Practical Aromatherapy
By Lyn Palmer

We aromatherapists talk a lot! I think it comes from enthusiasm of our subject; at least I like to think that is the reason. I become all fired up when I talk of the properties of clary sage or lavender and find I use ten words instead of two to extol their virtues! When talking recently to an equine student researching for a college module, with no previous aromatherapy experience, who had come to visit my yard to see essential oils in use with horses, she asked many good questions. One thing I found myself talking about is that there are many useful ways the essential oils can be applied practically.

We have discussed in the past about offering the oil to the horse for him to choose his own treatment through the olfactory system, which then stimulates an endocrine reaction to balance his body, and also about adding essential oils to a carrier medium for application for massage, after the horse has ‘approved’ the blend, but there are quite a few other ways of using essential oils in the everyday care of the horse.

A blend of essential oils can be added to a variety of dispersal agents then topped up with spring or bottled water in a spray flask and used as a handy dispenser for things like fly spray blends, stable fresheners and wound sprays.

Washes for post exercise can be made by keeping an appropriate blend in a small bottle and adding a few drops to the washing water, either warm or cold.

Plain shampoo bases can have essential oils blended into them thus allowing the horse to be bathed with the appropriate oils to enhance his coat colour or treat a skin condition.

A few drops of a chosen essential oil onto a paper tissue or paper napkin can be tucked into a watchstrap or pocket, even securely in a safe area in the stable, allowing the oil’s properties to be available for the horse (or you) to sniff as required.

Hot and cold compresses can also be a useful way of applying oils. A few drops of the appropriate essential oil are floated onto the surface of a bowl, then a clean tea towel or similar cotton/ muslin material of an appropriate size is dropped over the surface allowing the oils to be absorbed into the material. Then you use in the same way as you would with a normal hot or cold pack, but with the added advantage of it being impregnated with the oil to improve the properties of the compress.

An electric diffuser, which as yet I have not managed to obtain for my yard as they are still rather expensive to purchase, will pay for itself many times over in a large barn situation that has many comings and goings in the horse population. This keeps the atmosphere fresh and antiseptic much more pleasantly than by splashing disinfectant/ deodorising powder around and it will help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria at times of outbreak if you keep a blend of anti-viral/ anti-bacterial oils constantly being released into the atmosphere. If horses have COPD or dust allergy problems, anti-tussant oils can be diffused to make breathing easier. This area of England is currently in the grip of a strangles outbreak and I have been busy supplying anti-viral essential oil blends to some of the bigger yards in the war against the spread - nobody wants a six-week ban on horse movement when the season is just starting, never mind the nightmare of caring for sick horses!

You can make up gels and add essential oils for the healing of things like sweet itch or add essential oils to lotions for protection from the sun or frost. I have even got a mineral clay powder that I make up into an ointment for warts and mud fever, or as a tendon/ leg cooler after eventing or jumping.

Oils can be added to the barrier cream or medium you apply to protect against cracked heels or ‘scratches’. And after a conversation with a farrier about how we could best apply medication to a visiting horse that was suffering from seedy toe and thrush I came up with the idea of utilising a cleaned-out plimsoll whitening bottle, using the sponge applicator to apply a mixture of tea tree, manuka and eucalyptus (eucalyptus globulus) essential oils, every second day, to the frog and sole and found it a really easy way to ‘dose’ the excellent antibiotic, antiseptic properties of the tea tree and manuka along with the special effectiveness that the eucalyptus has against anaerobic bacteria, without it being too messy or the oils being contaminated by a hoof oil brush.

As always with the use of natural products, whether purchased or home made, there are provisos! Remember that it is rare to apply essential oils directly, other than as described above for the feet, or perhaps lavender oil for burns or small scrapes and tea tree for spots, wound cleansing, removal of ticks or an emergency anti-biotic external application. This means you have to use some sort of carrier medium to ensure that the oils don’t reach the body in an undiluted form. Essential oils can be easily incorporated into an oil based carrier medium but they obviously float on the surface of water making it inappropriate to add them to water other than in the case of compresses, or in emergency use where a good shaking of the essential oils with the water will give you a temporary emulsification.

Ideally you need to have some sort of dispersal/ emulsifying agent to enable the oils to be incorporated with the water. My normal choice is to use a teaspoonful or so of a high proof alcohol in which to blend the oils (vodka usually, mainly because it is a white spirit without too much aroma of its own and also because the alcohol does act as a preservative, thus giving the blend a longer shelf life). Otherwise you can use a little full cream milk to disperse the oils, though obviously the made-up product only has as long a life as the freshness of the milk. On the whole I do prefer to make up each ‘product’ as I need it and only a small amount at a time, for without a preservative, you must use the concoction fairly quickly before deterioration takes place. I occasionally use paraben as a preservative (obtainable from cosmetic manufacturing suppliers), this being the nearest to natural preservative that there is, though remember some ‘keeping power’ is provided by the essential oils themselves. If you are making lotions or creams and incorporating vitamin E into them, then antioxidant properties are added to the final result.

There are many good ways to enjoy the benefits of essential oils and aromatherapy. Though they are naturally derived, they are potent medicines, so use common sense - avoid contact with the eyes and mucous membranes and be sure your horse does not object to the scent.

About the Author:
Lyn Palmer is based near Glastonbury, England where she owns a dressage schooling and livery yard with her daughter, Vikki. She works with both horses and humans using aromatherapy, massage and Bowen Technique, arranges aromatherapy clinics for horse owners and is the Equine Touch coordinator for England. Lyn can be contacted at for equine aromatherapy email consultations.