There has been a lot of evidence – both scientific and anecdotal – on how scent can trigger memory, calm nerves and offer other healing properties in humans. Known as aromatherapy, a holistic treatment using natural plant extracts in aromatic essential oils, it can promote health and well-being in our physical and emotional health. Plus, it’s a pleasant experience and that helps!
But what is perhaps less-known is the effect aromatherapy can have on our horses. Bellerophon, a Canadian company, has developed a line of aromatherapy products that you can integrate into your grooming routine. Created by Kim Salmka, an equestrian and biochemist with 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical sector, the decision to start her product line came naturally.
“My inspiration is simply my love of all horses and the feeling that we could still be doing better by them in a holistic manner to prevent injuries and illnesses,” Salmka explained. “[And also to] recover more completely and faster [from an injury], and have a better, more mindful connection with our partners in sport for better performance.”
According to the Bellerophon team, aromatherapy for horses is not new; it actually goes back centuries with trained herbalists and equine naturopaths, “But it is only having a resurgence now due to the heightened interest of people in more holistic, non-invasive interests in health that start on the human end.”
And Salmka isn’t the only one to make this connection between aromatherapy and horses. A 2018 study published in Science Daily found that lavender has a soothing effect on horses, even when they aren’t placed under stress. The study looked at horses at a boarder barn where a diffuser containing lavender oil was used. “We did get a calming effect with the lavender, but when we measured afterward, we no longer had the effect,” said Ann Baldwin, professor of physiology and psychology at University of Arizona, who is also a rider. “So it’s just during the sniffing of the lavender that we see this calming effect.”
The study goes onto say that a diffuser isn’t necessary to illicit a calm response; just “a few drops of lavender essential oil on your hand for your horse to sniff” will do the trick. “Some horses don’t like to be shod. So, when the farrier comes and starts banging around with their hooves, it would be good for that,” Baldwin said in the study.
Bellerophon Equestrian has an extensive line of products depending on the needs of your horse, including Horse Whisperer, an anti-stress herb medley, Cranky Mare, Colic Magic and Herbs for Equine Allergies & , to name a few. These proprietary blends are not diluted (as some people think when they hear the word “blend”), but rather they are synergistic oils that work in harmony for the desired effect, all of which are Grade A pure.
As for how to apply essential oils, you need only a few drops into the palm of your clean hands to warm the oil before use. Then the oil can be used as a massage aid directly onto the animal – (ensure he’s clean, as the effect won’t be the same on a muddy or dirty coat) or applied to soft brushes as a final polishing step. Or simply let your horse breathe in the scent by lifting your hands gently to their face.
To ensure you get the most benefit, it is suggested that you incorporate the aromatherapy oils into your daily grooming routine up to 3-4 times per week. By using touch, especially on sore muscles, it can make a real difference to how your horse feels and how long the relief will last.
In fact, some owners have noticed that the benefits of aromatherapy extend beyond the initial treatment, lasting for a few days or even a week.
Salmka shared one story from a customer whose horse saw relief and improvement from pain for a full week after treatment using the brand’s aromatherapy “pain due to strain and injury” blend. “There was topical massaging of the oil on the back where he was suffering,” she explained. “The signs of pain disappeared for this horse and he did not exhibit them days later during rides.”
If you are concerned about anything specific to your horse’s health, the Bellerophon team recommends discussing with your veterinarian first before introducing anything new.
Watch a demonstration of the calming effect of aromatherapy on a horse named Jane :