse is attracting a few too many bugs this summer, he may benefit from supplementing rosehips.

Coleby goes on to say “Horses receiving the correct amount of copper and other minerals do not have trouble with bots, and in most cases they do not even lay eggs at all.” Other herbs that are rich sources of copper are skullcap, sage leaves, white oak bark, yucca root and gotu kola. Some of these herbs could also be utilised in an herbal strip along your horse’s fence line.

Two other supplements that can be useful as feed additives that are high in copper and useful when your intention is to repel bugs are brewers yeast and pumpkin seeds. You can also add apple cider vinegar to help balance your horse’s pH levels and it can also be added to a wash or spray as an external repellent.

Garlic is another popular herb people use to repel bugs. It is high in sulphur which has its health benefits and sometimes less desirable side effects. When giving garlic many owners give too much, and in some cases when they give garlic at the same time as drugs prescribed by their vet, or they have been giving large doses long term, a vulnerable horse can develop a sensitivity to this herb. With that in mind, I find a heaped tablespoon every second day is usually sufficient with most horses to achieve a bug repelling scent from your horse’s pores. In the situation where you inherit a horse with a lice infection, you can increase this dose up to two tablespoons a day (providing the horse does not have ulcers in his gut) to help get rid of the lice, and then return to the recommended dose.

Itch from midges is one infestation that is almost impossible to help. The owner with a horse with sweet itch has to vary the approach as the bugs seem to figure out the strategy very quickly and soon return in many cases. Herbs that help the skin, worth trialing, are cleavers, nettles, burdock, pau d’arco, astragalus, seaweed, or echinacea. Your horse’s reaction to the midges is a simple allergic reaction, so your focus in dealing with this issue is to build a healthy immune system with the use of alterative herbs such as these.

Robert McDowell (author of Natural Horsekeeping) suggests aloe vera to relieve itches and stinging bites. You can use the inside of the cut fresh plant or buy a pure gel from a health food store. Dock leaves are acidic and will neutralise alkaline stings such as that of a wasp to crush a fresh leaf in your hand then rub onto the bite, whereas bee stings are acidic and are relieved by alkaline substances such as bicarbonate of soda. For itchy skin, he suggests rubbing in freshly crushed chickweed or the use of a chickweed balm.

Topical application leads us to the use of aromatherapy. In most cases, quality essential oils are safe, but their effectiveness depends upon the individual horse. How much the horse sweats and the scent of his own sweat can have a bearing on how long the scent of the essential oil continues to repel an insect, and in some cases what repels a fly on one horse may attract the same fly on a different horse. Whether it be the scent of your horse, his tasty blood chemistry or his environment, what works for your horse may not work well for your neighbour’s horse.

Some people do mix up generic chemical products and use the ‘fools’ measure, that extra sloosh just for luck, and this is where you can get toxicity problems or skin reactions. Do not add essential oil blends to chemical or other fly repellents; this can also cause horses to get sick or have severe reactions.

You don’t need a lot of the essential oil; a 3 to 5% dilution of essential oils in your carrier is enough. However the evaporation rate is fairly quick with essential oils, which leads to the necessity of regularly applications. Sometimes adding a little shampoo or vegetable oil to the liquid will slow down the evaporation rate of your essential oil blend. As each essential oil has its own evaporation rate, some evaporate in ten minutes while others may take up to four hours. This is where the art of blending can extend the life of your application. Some people like to use balm rather than a spray to also slow down the evaporation rate.

A horse’s olfactory sense does not fatigue like ours does, so your repellent mix will be inhaled by your horse constantly and smelling for its duration, so it is polite to ask the horse if he likes it.

Caroline Ingraham (author of Aromatherapy for Animals) makes an interesting observation with horses and flies. She observed that flies would hang around the area of the horse that had stagnant energy, if flies gravitate to the stomach area she looks at clearing blocks in the stomach meridian; if they are mainly around the eyes she connects this with the liver and offers the horse essential oils to support the liver. This further supports the individuality of horses, and why one essential oil may work on one horse and not on another.

She noted that horses treated with aromatics, either orally (please only do so under a trained aromatherapist’s supervision) or by inhalation that flies would often disappear.

Essential oils with repelling qualities include any of your citrus essential oils (but be careful if exposing your horse to sunlight as most of these are photosensitive); eucalyptus and lavender, or an essential oil high in sharp tones like basil, geranium, marjoram, frankincense, palmarosa, and any your horse selects to balance his internal health that day. Keep your selection simple as you may have to vary your application each day.

I don’t use citronella; there are too many contraindications such as photosensitivity and skin reactions in susceptible horses and in some cases blistering. I suggest if you choose to include citronella in a blend to repel insects that you keep the dilution much lower than is seen in many blends shown on the internet for instance; often 20 drops in a pint of carrier is sufficient.

Tea tree essential oil is one to keep handy if your horse does get bitten by bugs. It is anti pruritic, which means it will take the itch out of most annoying skin irritations. Don’t overuse this essential oil – a 1% dilution is often enough to bring relief. For the more cautious owner, chamomile tea washed over the affected area will bring relief.

Joey is the Appaloosa and Lily, managing flies with their masks from Katy Wicks

Joey is the Appaloosa and Lily, managing flies with their masks from Katy Wicks

Finally, good management deters biting insects. In some cases we may have to compromise the ideal and rug our horse with a light mesh rug when the bugs are excessive in the biting season; some owners also make up a shade-cloth boot for their horses’ legs. It is essential to clean manure from the paddock or yard to discourage flies from breeding. Plant herbs like garlic, tansy, citrus scented geraniums, lavender, rue and wormwood around your barn.

First published – Natural Horse Magazine Vol 8 Issue 3  written by Catherine Bird

 

 

 

Herbs, Oils and a Pinch of Love

Catherine BirdOur horses become a very special part of our lives. With the speeding up of time we are busy rushing here and there, looking for quick fixes and generally compounding any issue we have in our lives due to our own haste. When we start to look within and spend quality time with our horses, the insights we can learn from them can open up a new exploration of the world around us.One way to take time is to look at how we can work with our horses naturally. With domestication and our hectic routines our horses are close to losing touch with their ancient roots. We can reintroduce into their lives a selection of herbs and aromas from essential oils that will help all of us get back to a natural state of being.

Herbs

Herbs can be traced back to their use with several American Indian tribes and the Romani Gypsies of Europe. Both these cultures had accomplished horsemen and women who combined their training methods with the use of herbs. Even using herbs can be seen in the works of Xenophon in his book The Art of Horsemanship where is notes the importance of adding herbs to horses bran of an evening.

The use of herbs for me conjures up a romantic image, of times gone by where we were more connected with the earth, and its cycles. When I read veterinary or stock care books from the 1880s their training methods were severe. I tend to wonder if it was because the natural products they relied upon in these texts contributed to the horses behaviour so severe handling was needed. The use of opium and cannabis-based products was high.

Today the herbalists avoid herbs such as these or those that require a more than heroic effect to endure so one heals. The use of cathartic or purgative herbs is limited and rarely used with horses. We have gone back to the use of gentle herbs, when used wisely are unlikely to have adverse effects.

These are quite often the herbs that you would find growing across paddocks or along roadsides. Where in the past horses that had free-range of a healthy grassed paddock could graze upon if the need arose. These days to get the benefit of herbs we need to supplement. You dont necessarily have to give your horse buckets full of herbs to get this benefit, often a combination of cut and sifted herbs can have an effect within the body in cupful doses. If the herbs are powdered you may not need to use more than two tablespoons to help the body heal itself.

Aromatherapy

With many of our horses being stabled and not able to get out often due to our land restriction, essential oils can bring a touch of brain sunshine into their lives.

Aromatherapy is a relatively new therapy. The use of essential oils can be documented throughout the ages, but its modern application is less than one hundred years. The beauty of aromatherapy is your horse can assist you with the selection of what he considers is most appropriate.

Essentials have a special quality where they can act on the body when inhaled. Some of the constituents can then enter the bloodstream via the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and the scent can be read by the olfactory receptors, which in turn has a cascade effect throughout the body. Emotions and memories can be accessed that have been stored within the limbic system and neurochemicals get releases through out the body to help instil a state of wellbeing.

When using aromatherapy with your horse, you also gain the benefits from inhaling the essential oils that your horse selects while using them with him or her. That way if some of the emotional issues your horse needs to clear from his body belong to you, you are less likely to regenerated that particular tone and keep stocking him up with your imbalances.

The Pinch of Love

These therapies are useful in their own right, however when they are done with love and intention the increased effect can be ten-fold.

There is an energetic interaction between a horse and their human. The day to day working together sees an interesting mingling of energies. Over the years the original use of the horse to help us plough our fields, fight our wars, and even provide us with a meal has no longer been needed. However the genetic memory held in his body triggers him into being of service to us in some way.

This unconditional love sees him often take on the energy of our illnesses or emotional and mental imbalances and if we are wise enough to spot when an issue is truly ours and take responsibility for it and address it, then our horse has served us and can heal.

In a way when we take the time to help him with herbs and essential oils the act of caring for our horses with natural means completes the cycle.

This does not mean that herbs and essential oils replace veterinarian care. They simply give the owner and the horse is more intimate way of relating and accessing a healing on a deeper level. I tend to prefer that veterinarian care be administered first to deal with what has developed in the physical body safely and with supervision. Then once the process has began then introduce the herbs and essential oils to facilitate healing on the mental and emotional levels so the physical manifestation is less likely to develop again.

 

written by Catherine Bird