Naturally Calm: Treating Anxious Horses With Aromatherapy
As both prey and herd animals, horses can have delicate temperaments, and many horses with “bad personalities” – flighty or anxious, sullen or stubborn – are simply not having their natural needs met. Luckily, horses are also natural candidates for aromatherapy treatments, and essential oils can be used to successfully aid horses who are suffering from anxiety or depression. Your horse will quickly let you know whether you’re using the right oil for them, and the effects can be both quick and rewarding. By learning about what oils to use, and how to use them, you can take an active role in improving your horse’s life.
Using the Right Oils
Although humans and horses are very different, oils which work to ease anxiety and depression in humans often have the same effect on our equine partners. Therefore, it can be a good starting point to purchase a standard aromatherapy textbook; this is particularly helpful if your horse turns up their nose at the usual remedies. However, it’s possible to see positive effects from using just four oils: lavender, frankincense, bergamot, and vetiver. These are relatively inexpensive to purchase, and can make a world of difference.
Lavender is the most well-known essential oil, and for good reason. It is gentle and healing for both body and mind, and its balancing properties can either quiet a high-strung horse or give energy and life back to a depressed one. This is an oil which says “all is well”, and is useful in almost any soothing blend. Frankincense is another interesting oil – it has been used in religious ceremonies for millenia, and fascinating new studies show that it has similar properties to antidepressants. This makes it the top choice for horses who are depressed, grieving the loss of a herd member, or generally not acting like themselves. As a resin, it is also useful in “grounding” anxious horses.
Bergamot may be known best as the flavoring in Earl Grey tea, but this bright and sunny citrus can do a world of good in easing the suffering of unhappy or depressed horses. It lifts the spirits of humans and equines alike, and has additional antibacterial properties which cut through (rather than blend with) the usual stable smells. However, there is one important caveat: like all citrus oils, bergamot is phototoxic and can cause irritation or burns if applied to the skin before going out in the sun, so bergamot is best used in air sprays. Vetiver, which is extracted from a grass, is bergamot’s earthier ally; bergamot will give your depressed horse a spring in their step, while vetiver is grounding and calming for anxious animals. Imagine taking a deep breath and feeling the ground steady under your feet – this is what vetiver does for your horse.
Of course, it’s important to understand the underlying cause of your horse’s unhappiness in order to properly treat it. In many cases, there will be either no answer or a situational one: the loss of a herd-mate, boredom, or simply the life experiences they had before coming to you. If steps can be taken to deal with these, such as further training or enriching activities, the aromatherapy treatment will be much more successful. Anxiety and depression can also be caused by underlying medical issues, ranging from minor dental problems to potentially life-threatening diseases. Therefore, if your horse isn’t acting like themselves, whether at rest or under saddle, it might be time for a veterinary check-up. There may not be an underlying medical reason for your horse’s behavior, but – just as in humans – personality changes should always be evaluated by a qualified professional. If the check-up does reveal a problem, aromatherapy can still be useful in easing your horse’s unhappiness.
How To Use Essential Oils
All essential oils should be diluted before use, as many kilograms of raw material are used to make just a tiny amount of oil – this is potent stuff! Depending on how you intend on treating your horse, oils can either be diluted in a horse-safe base oil (like coconut or jojoba) or suspended in a glycerine/water spray. When diluting oils, err on the side of too little rather than too much, as the oil’s potency means that a few drops can make a big difference. For 100ml of base oil or spray, a good guide is to use 20 to 40 drops for healthy adult horses, or 10 to 20 drops for elderly, ill, or young animals.
Aromatherapy treatment comes in two forms: airborne or applied to the skin. For many horses, airborne treatment will work fantastically. This can be achieved using a spray formulated for animals or by adding the undiluted oils to a nebulizing diffuser near your horse’s stall. Your horse will inhale tiny particles of the oil, allowing for fast absorption and equally quick results. If this does not appear to be working, consider applying the diluted oils to your horse’s poll and withers on a regular basis, or utilizing the oil as part of a massage.
The bond between humans and horses is a special one, and part of our promise to these beautiful animals is that we will care for them when they are ill, in pain, or simply unhappy. In many ways, we are their herd, and it is our job to honor that responsibility. Aromatherapy is an easy, cost-effective way to naturally care for our beloved horses, and the effects can be surprising.
Author: Julie Tobin – For Horse Whispers. July 2013