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Get Started Guide: Holistic Aromatherapy for Horses

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Written by Heather Wallace

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils as an inhalant, topically, or internally to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes. This method of natural, holistic wellness has been used for thousands of years on humans and animals alike.

Keep in mind that the pharmaceutical industry did not start until the turn of the 20th century. Until then all of our medicines were plant-based.

“The first medicinal drugs came from natural sources and existed in the form of herbs, plants, roots, vines and fungi. Until the mid-nineteenth century nature’s pharmaceuticals were all that were available to relieve man’s pain and suffering….” Jones AW Drug Test Anal. 2011 Jun;3(6):337-44. doi: 10.1002/dta.301.

Aromatherapy is a natural approach to health that is not necessarily a replacement to modern medical methods. The use of aromatherapy has limited side effects if used properly, with knowledge and caution.

Benefits of Aromatherapy

Depending on the plant used, each essential oil has different properties that range from antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and more.

Some essential oils have multiple benefits, like lavender. It smells beautiful and yet has a number of uses. In fact, lavender is considered the most versatile of all oils because it:

  • Calms
  • Cleans scrapes
  • Reduces itch for insect bites
  • Reduces nausea
  • Relieves allergies
essential oils

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There are numerous benefits of using essential oils with animals. Some of the benefits of uses them on horses include:

  • Repels insects
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Strengthens immune system
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Speeds wound healing
  • Increases energy
  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves pain
  • Increases circulation

Using Essential Oils with Massage

Those of you who have received massage yourselves, know the benefits of using a massage oil. In general because of their hair, horses do not need this to reduce friction. However, a massage blend can be customized to help the horse relax, relieve stiffness, and even reduce swelling.

Using such a blend can heighten the effects of sports massage and create an even deeper release of tension.

I wrote a post on my blog, TimidRider, about a therapeutic horse that I work with. This horse is a very “thinking” horse and has trouble relaxing. I’ve been working with him for a few months now and while I was able to relieve tension, he really did not relax fully. That is, until I used my massage blend. This blend was customized for relaxation. I asked him to inhale it and within seconds his head dropped. With a little on my hands I then proceeded to massage him as usual.

The addition of the essential oils boosted the massage and allowed him to finally relax, as a result releasing more tension. He fell asleep and didn’t move even after I left his stall.

Chief Rookie Aside: Read 3 Fear-Free Secrets to Gain Your Horse’s Trust & Respect

Essential Oils and Horses

Horses are very sensitive animals, as we all know and can be highly susceptible to aromatherapy if used correctly.

I bring a variety of essential oils and signature products that have been customized to benefit most horses. If the owners choose aromatherapy with the massage, I introduce a few oils that I believe the animal would be interested in, and allow them to make the decision based on reading their behavior.

horse eye

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Cautionary Tail

I must caution you that while there are amazing benefits with using essential oils with animals, you should only do so with caution and much research. Be aware, however, that some essential oils should not be used in certain situations.

While Melaleuca (Tea Tree Oil) is listed and is beneficial to many animals, many horses have skin sensitivity and as a result should not use this oil. It is always a good idea to seek a professional’s advice.*

More, never use undiluted oils on horses unless directed to do so by a professional. If you are unfamiliar with the use of essential oils using a ready-made aromatherapy product is a safer alternative. With any new product, use only a small amount at first to determine whether your animal responds positively.

In the end, essential oils can aid your horse and promote self healing if used correctly. When you combine aromatherapy with sports massage you can create amazing, super boosted results.

Are you interested in learning more about equine massage and aromatherapy? Follow my blog.

Frequently Asked Questions from Horse Rookie

What essential oils are safe for horses?

Essential oils that are safe for horses include, but are not limited to: basil, bergamot, chamomile, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, and tea tree. Please keep in mind that essential oils are VERY concentrated, and horses are more sensitive than humans.

Essential oils

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Oils that you intend to put on the horse should be diluted and you should take care that the horse does not accidentally ingest it. Contrary to what some people may assume, essential oils are not safe to eat so do not add it to your horse’s feed or water!

Also keep in mind that some essential oils, while safe, may still lead to problems in a show ring setting. For example, lavender essential oil is banned by USEF and FEI.

You don’t want to get disqualified from a competition due to essential oils, so do your homework.

Essential oils are also not that well-regulated, so you need to do your research on the company. Some sell essential oils that are actually synthetic and did not come from the plant. Some are diluted, cut with other ingredients, or not stored properly.

You should also make sure that you purchase actual essential oils and not fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are synthetic and do not provide the same benefits that essential oils have since they were created to add a scent to another product.

What does peppermint oil do for horses?

Peppermint oil is thought to relieve sore muscles and joints and provide general relaxation. There are also reports that peppermint oil can act as a mild anti-inflammatory, stimulate circulation, clear the mind, and brighten overall mood. If your horse suffers from sinus issues, they may get some relief from smelling peppermint oil, as well.

You can add a drop or two with Epsom salts to help cool them down in hot weather or add it to a homemade fly spray to repel flies. You can also apply it to yourself before you ride to help relax tight muscles and promote better riding. Your horse will thank you.

Can you put tea tree oil on horses?

Tea tree oil has been used in the horse world for a long time. It started off as topical antiseptic due to its ability to kill bacteria, insects, and fungi. It can be used to treat skin abrasions, cuts, infections, insect bites, ringworm, and more. Horse owners have successfully used tea tree oil, or products that contain it, to treat sweet itch, mud fever, rain scald, and thrush.

Tea tree oil is VERY potent, so it always needs to be diluted.

It is also very dangerous to ingest so you should never add it to feed, treats, or water! You should also use caution to make sure your horse does not groom it off themselves and accidentally ingest it. If you have barn cats, you need to reconsider using it at all, because tea tree oil is incredibly toxic to them. Yikes!

Can you put coconut oil on a horse?

Yes! Coconut oil is used topically for horses in a number of different ways. Many people use it as a mane and tail conditioner or as a hoof conditioner.

keratex hoof balm

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When applied to the mane or tail, the fatty acids in the oil can make rough strands feel smooth and silky. Regular use can result in long, thick, and shiny hair. If your horse is dealing with dry, brittle hooves you can apply coconut oil for moisture. It works well enough that many companies are starting to offer hoof balms or conditioners that use coconut oil as a main ingredient.

Coconut oil can also be used as a wound ointment! The antimicrobial properties can help prevent infection in small scrapes and cuts, soothe insect bites, and promote healing. There is even some evidence that it can help treat scratches!

What is the best essential oil for horse hooves?

The best essential oil for your horse’s hooves is tea tree oil. While many other essential oils can be used for different conditions, tea tree oil is universally “on the list.” It is naturally antibacterial and antifungal so whether you’re dealing with (or just preventing) thrush, abscesses, or white line disease, tea tree oil will be your friend.

hoof oil tea tree

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For general care there are many other oils you can include that provide different benefits. Horsetail and carrot seed essential oils can help with hoof growth while white willow and arnica improve circulation. Arnica and comfrey can be added to help those horses that are prone to bruising and improve healing. An essential oil infused carrier oil can make a great hoof dressing for almost any horse and you can design your own.

*Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian or medical professional. If you are concerned for your animals health please contact your veterinarian.

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About the author


Heather Wallace

Heather Wallace of Monmouth County, New Jersey is a certified equine and canine sports massage therapist and blogger. She is an adult amateur equestrian in unrequited loved with an OTTB and has two rescue dogs, Gonzo and Beau.

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