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.
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.
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!
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 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 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.
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