You may have heard of the benefits of essential oils for yourself, but did you know that they can be used on horses, too? Essential oils may benefit horses in many ways, from aromatherapy to natural topical remedies.
Please note that this article does not provide equine medical advice. Consult your vet before using any new product with your horse, especially if you have concerns.
Are Essential Oils Safe for Horses?
The first question that horse owners often have about essential oils is whether they’re safe for their horse or not. And the answer is: many essential oils are safe when used in the right way. Essential oils are very concentrated and need to be diluted before coming in contact with your horse’s skin. Even so, there are still some horses that are sensitive to certain oils, so pay attention to how your horse reacts to each new essential oil that you plan on using.
Essential oils can be a great addition to your horse’s routine.
You can use them via inhalation - where your horse actively smells the oils, either under their nose or, you can get a diffuser and use it around your horse’s stall, just the way you would use one at home. While you don’t want to apply any of them directly to your horse’s skin, you can also use essential oils with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, or in an Epsom salt rinse. If you’ve read my earlier blog, A Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils, you’ll already know that essential oils dissolve better when mixed with Epsom salt and that the salts have added benefits for skin and muscles too.
Note: Smelleez Equine Bucket Bombs contain essential oils along with coconut oil and are made with a high percentage of Epsom salts.
Essential oils are not meant to be consumed by horses and should never be added to a horse’s food or water. They should only be used as a topical remedy or as aromatherapy. Additionally, some essential oils may cause an allergic reaction and some can even be toxic if ingested.
The list of essential oils that are used for horses is quite extensive and growing. The most common include lavender, tea tree and peppermint.
Lavender oil has long been used as a calming agent. A study published in 2017 appears to support the effectiveness of reducing a horse’s stress response when lavender oil was applied 20 minutes prior to a stressful situation. This data appears to agree with earlier studies in horses and studies in other species of a reduced stress response when lavender oil was used as aromatherapy. Because lavender oil has been shown to be effective, it is one of the most used essential oils. As well as helping with anxiety it can aid healing and is also used as an insect repellent.
However, you should exercise caution if you compete with your horses because lavender oil is BANNED by some riding organizations. Thus, if you show or compete with your horses, it is always wise to check with your association for their banned substance list before using any essential oil, like lavender oil.
Tea Tree oil is widely regarded as a natural antiseptic, that can help treat wounds, insect bites or other skin irritation due to its antimicrobial properties. It is especially useful as an insect repellent and has been used to reduce inflammation and itch on the skin. There is growing evidence in the use of essential oils as antimicrobials. With an increase in antimicrobial resistance to many antibiotics and other medicines, any alternative therapy, like essential oils, would be most welcome.
Essential oils can be an effective treatment for inflamed skin due to insect bites, and many essential oils have been reported to be excellent natural insect repellents. A study conducted in Australia in 2020 found that topically applying a herbal spray which contained a mixture of essential oils including lemongrass and peppermint was effective in reducing the severity of insect bite hypersensitivity, or what is also called sweet itch.
Peppermint oil has been used to alleviate difficulty with breathing, it improves circulation and has both analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Eucalyptus oil opens respiratory tract to relieve breathing difficulties. It can also be a useful insect repellent.
Carrot Seed oil may help irritated skin, alleviate joint pain or discomfort and strengthen hooves.
Sweet Orange is thought to soothe inflammation, reduce pain and swelling, and prevent dryness. It may also help relieve stress and reduce anxiety. It’s a natural insect repellent and deodoriser.
Palmarosa oil also works as works as an insect repellent. It purports to have antiseptic and antibacterial properties which can be used to treat fungal and bacterial skin conditions. This oil is said to work well for horse skin fungus and dermatitis.
Wintergreen essential oil has a history of use as a pain reliever and is believed to increase the speed of healing for skin disorders.
Tips for using essential oils on horses.
Make sure to choose high-quality and eco-friendly brands.
Always be sure to follow manufacturer’s recommendations. This is especially true when it comes to diluting any essential oil.
Always introduce the oil to the horse before using it. You can bring the oil near your horse’s nose and see how he reacts to the smell. If his ears are pricked forward and he tries to smell more with a calm face, you can use the oil. If he is turning his face and trying to avoid it, don’t force him.
Use the oils in a well-ventilated area to avoid stressing the horse with an excessive smell.
Never apply any essential oil to the skin of the horse until it is diluted. It is often recommended to apply a small amount to the skin of a horse when first using it to check for any allergic reactions.
More is NEVER better. Keep in mind that essential oils are highly concentrated. They can be up to 70% stronger than the plant itself. Do not add a few more drops just to “make sure”. Your horse’s senses are more delicate than those of humans, and horse skin is proven to be more sensitive. Small amounts will be enough to do the work.
Do not feed the oil to the horse.
Do not use essential oils before a show. Some oils (lavender, for example) can be considered as drugs and are banned from by some organisations.
If ever in doubt on using any essential oil, always check with your vet for advice.