Horses, Herbs, and Oils - Part Two!
Let's jump right in with Sara! "I will touch on several areas of equine grooming where the use of naturally derived ingredients, herbs, and essential oils can be simple, cost-effective, and will make a huge difference in the appearance and well-being of your horse:
I like to use a castile soap based shampoo for bathing. Castile soap is formulated during a process called saponification of high quality oils like olive, coconut, or castor oils. During saponification, the oils combine with a solution of water and potassium hydroxide (lye) to produce soap and glycerin. Castile soap is low in lather but much gentler on skin and coat than conventional detergent based shampoos. Baking soda can be added to castile soap to remove green spots and whiten. Castile soap does not strip the skin and coat of it’s natural oils and often a conditioning product is not needed as it is after using traditional shampoos that dry out the skin and coat. For an extra shiny, healthy skin and coat, I like to add an herbal infusion and a few drops of essential oils to my castile shampoo. Here are some of my favorite herbs and essential oils to use in shampoo:
Aloe Vera: Aloe conditions, moisturizes, and creates a smooth shine.
Burdock: Rich in fatty acids that stimulate blood flow to hair follicles to nourish and strengthen. The silica and phytoesterols in burdock decrease hair breakage and repair hair while adding sheen and hydration. The mucilage in burdock helps add “slip” to hair to make detangling the mane and tail easier.
Cedarwood Essential Oil: Antifungal, antibacterial, antiseptic, insect repellent. Excellent treatment to prevent hair loss and treat itchy skin. Grounding and calming, helps ease anxiety and nervousness.
Chamomile: Soothes skin and conditions coat. Enhances the color of light colored coats and adds sheen to dark hair coats. Strengthens skin tissues and promotes healthy hair growth.
Horsetail (Shavegrass): Nourishing and hydrating. The silica in horsetail helps keep hair strong and adds sheen and luster.
Geranium Essential Oil: Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, insect repellent. Revitializes skin cells and is great for itchy skin. Lifts the spirit and eases nervous tension.
Lavender Essential Oil: Anti-fungal, analgesic, antiseptic. Calming, relaxing, and balancing.
Nettle: Helps prevent hair loss and breakage. Helps make tail fuller, softer, and shinier.
Peppermint: Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and cooling. Stimulates nerve endings and cools/refines skin.
Oat Straw: Has emollient qualities to promote softness and shine. Contains nutrients that aid in healthy skin and hair growth.
Sage: Anti-oxidant and antibacterial. Soothing natural treatment for dry skin.
I like to make an herb infused oil to keep my horses hooves strong and help prevent chipping, thrush, abcesses, and bruising. A variety of different oils can be used. Olive, safflower, sunflower, and castor oils are my personal favorites. If using castor oil, I combine with another oil as it can be quite “gooey” and messy to apply on its own. My favorite herbs to infuse in the oil are:
Arnica: Arnica stimulates blood circulation and specifically stimulates the action of white blood cells to relieve congested blood and trapped fluids from bruised tissues. ?This makes Arnica the supreme herb for bruising and improving blood circulation. ?The anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial qualities of Arnica can help reduce pain and swelling and improve healing. ?Hoof treatments with Arnica can be used to prevent and treat bruised soles and sensitive hooves. ?The immune-stimulating and bactericidal effects of Arnica make it a great choice for the prevention of hoof abcesses.
Comfrey: Emollient, tissue repair, accelerates healing, excellent for bruising.
Carrot Seed Essential Oil: Anti-bacterial, stimulates cell growth, and rejuvenates damaged tissue. Promotes healthy hooves.
Horsetail: High in silica, hoof regeneration and repair, hoof growth.
Kelp: A seaweed that is a source of iodine, vitamins, and minerals.
White Willow: Relieves pain and inflammation. Helps improve circulation in the hoof.
Wintergreen Essential Oil: Anti-inflammatory and deeply penetrating. Helps penetration of other ingredients.
I have no idea what this particular oil does. No idea at all.
To care for minor wounds, I first hose well with lots of water (“the solution to pollution is dilution”). Next, I like to spray with an herbal tincture that promotes healing, helps prevent infection, and reduces scar formation. I make a tincture of some of my favorite wound healing herbs in organic grain alcohol and dilute with aloe vera gel and a few drops of essential oils. I should mention here that larger wounds that are gaping, bleeding profusely, highly contaminated or at all questionable should be cared for by your veterinarian. An infected wound can become a very big problem and should be avoided at all costs. If you are not sure, then err on the side of caution and call your Vet. The following are some of my favorite herbs and essential oils for wound healing:
Aloe Vera Gel: There are many scientific studies that now show the benefits of aloe vera gel for wound healing. The inner mucilaginous part of the aloe vera plant contains a polysaccharide called glucomannan that is anti-inflammatory, antipruritic (relieves itching), and very useful for treating wounds. Aloctin A contained in aloe has immune-stimulating properties.
Calendula: Antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, aids in healing wounds. It can promote the formation of granulation tissue by first intention and is useful for prevention or treatment of congealed tissue.
Chamomile: Anti-inflammatory, relaxant, analgesic (pain relieving), antifungal, antiallergy, tissue healing, and antibacterial properties. ?The German Commission E has approved chamomile for external use in supporting skin care and inflammation with several clinical trials supporting its efficacy. ?Chamomile is used for burns, ulcers, wounds, and skin sensitivity. ?The anti-inflammatory action of chamomile can be attributed to the natural chemicals alpha bisbolol and chamazulene contained within the flower, which have the ability to inhibit arachidonic acid metabolism. The ability to relieve pain may be due to a prostaglandin inhibiting action.
Comfrey: Forms a soothing film relieving pain and inflammation. Contains 6-8% allantoin which promotes cell proliferation and is thought to be the main reason for the healing action of comfrey. Used for contusions, sprains, wounds, burns, ulcers, and inflammatory skin disorders.
Lavender Essential Oil: Promotes tissue regeneration and reduces scarring. Excellent for burns. Antiseptic, antispasmodic. Encourages the cellular renewal processes within the body and aids the body in healing itself. Is a natural fly repellent and will help repel flies from wounds.
Tea Tree Essential Oil: Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antifungal, antioxidant, antiparasitic, decongestant, immune-stimulant, insecticidal, tissue regenerator. Useful to treat fungal infections, skin conditions, and wounds.
Post Exercise Inflammation and Muscle Soreness
To relieve inflammation and muscle soreness after a strenuous workout or a day of showing, I like to apply an herbal liniment to legs, back, and any other areas that may be sore. I make an herbal tincture and dilute with aloe vera gel and a few drops of essential oils. I use a few of the herbs and essential oils already mentioned such as arnica, calendula, chamomile, comfrey, lavender essential oil and wintergreen essential oil. I avoid adding menthol to my liniment as some horses can have a severe reaction to menthol. My other favorite herbs for liniments are:
Black Cohosh: Anti-spasmodic, peripheral vasodilator, anti-inflammatory, analgesic. It is thought that the salicylic acid in the herb may alleviate muscle and nerve pain. Black Cohosh also contains ferulic acid which also alleviates pain.
Rue: Antispasmodic. Especially indicated for sprains, strains, and bruises.
St. John’s Wort: Anti-inflammatory, nervine, antioxidant. Used for burns, bruises, muscular pain.
A holistic approach is best to manage flies and other bothersome insects around the barn. Biting insects can be a mere nuisance or in more sensitive horses can cause mild to even severe reactions. The best cure, of course, is decreasing the number of insects in your horses living area by cleaning manure up regularly and keeping standing water to a minimum. Planting insect repellent plants such as garlic, geraniums, lavender, rue, and wormwood, near stables and pastures is also helpful. A good natural fly repellent sprayed or wiped on your horse at regular intervals can help discourage flies and other insects from landing and even more importantly from sticking around long enough to bite. I make a fly repellent spray with an infusion of skin soothing herbs like chamomile and lavender, the skin cooling herb peppermint and mix with aloe vera gel and a potent combination of insect repellent essential oils like:
Eucalyptus, citronella, lemongrass, lavender, tea tree, cedarwood, clove, and pennyroyal.
A few words of caution: Always use essential oils in small amounts and mixed with other carrier ingredients such as water, carrier oils, or aloe vera gel. Essential oils are very potent. A little goes a long way.
Although natural products are less likely to cause a reaction than products containing synthetic chemicals, certain horses may be sensitive to one or more natural ingredients. It is always a good idea to do a patch test before applying a larger amount of the product. Simply apply a very small amount of the product and evaluate for 24 hours for any reaction.
If someone is interested in working with essential oils, I would recommend checking out a few different books and some websites. Some essential oils are really safe and some are more volatile and should only be used in very small amounts or not at all. Also, every horse is different so I really recommend the "patch test" before using any new product. The book I refer to most often is Essential Oils for Horses by Carole Faith. I also refer to www.experience-essential-oils.com quite often. The owner of this site is a horsewoman with extensive experience with essential oils and has very complete information on her site. I think one of the safest essential oils to work with is lavender. It is a great starter essential oil and really useful with horses as it is calming, antiseptic, encourages cell renewal and is a great natural fly repellent. I use it in just about everything! It is important to remember that essential oils can be pretty intense and really just a few drops are necessary to get the benefit. Amounts will vary depending on the oil. I have experimented for many years and have gotten "a feel" for it but I recommend starting by adding very little and gradually increasing if needed."
Please note that any and all information in this article is for informational purposes only. Please consult a Veterinarian for medical advice and treatment options. Sara Murdoch and Professional Equine Grooms, LLC expressly disclaim all liability in respect of any actions taken or not taken based on any contents of this article.
All photos courtesy of Sara Murdoch.