Bodily Applications of Essential Oils
Essential oils evaporate at a very high rate, which means that when you smell them, tiny molecules of active ingredients are flooding your olfactory system and making their way rapidly to your brain. There they will bond with neurotransmitters and spread out around the body to relay the message that it is time to heal. This is why in 98 percent of cases I do not use essential oils topically on an animal and in some cases just one smell of the right oil is sufficient to change a behaviour pattern or rectify a state of dis-ease. However, there are specific instances where topical application would be indicated and following are some examples of conditions that would benefit from this, and some essential oils that would be useful.
I find that diluting the essential oils in a water-based gel such as aloe vera works best for topical application. This is because hydrophobic essential oils move out of the gel and into the skin more readily than if they were in an oil base. Also gel is much less sticky on the coat than oil and therefore less attractive to flies and dust. As one of the main principles of the way I work is allowing the horse to guide its own healing by choosing which oils, when and how, I do not usually blend oils. However when applying topically I do blend the oils but I will offer the horse the oils to smell individually first (if at all possible).
Having said that you can still let the animal guide you when applying an ointment or balm. I have found that when an animal wants topical application they will offer themselves to you - pushing their bodies into your hands, shifting around so you are rubbing just the right spot, pointing their heads at the place that needs attention. Then, when they don't need the oils any more you will find the same horse who stood miraculously still as you dressed a sore wound start to shift his foot away irritably, or step away from you as you try to give that loving massage. If you are attentive you will pick up these messages and what you may have thought was 'messing around' becomes a two-way healing session.
Also it is necessary to point out that just because horses are larger than humans does not mean they need higher doses of essential oils. Animals are often more sensitive to natural remedies because they are more in tune with themselves and nature than humans are; 20 drops of essential oil to 100 mls of base product is the recommended dilution for topical application. Always use the best quality essential oils to be sure they are free from adulteration and as pure a base product as you can find.
Beyond the basic business of applying a few oils diluted in gel there is also application through the medium of balms and ointments, fly sprays, shampoos etc. To be most effective these can be made individually for each animal as essential oils react differently to the unique chemical/emotional structure of each animal.
When to apply topically
In the case of open wounds I have a three-fold system. First of all I wash the wound with a solution of tea tree oil in alcohol or highly diluted gel. Then I apply neat yarrow (achillea millefolium), which acts as an antibacterial barrier and also helps release any trauma related to the injury. Finally, when the wound is starting to heal, I apply neat lavender (lavandula angustifolia), which will help new healthy tissue to form without scarring and will inhibit the growth of proud flesh. Wounds that are weepy and won't heal can be helped by myrrh (commiphora myrrha)
Any musculo-skeletal inflammation or stiffness whether due to hard work, injury or old age would suggest topical application in the localised area of pain or swelling. Juniper berry (juniperus communis) is an excellent oil for after work, or arthritis, as it helps to cleanse the system of any excess uric acid. Yarrow (achillea millefolium) again can be used as an anti-inflammatory. Peppermint (mentha piperita) is useful for its analgesic effect and 'hot and cold' action, which controls the blood supply and reduces inflammation. Yellow birch (betula alleghensis) is a natural form of aspirin so is analgesic and anti-inflammatory; it also works to break down lactic acid and is very warming.
Sarcoids and other skin conditions:
Sarcoids, sunburn, sweet itch, mud fever all respond well to essential oils and usually need topical treatment. The best oils for sarcoids are carrot seed (daucus carota) and bergamot (citrus bergamia). Carrot seed stimulates cell repair and is tonic for the liver; bergamot controls growths and tumours and supports the genito-urinary system. Carrot seed also promotes healthy skin and hooves. For sweet itch each individual has different requirements but Roman chamomile (anthemis nobilis) is a common denominator among them all with its soothing and cooling capabilities. Our old friend yarrow is useful for allergic skin conditions as it is also anti-histamine. Garlic (allium sativum) is useful for mud fever as it is anti-bacterial, as is myrrh. For sunburn St. John's wort herbal oil and lavender are effective.
Aromatherapy is friendly and very useful for a wide variety of situations and conditions. Horses can benefit from the appropriate use of topically applied essential oils as well. Keep in mind that each horse is an individual and if your horse expresses his preferences, honor his choices.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional veterinary care.
About the author:
Nayana Morag is a certified animal aromatherapist. She specialises in behavioural/emotional problems in horses and dogs. She also holds workshops and seminars on the use of essential oil therapy for animals and will travel world wide to teach. For more information go to: www.essentialanimals.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org