There are many “alternative” treatments for your horse – chiropractor, acupuncture, massage to name a few. Most of these require special training to do them correctly. But with some basic education, aromatherapy can be used by anyone for a variety of ailments.
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to improve the physical and/or emotional well-being. Essential oils are found in tiny pouches on the surface of plants. There are several methods of extracting these oils, including cold pressing and distillation. Oils can be applied to the skin where it will pass through the layers and into the bloodstream. The can also evaporate in the air and send messages to the emotional part of the brain through smell.
The ancient Egyptian priests were among the firs to understand and use the properties of herbs and flowers. They used simple observation to determine which herbs might work best for which part of the body. The bright red of cinnamon was used for its stimulating properties. The cool blue-purple of lavender was selected for calming.
In the 19th century, micro-organisms were found to cause many common ailments. At the time, doctors carried essential oils known for their anti-bacterial properties to help treat patients. Over the years, essential oils were replaced by synthetic drugs, but as many people are looking at more holistic ways to care for themselves, their family and their animals, aromatherapy is making resurgence.
For years, horses have practiced their own form of aromatherapy. With their highly attuned sense of smell, they instinctively knew which plants offered what their body was missing and would seek out those plants. In this way, our horses actively take part in the aromatherapy process to this day, smelling various oils and helping you select the correct one by rejecting those that do not appeal to him.
Always consult with your veterinarian before treating your horse with aromatherapy. You should also enlist the help of an aroma therapist or take come classes. Many of the oils can be dangerous if applied directly to the skin, while others have “warning labels” on when and when not to use them. For example, never use essential oils on mares in foal unless first contacting your veterinarian.
Essential oils can help with behavior problems. Essential oil of jasmine can help with the problems of spooking, cribbing, fear and being headstrong. Lavender is a great essential oil to use for both the horse and rider. Lavender also is a good antiseptic and has been known to accelerate skin growth, reducing scarring.
Essential oils can be found in health food stores, or in the health food section of some grocery stores. Essential oils should be stored in opaque bottles as sunlight can destroy their properties. Store in a cool, dry, dark place for a longer shelf-life.
Closely related to aromatherapy are the Bach Flower Remedies. Dr. Edward Bach discovered the Original Bach Flower Remedies which is a system of 38 Flower Remedies that corrects emotional imbalances where negative emotions are replaced with positive. A few drops are added to drinking water and sipped slowly until you feel better. In horses (or other pets), they are used to help abused animals transition to their new homes, as well as work on issues like fear, dominance, too much energy and others.
If you are interested in learning more about aromatherapy and Bach Flower Remedies and how they can help you and your horses, here are a few books:
A Modern Horse Herbal by Hilary Page Self
Aromatherapy for Horses by Caroline Ingraham
Bach Flower Remedies for Horses and Riders by Martin J. Scott and Gael Mariana
And remember that aromatherapy works great for people as well!