How Aromatherapy Can Aid in Weaning
By Wendy Hopkin
To see a young foal running alongside your mare is possibly the most endearing sight in the horse world. The mare-foal relationship is a wonder of nature to anyone who has ever had the chance to witness it. Unfortunately, in captivity, this relationship cannot go on forever. Eventually, the time comes to wean the foal. Frequently, this is a traumatic event for all involved. Aromatherapy can help to ease this process.
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils, which can be inhaled or used in a massage. These methods can help improve your horse's condition both mentally and physically. Essential oils, contrary to their name, are not an oily substance. 'Essential' pertains to the 'essence' of the plant - it's perfume or scent. 'Oils' refers to 'volatile oils' meaning they vaporize readily, thus imparting their scents into the air. Undiluted essential oils will not leave an oil stain.
Essential oils have been used to aid in everything from bruises to nervousness. They can be applied to the horse directly, in small amounts, or diluted in a base oil. These oils are safe for your horse as long as they are not used in massive quantities or ingested. When the time comes to wean your foal, aromatherapy can make a big difference, whichever method you choose.
There is still a heated debate over the proper time and way to wean a foal. It seems each person has his own opinion and is positive that all other ways are wrong. However, whether you separate the mare and foal in stages or all at once, whether the foal is 4 months or 8 months, you still have one unhappy foal on your hands and most likely a miserable mare as well. At first, when the foal is alone, he needs almost constant supervision to make sure that he does not injure himself while distressed. If an accident does occur, and the foal is injured, aromatherapy can also provide pain relief after proper veterinary treatment has been acquired.
The most common problem observed during weaning is general distress and nervousness. This stress may be obvious in just the foal, but often the mare is upset as well. One way to calm them is to rub several drops of full strength lavender oil on your hands before handling the nervous animal. You can also rub some lavender into the forelock and the scent will soothe the mare or foal. This may be applied two to three times daily until the anxiety decreases. If the foal is relatively calm when you touch him, you can add several drops of lavender or basil oil to a base oil and give him a relaxing massage.
The best way to dilute an essential oil is to add 5-10 drops of it to six ounces of fresh almond oil. Additional comfort for the mare can be achieved by use of chamomile oil added to almond oil and used to massage the mare's teats. This will help soothe any rough or irritated skin. The scent will also calm her and relieve any anxiety that she is experiencing. Be careful not to milk her, as the milk pressure needs to build up to stop the production of milk.
If the unfortunate occurs and the foal is injured, aromatherapy can aid in this as well. In the case of an injury, the following aromatherapy suggestions can be employed. These methods are meant to work in conjunction with, not instead of; proper veterinary care. However, aromatherapy can be more successful than conventional treatments to ease anxiety in the foal. Tranquilizers are not successful in aiding the weaning process. All they accomplish is suspension of the separation anxiety. The foal simply sleeps for awhile and when he awakens he will resume the battle with the stalls between him and his mother, even if she is far out of earshot.
If the foal bruises himself you can add several drops of hyssop to almond oil and gently apply to the affected area two to three times daily. After the first day, the area can be gently massaged. His reaction will let you know if you are massaging too hard. If the area seems painful even to a light touch just apply the oil and skip the massaging until the injury is less painful. If your foal has a sprain, several drops of chamomile or eucalyptus oil can be added to almond oil and applied as stated with the bruise. Pay attention to your foal's comfort. You do not want to cause your foal more pain in an effort to help him. This gentle massage can be repeated several times daily.
Most of these oils are easy to find and are inexpensive. They range in price from $7-$10 per half ounce. Chamomile and lavender oil can be acquired at the majority of herbal stores. Basil oil is slightly less common and you may have to make a few phone calls to find a store that carries this product. Hyssop is the most difficult to find and you may need to order it from a catalog if you cannot find it at any stores in your area. Almond oil is easy to find and conveniently comes in 6-ounce bottles for about $8. If you decide that aromatherapy is the way to go for you, larger bottles can also be purchased. All of these oils should be kept in a cool place, out of the sunlight, and any unused portion should be discarded after one year.
Weaning a foal can be hard on everyone involved. However, aromatherapy may be just what is needed to get through it. Essential oils can be effectively used to calm mare, foal, and even owner. Weaning will be a much safer and more pleasant experience if the foal can be soothed. So rub some chamomile mixture on your mare, give your foal a lavender rubdown, and light a lavender candle for yourself. Breathe deeply and remember that aromatherapy is not just for the horses.
For more information on aromatherapy and natural alternatives for your horse:
Veterinary Aromatherapy by Nelly Grosjean
Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine: Principles and Practice by Allen M. Schoen and Susan G. Wynn from Mosbey and Company
From Threshold Picture Guides:
Aromatherapy for Horses by Caroline Ingraham
Natural Remedies by Christopher Day, MA, VetMB, MRCVS, VetFFHOM
Herbs for Horses by Jenny Morgan
About the Author:
Wendy Hopkin rode her first horse when she was five years old and has adored everything about the horse world ever since. Today she is actively pursuing a career in journalism.