'Healthy Happy Horses, Naturally' with Catherine Bird

Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

Natural support for allergies and skin conditions

get-itch-outZelda, and eight-year-old Arabian, had a beautiful coat when Barbara acquired the mare late in the fall. However, as summer arrived and temperatures began to rise, Zelda broke out in hives. The poor horse itched so badly she rubbed herself raw. Barbara suspected Zelda’s skin problems were due to allergies but when she phoned her local practitioner about getting help, she could almost hear him cringing on the other end of the line. “I knew then that I had my work cut out for me,” she said.

While more horses than ever before suffer from allergies, there is no one shot cure that takes care of the problem. Each case is so individual and what works on one horse may have no benefit to the next. As you consider the information I have to offer here, please remember that if one approach does not work for you, do not give up on your horse. Allergies and skin conditions are multi-layered and, although it may appear your approach is not working sometimes, your horse’s body may just be peeling away at an invisible layer, enabling your next level of treatment to be more effective.

What is an allergy?

The Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary defines an allergy as “an acquired hypersensitivity to a substance (allergen) that does not normally cause a reaction. It is essentially a disorder of the immune system resulting in an antibody-antigen reaction; manifestations most commonly involve the respiratory tract or the skin.”

An allergen can include pollen, dust, feathers, drugs, insect bites and feedstuffs, so your first priority is to eliminate what you suspect may be causing your horse’s allergy. If the allergens cannot be avoided, your veterinarian may suggest antihistamines or corticosteroids. These can provide temporary relief, but in the long term you do need to address your horse’s immune and elimination systems. Natural therapies can help you with this process.

Herbs for the inside and outside

Your horse’s first line of defence is the liver, so any protocol should include supporting this gland. If you believe there is a toxicity or poison present in the body, you’ll want to help the liver detoxify using my two favorite herbs, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)*. Milk thistle seed helps cleanse the liver, assists with the regeneration of liver cells and protects these cells against the action of liver poisons. Add rosemary in the next phase of treatment as it is a complete herbal antioxidant, a secondary liver cleanser and also hepatoprotective. The powdered forms of these herbs are commonly used.

From a naturopathic perspective, most skin issues reflect an inhibition or dysfunction of one of the other major elimination organs. Look at the liver first, but also consider the kidneys, digestive system and respiratory tract.

If there are breathing difficulties or the presence of catarrh, your horse could benefit from supporting his immune system. My preferred species is Echinacea angustifolia in either its powdered root or liquid extract form. I find I can give these forms long term effectively, whereas the dried leaf does not seem to maintain its potency or efficacy as well and is better suited to short term use.

As your horse’s body begins to detoxify with the liver herbs, Echinacea can fight off secondary infections and help your horse rebuild her immune defences to the allergens. In addition, since Echinacea is traditionally used as a blood cleanser and purifier, it supports the milk thistle and rosemary. These three really make a great team.

*Rosemary should not be given to pregnant mares.

Internal systems are interconnected

Any issues with the lungs lead us to the digestive system. If your horse has a runny nose or gluggy ears in response to the allergens, it could indicate an internal reaction to feedstuffs. My favourite herb to address this with is marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) and I prefer the powdered herb in this situation. In severe cases, paste your horse with one or two tablespoons of herb mixed with water before feeding (use a syringe) or, in milder cases, simply mix it into a wet feed. By addressing the gut in this way, you will soothe the mucosal layer of the digestive tract, which in turn will alleviate the clinical symptoms – the dry and pruritic skin conditions.

Could it be his kidneys? 
If your horse’s urine is irregular, his sweat patterns vary, or your horse has sensitive ears, you may find his allergic conditions respond well to flushing the kidneys. A gentle yet very potent approach to this is adding some freshly picked parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – a nice handful each day – to his feed for about a month. You can use the dried leaf as well; in this case usually one or two heaped tablespoons are sufficient. Parsley also calms the nervous system and serves as a carminative (relieves gas) and digestive tonic, supporting the use of marshmallow root.

You may observe as I work through the body’s elimination processes, that the herbs I select overlap in their functions across each of these body systems. So, as you assist your horse through the various stages of his “line of cure”, your emphasis may shift between any of these systems. You can vary and substitute herbs to further individualize your approach; any bitters including burdock or dandelion root will replace my liver suggestions; immune support such as astragalus or olive leaf could continue on from Echinacea; slippery elm or plantain could address the gut, and mullein or elecampane may help the respiratory tract. Dandelion leaf serves as an easy substitute for parsley.

The emotional toll

If your horse has suffered from a chronic allergy condition, you may also need to address the nervous system. Allergies can really wear on the soul, and after a while most horses become agitated and short-tempered by the constant physical irritation. Again, parsley may assist here as it can be very calming to several body systems. You could also use any of the calming herbs such as sweet flag, lemon balm or chamomile for the same purpose.

Creams, oils and rinses

Topically, you have a wide selection of herbs and essential oils to choose from. I usually recommend calendula (Calendula officinalis), sometimes known as pot marigold, which is an effective local tissue healer when applied in a cream, balm or infused oil to itchy skin. You can also administer it internally to help the body’s inflammatory response come back into balance. Other herbs include aloe vera gel and a rinse made from chamomile flowers.

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is antipruritic (anti itch), and when applied to a very small section ‘neat’ or diluted into a carrier such as aloe vera gel, this essential oil will take the itch out of most skin irritations. It is safely combined with lavender (Lavendula officinalis) which is cytophylactic (able to stimulate new cells) so the skin repairs quickly. Manuka (Leptospermum scoparlum), another essential oil very effective in healing the skin, has anti fungal and anti bacterial properties and works well with the other two essential oils.

Nutritional support

Once your horse’s body has begun the process of elimination, you can take the next step by supporting her nutritionally. Rosehips (Rosa canina), an inexpensive additive to any feed, is high in flavonoids which nourish the skin and assists our previous herbs with addressing mild infections and soothing gastric inflammation. Clivers or cleavers (Galium aparine) contains high amounts of silica to support the skin, and is a very effective lymphatic cleanser and remedy for skin eruptions, especially where associated with tissue oedema.

Essential oils and aromatherapy

We often think of massage when we talk about aromatherapy, but essential oils can help with allergies and skin problems too. If you are having difficulty in deciding what approach to take with your horse, offer her a selection of essential oils to give you some insights as to where to start your protocol. At the same time, this approach will stimulate and tune up her endocrine system to help rebalance some of the issues that may be underlying the allergic conditions.

My first essential oil of choice is carrot seed (Daucus carota). The scent is an immune stimulator and can indicate if your horse’s digestive system needs addressing. If she shows an intense interest in the scent, your horse can safely lick this one from your hand. This can have a catalytic affect throughout the body to help trigger the liver into action. A horse that goes for this scent may have sluggish digestion, be burdened with worms or need support from liver herbs. This essential oil’s action is so strong, that I check too see if the horse is still attracted to the scent 24 hours later. Often the initial scent and taste will be enough for the body to adjust and restore its own homeostasis.

Addressing your own emotions with Bach flowers and tissue salts

It’s possible that irritating issues in your own life may be contributing energetically to your horse’s condition. Clearing these emotions will most certainly help you but may also help your horse to heal. To this end, I like to include simple flower essences such as the Bach flower essence, Crabapple.

To support this approach, I also include the use of biochemic tissue salts. Kali Sulph (Potassium Sulphate) is a skin nutrient, and is well supported by Silica. If there is a nervous component I may include Kali Phos (Potassium Phosphate), or if my focus herbally is that of cleansing the body, Calc Sulph (Calcium Sulphate).

There are 12 tissue salts in this therapy that follow basic homeopathic principles and each may be employed at various stages throughout dealing with allergies and skin issues. An experienced homeopath could certainly guide you here.

As Barbara discovered when she started working with Zelda, addressing allergies and skin conditions takes a personal approach. Depending on your horse’s condition, it can be simple or be multi-layered. When it’s multi-layered, the key to your success is patience and a keen observance so you know when the next layer of the issue is available for healing. Hopefully, I’ve provided some direction to follow if your horse is unfortunate enough to be inflicted with allergies or skin conditions.

HINT: Another indicator that your horse’s stomach may need assistance is if the flies aggregate around his eyes. In Chinese medicine, the eyes are closely linked to the stomach.

HINT: Add carrot seed essential oil to your calendula cream to give it that little extra range of healing. If I suspect the horse needs further detoxification, I will offer her the scent of juniperberry (Juniperus communis). Juniper will indicate the need to cleanse; it supports the elimination of any toxic build-up and indicates if the horse needs assistance with liver herbs.

 

By: Catherine Bird

First Published in: Equine Wellness Magazine Vol. 1 Issue 1 (pic from their edition)

 

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Chamomile – the calming herb

Chamomile, Anthemis noblis or Matricaria chamomilla, depending on the species you select, is an herb that can assist you with your horse. Lets explore the use of the herb, the homoeopathic remedy which only contains the vibrational qualities of the original plant, and the essential oil made from the distilled flower.

Chamomile the Herb

Chamomile is a hardy perennial herb that was often used in Europe as a pathway plant or strewn along walkways due to its aromatic properties in the Middle Ages. It was an herb that was employed in a garden to help ailing plants in its midst, and nine times out of ten it would see a drooping plant recover when a chamomile plant was placed close to it.

The carminative properties of chamomile have been documented over centuries and in one veterinary text I have from 1886 refers to the use of Anthemidis Flores for its carminative and stomachic properties.

Today we can use chamomile with our horses for complaints that are exaggerated by nervousness. A very effective and simple method of using chamomile that I have found is in the form of making up a bucket of ‘tea’ with the human tea bags and using it to dampen the hard feed. This is one of the simplest ways to use chamomile with your horses.

You can add the dried flower heads by the cupful to feed during times of duress, however it is not wise to rely on this long term as Chamomile has been shown to be toxic to the liver with long-term use. It is best not to give chamomile for more than three months at a time and when you do to give your horse’s system a month’s rest from the additive at the end of three months. Some horses can develop an intolerance to chamomile because of its effect on the liver, and if your horse gets itchy skin while on chamomile, take him off it.

Many commercially prepared calming blends do contain chamomile and at some levels of competition a certain amount is allowed, as in some countries chamomile is a field herb. However with more stringent rules constantly being introduced you do need to take care as to how much and when you give your horse chamomile.

The best application for using chamomile as a calming herb with a difficult to handle horse is in your preparation for competitions. It can be used as a tool to take the edge off a situation so that when your horse is facing a difficult situation he will simply accept it as part of the norm. It is not wise to become reliant on herbs; simply see them as a way to assist you to overcome a block in training, or in another instance to help with muscle soreness when you are working your horse in a different way. Some associations are now stating that the use of calming herbs is unsportsmanlike, so please check the rules that govern your sport before using chamomile close to a competition.

Chamomile is an excellent herb to include in your horse’s feed when you are stepping up his training or moving into a different style of riding. It has a high level of magnesium and can help the body ease away muscle spasm or soreness when the new routine has been introduced.

Another application for the herb is pouring a cup or two over the feed of a horse prone to nervous colic. This is very useful when there is an obvious change in seasons. It is also a useful pain reliever when there is inflammation in the body somewhere and can be used as a poultice for painful bruising or muscle injuries.

A tea made from the dried flowers can be useful in bringing out the “blond” in a flaxen mane. The tea can also be used to wash out wounds or to wash stubborn skin conditions, especially those that are hot and irritated.

Chamomilla the Homoeopathic

When giving a homoeopathic to your horse you are often following principles that seem at odds to other therapies; here we are giving the tiniest dose possible to achieve the maximum response. It is important if you decide your horse needs a homoeopathic remedy that you do not administer any other herbs, drugs or feed within twenty minutes of giving the homoeopathic.

Chamomilla is a useful remedy when your horse has a slimy green diarrhoea; you can give a dose of 30C as soon as you notice this and re-dose again in 12 hours if you have not noticed a change in the condition. Do not ignore these symptoms and do call your vet for an opinion.

Its primary use in first aid remedies is with children who are bad tempered when teething. With your horse, if his teeth are sore and causing him to resist the bit in a strong and forceful way, you can administer Chamomilla to ease his discomfort and then call your dentist to address the physical aspects.

It is also a remedy to consider with a horse who suffers a false pregnancy or has inflamed or painful teats. This is a remedy to consider with any horse that develops a thirst and becomes irritable and restless. However the best way to use homoeopathics is with the guidance of a homoeopath, as homoeopaths are trained to recognize all the signs as the symptom picture and match it to the appropriate remedy. While Chamomilla may help your horse, there may be an even better remedy you are unaware of.

Chamomile the Essential Oil

Spider yawning after inhaling chamomile essential oil

Spider yawning after inhaling chamomile essential oil

Roman chamomile is a very versatile essential oil. It is the one I will use with every difficult horse. If a horse is putting on a temper tantrum, chamomile’s calming properties will ease any hysterical or unruly behaviour. It promotes peace, easing worries and removing agitation.

The strong analgesic properties relieve dull muscular aches and stubborn spasms. It will also relieve overworked and inflamed muscles. It is useful for the horse competing in a multiple-day event. At the end of each day, chamomile will help calm the muscles and help the horse relax overnight for the next day. Chamomile has been mentioned as unsportsmanlike with some associations because of its calming properties. It does not contain the constituents that show positive in most prohibited substances tests, however this may change, so all due care should be taken if you are competing at a level where you will be swabbed.

Dry, flaking skin will respond well to chamomile and with chronic conditions use jojoba oil as your base carrier oil application as it is able to moisturise the skin deeply.

Consider chamomile when your horse has suffered repeated infections or is always lethargic. In a weekly blend it will stimulate the production of white corpuscles to aid the body’s defences against low-grade infections and fortify your horse’s immune defence system.

If your mare becomes unmanageable when she cycles, chamomile would be beneficial in her daily care a few days before. It is calming and also regulates the hormonal activity in the body.

Recently I was giving a talk at a college and we used a horse for the demonstration for selecting essential oils. This horse was very non-committal about any of the essential oils offered except for Chamomile. He constantly showed his interest in chamomile, and this suggested to me that he had some muscle soreness somewhere. We un-rugged him and found some massive spasms in his back and the back of his shoulder on the offside (it was his right nostril that kept inhaling the chamomile essential oil).

As you can see, Chamomile can come in many different forms and each can be used with your horse at various times.

When using any of these recommendations remember they do not replace veterinary care and always use common sense with natural therapies.

 

First published Natural Horse Magazine Volume 3 Issue 8 – 2001

Summer relief

As the weather warms and we thaw out from the winter cold, your horse’s body can be sensitive to their environment. With our weather becoming more extreme it can be hostile to 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.

By addressing the internal health of the horse you will have more success in dealing with this Summer’s allergies and common discomforts such as itch, photosensitivity, headshaking, and annoying bugs.

Relief

With many of these conditions, the herbs a herbalist may suggestion for each condition may cross over and cover other Summer conditions. This helps keep your selection of support to a focused minimum, and address conditions that may be linked.

A Summer herbal dispensary could include these herbs:

Burdock root, calendula flowers, cleavers, echinacea, eyebright, garlic, lemon balm, licorice root, lime tree blossom, marshmallow root, mullein, nettle, rosehips, wood betony, yarrow.

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 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.

How much to give?

For the purpose of this article I am focusing on dried herbs, they are easier for the horse owner to obtain and most 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. 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.

 

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, do not limit yourself to the immediate signs, to be truly effective you need to 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.

Itch

Henry at Ferrell Hollow Horse Sanctuary 'scratching his itch'

Henry at Ferrell Hollow Farm Senior Horse Sanctuary ‘scratching his itch’

 

A veterinarian may suggest an antihistamine to help your horse’s own inflammatory response. Calendula flowers have a histamine-like action which can be used for this sort of body condition. If your horse develops hives or hot spots with his itch, then nettles could be the herb you choose. If he wants to be left alone, settle his nerves with vervain.

This may be enough to start with, and apart for the reason they were initially selected, the calendula flowers will cleanse the skin via the lymphatic system; the nettles will strengthen the circulatory system and supports several glands within the body; vervain is a gentle liver and kidney cleanses tuning up these organs so they can better support the skin while his nervous system is settled by vervain’s nervine properties.

This way you are addressing the whole horse!

Photosensitivity

This is where your clinical signs and herb selection begin to overlap. Calendula is again a good herb to chose but this time supported with cleavers to emphasise the cleansing of the lymphatic system, especially if greasy heal is one aspect. This time 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

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 article and decided on 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 now links us into allergies.

Allergies

Allergies can many and varied and this is where your own insights of your own horse become the key to selecting what herbs to use. They may be a separate entity in themselves, or also be an expression of one of the previous issues. The intricacies of allergies they 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 is astringent and also has an antibiotic-like action to help cleanse the eye. Eye problems can often be linked to digestion. You may have selected calendula for its histamine-like action, and in doing so it will be astringent and cleansing to the gut.

A cough may be the primary sign of an allergy with your horse, so then demulcent herbs such as marshmallow root powder may be the key herb you select and then with how your ‘whole’ horse determine what herbs you use to support. If your horse is stressed with coughing, lime tree blossom or lemon balm address upper respiratory inflammation and settle distress. Then you may add rosehips, although not noted as a liver herb, rosehip’s 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.

Bugs

Summer wakes all creatures, and bugs are no exception. The saliva from their bites may be what your horse is allergic to, or they may simply irritate a watery eye. 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. If you have kept your selection of herbs above low, there is room to add one of these suggestions.

The sulphur in garlic is what repels the 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.

Brewers yeast is an alternate, being high in vitamin B. The theory being, if a body is low or deficient in vitamin B, their blood chemistry is more attractive to bugs that bite. Brewers yeast can also be good for the horse who needs his nervous system settled because to the vitamin B content.

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.

 

First published Natural Horse Magazine 2014

Herbs to support Seedy Toe

A naturopathic approach to seedy toe will layer the approach with herbs; your first layer is to cleanse, and the next layer is to restore tone and repair the affected tissue, leaving the body stronger and less vulnerable to reoccurrence.

Pic from http://beckiemabbutt.squarespace.com/recent-news/?currentPage=15 - a blog worth reading on hoofcare

Pic from http://beckiemabbutt.squarespace.com/recent-news/?currentPage=15 – a blog worth reading on hoofcare

This can be done very simply. You can build your individual approach using some key herbs, and then adapt your approach as your horse responds. The core herbs suggested here are herbs that will help with both the cleansing as well as the restorative phases.

The lymphatic herbs such as clivers and calendula are key to the cleansing phase and with cleaning the tissue. Clivers internally, is one of the most nutritional herbs available and once cleansed, can then continue on to support with the restorative phase. Clivers is especially indicated if there is a history of abscesses.

Calendula flowers can be used internally if there is a large amount of infection, but its main use here is externally in a wash made with 5% tea tree essential oils added to a 50/50 mix of calendula tea and apple cider vinegar. Combine your ingredients use a squeezie bottleor use a large syringe body (no needle) and squirt to rinse the affected area.

Rosehips will also help with strengthening the horse’s immune system and support the clivers with rebuilding the foot.

Yarrow is a mild anti-inflammatory and also helps cleanse the body by improving circulation to the limbs, and gently flushing the kidneys and liver. It will assist with the discomfort and keeping a good healthy circulation to the foot.

This overall approach can be safely given long term and it is worth giving clivers and rosehips for a couple of months after the seedy toe has resolved to ensure the hoof remains strong.

As a guide, initially you will be giving 1 to 2 heaped tablespoons of each herb, i.e.clivers, calendula (if needed), rosehips and yarrow; once or twice a day. Then depending on your own horse you will tweak with any additional herbs.

I am focusing on dried herbs, they are easier for the horse owner to obtain and add 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. This will vary with some herbs and the stage of the condition, 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.

Other herbs can be used, depending on how your horse is and his overall wellbeing will determine the combination of herbs that best work each time.

 

 

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

Winter Hints for Horse and Human

For the Horse

Cindy Daigre shared Ferrell Hollow Farm-Senior Horse Sanctuary's Henry

Henry from Ferrell Hollow Farm-Senior Horse Sanctuary in the snow Feb 2014

Winter is a time when your horse will expend more energy to keep warm. How you assist him with this will vary with your local conditions, but there are a few simple things you can do wherever you have a definite “winter” season.

If your horse is still reluctant to drink during the cold weather you can add celery seeds to his feed to encourage your horse to drink more. It is also a good winter supplement as a digestive tonic and assisting with stiffness from arthritic joints in older horses.

A long coat is the horses first line of defence against cold weather. If a horse is rugged or blanketed or kept in a warm barn, he will not grow an adequate length of coat to protect him against the elements. If given the opportunity horses will huddle together and run around to keep warm . Care does have to be taken if your horse has come from a warmer climate and not yet acclimatised or if he gets wet. A wet coat will make it more difficult to stay warm and maintain comfort.

To warm your horse from the inside out, Ginger is my favourite wintertime herb. It brings warmth to both you and your horse when given in feed to warm the gut, and generate warmth that permeates throughout the body. Ginger is also indicated for most illnesses that can be traced back to exposure to a draft or coldness in the body, any respiratory tract imbalance, to musculoskeletal issues.

Fenugreek seeds help keep condition on a horse. They are an appetite stimulant as well as well as helping with any imbalance in the respiratory tract. You only need to add a tablespoon of fenugreek seeds to a feed, however as the seeds are difficult to digest unassisted, steep the seeds in boiling water to soften before adding the seeds and the water to your horse’s feed.

Chamomile is another herb that helps with condition. It helps regulate the immune system in a gentle way, however when it comes to body condition it supports the muscles in the body.

Your horse will appreciate the scent of aromatherapy if stabled in a closed environment. They help cheer up the barn sour horse and also act as negative ion generators to inhibit the spread of airborne pathogens. Grapefruit essential oil is referred to as “brain sunshine” and simply wafting the uncapped bottle under your horse’s nose will lift his spirits. Eucalyptus and Bergamot are antiviral and can be used in the same way to help build your horse’s resistance to ‘cold’ viruses.

The herb rosehip, when added to the feed of a stabled horse will also help to build his resistance to disease and improve recovery time after illness that may have been your reason for accommodating him in a barn.

When working horses in cold weather, warm horses up slowly before asking for serious work. It would also be of benefit to both yourself and your horse to give your horse a good brisk massage to warm you both up before even saddling. Sweeping effleurage and circular frictions will generate heat and warm up the muscles.

Most importantly when you are finished and unsaddled dry your horse off. Your horse needs to be cooled down thoroughly and brushed to stand the hair up so the fluffy hair traps air and keeps your horse warm Flat wet hair clings to the body and lets body heat escape.

One first aid remedy to have handy throughout winter at the first sign of any illness is the biochemic tissue salt Ferr Phos. Remembering the importance of veterinary care, this tissue salt can be administered easily and quickly directly into the mouth at the first sign of fever or runny nose. Garlic is another preventative herb and a tablespoon every second day is enough to bolster the immune system through the colder months, and Echinacea root brewed into a decoction is often good to start your horses on, especially if your horse is new to a cold environment or had a history of respiratory complaints.

Other herbs useful during the winter months are Nettles, Yarrow and Hawthorn Leaf as they improve the circulation to the most parts of the body and provide extra nutritional basics.

A little common sense goes a long way.

During the colder months respiratory tract infections tend to be an issue. Herbs such as Elder, Yarrow, Elecampane and Mullein, Echinacea, and Astragalus are all herbs you need to know how to get hold of if your horse needs this sort of support.

Elder flowers contain tannins and mucilage which are very soothing to irritated mucosal tissue. Elecampane and Mullein are two herbs to consider if your horse is afflicted with a cough. Elecampane while it soothes the respiratory tract also strengthens its ability to eliminate congestion from the lungs. It is very useful for the horse who is irritated by dust in their feed. Mullein is more for the wet coughs, where there is persistent dampness, or where your horse may be sore and irritated in the respiratory tract.

Yarrow helps to dilate the peripheral blood vessels that become contracted in the cold, to assist the body to maintain a healthy warmth as well help address mild fevers or minor circulatory congestion.

If your horse has been unfortunate and fallen to an illness during the colder months you can use herbs to rebuild his immune system and strengthen him for the coming year. Astragalus is a herb that will help strengthen the whole body, and another that is becoming popular is the Bulgarian grown Tribulus. Using either of these herbs or combining them with traditional western herbs such as Licorice will help your horse recover with more strength from within. If this is an approach you need, find a herbalist who can supply you with a blend of the liquid extracts.

The most effective use of herbs with horses is simple and usually three or four herbs in a daily regimen will combine with a nice synergy to help your horse overcome most obstacles the cold weather creates within the body.

For the Human

No matter where you are in the world, the winter months can be a little wearing on the rider, especially when it comes time to get out of bed in the dark to get to your horse and stables, or to go down after a day’s work in the dark, or to try to be cheerful with icy cold hands and feet.

Dried Out Hands

The cold air always seems to dry out and roughen skin more than usual, no matter how much water we drink to stay hydrated. Olive oil can be warming to the body and is a simple moisturiser for the skin. For hands that get dry and rough, try a simple scrub of olive oil and half a teaspoon of white sugar in the palm of your hand. Lightly rub your hands together, then rinse off the sugar. Any residual oil can be worked into your hands. It is one of the simplest ways to help remove dead skin cells from your tired hands and moisturise them. You can add a drop or two of your favourite essential oil to help lift your spirits above the winter blues. (Abraded or irritated skin may be sensitive to strong EOs so try a small test spot first.)

Your Own Brew of Herbs

One of the best ways to stay warm in winter is by warming yourself from the inside. Brew up a warming tea of ginger, peppermint and elder flowers and take it with you to sip throughout the day. It will stay warm for hours in a well-managed thermos.

In the evening, you can make your own mulled wine – add a variation of herbs such as the sweet and fragrant mix of whole pieces of allspice, cassia, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, mandarin peel and cloves to a red wine. Combine the spices and citrus in red wine or a non-alcoholic beverage. Sweeten to taste (up to 1/4 cup sugar). Heat this through for at least 15 minutes, but don’t boil.

Your Daily Cheerful Tissue

Also carry a magic tissue with you throughout the day. The scent of essential oils added to a tissue can help create a barrier by acting like a personal negative ion generator, making it more difficult for viruses to pass through the air and make contact with you.

Bergamot is particularly effective if there is a viral infection going around your area and you have to travel to and from work or the stables on public transport.

Atkinson’s Kick-a-Germ Joy Juice

One old remedy to mix up, if you feel the beginnings of a cold or flu coming on, is this juice. Be warned it is for the heroic ones amongst us, but when I have been brave enough to cook up the ingredients, it has always helped push the bugs out of my system.

(Ref: Modern Naturopathy and Age Old Healers by Russell Frank Atkinson):

“Take four large cloves of garlic. Dice or crush them and put in a stainless steel or ceramic pot with one litre of water (1 ½ pints). If the cloves are not large and fat, make it six. Add three whole lemons, diced, that is skin, pith and all, one teaspoon of ginger and one teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, one nasturtium leaf and stem and let it simmer for fifteen minutes, stirring. Be careful not to let it boil. While cooling, add a dessertspoon or two of raw honey and stir it in. This is then strained and half a cup is taken each few hours. This is a natural antibiotic with no adverse effects, apart from garlic breath.”

A Curry or Composition Powder

For those of you less brave, a simple Thai or Indian curry will suffice. I like this option as it soothes my digestion as well as my soul when I am feeling vulnerable to all the bacteria and viruses waiting out there to take advantage in the cold weather. It follows loosely on from the use of composition powder by the physiomedical herbalist Samuel Thompson. He formulated this blend of herbs in 1846 and it contains barberry bark, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, prickly ash bark, and cloves.

It also makes an enlivening additive to soups during winter. Simply add anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon depending on the size of your pot, and enjoy.

Bedtime

Marjoram is a warming essential oil and very sedative. It can be a useful one to inhale as you drift off to sleep, to help you let go of the worries of the day. If your body clock has trouble adjusting to the shorter days during winter, supplementing low doses of chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus castus) helps the body with the manufacture of its own melatonin and enables the body to readjust quickly. Taking a small dose before bed for a week or so should be sufficient to assist you. Do not take this herb if you are taking hormone replacement therapy.

Stay Warm

Most nasty bugs that thrive during winter thrive on cold, while the human body becomes more vulnerable when it is cold. Wear plenty of layers and keep your body warm so there is less opportunity for viruses and bacteria to invade your personal space.

A Little Morning Sunshine

During the shorter, damper days, the essential oil of grapefruit is considered a little drop of brain sunshine. When you first get into your morning shower, cover the drain hole with your foot, and simply drop three or four drops of this essential oil into the pooling water. This will help lift any dampened mood and start your day with a special brightness that will help you deal with any unwanted exposures – thoughts, pathogens, or otherwise.