Water and essential oils do not mix. Essential oils are not water soluble, and water increases the irritability of the essential oil molecule. This means that when using essential oils in combination with bathing, we can use a minimal amount to achieve a maximum result.
Soaking If using essential oils to soak, always add the essential oils just before placing the body part into the water. This way, as the hoof enters the water, the essential oils molecules will cling to the area you are wishing to address. This is particularly effective if you are soaking a hoof abscess. Still use your Epsom salts and to a large bucket you can add up to 10 drops of essential oil for this purpose. Lemon and Cypress are useful for assisting in drawing, Lavender and Tea Tree could be effective when addressing infection. If thrush is present, you can add Patchouli to your combination of essential oils.
Compressing is another effective use of essential oils and water. When your horse has a slow healing wound or one that has become infected, compressing the area between dressings can assist with healing. You need some soft fabric -- a large tea towel, or a double gauze English style diaper (nappy) is ideal.
An effective compress for haematomas and swellings is Geranium in lukewarm water. If you have a stainless steel bowl that contains 2 to 5 litres of water, simply place 5 to 10 drops on the surface of the water in the bowl, use your material pulled taut across the top of the bowl and simply lift the essential oils and a small amount of water from the surface and then apply to the swelling. Hold in place for a few minutes and then immerse your fabric into the bowl of water, wring and repeat. You can use this with small or large swellings. Your compress is also useful with fungal skin complaints that you may not wish to touch directly; essential oils such as Palmarosa and Tea tree are useful along with Lavender, Patchouli and Bergamot.
You can add a couple of drops to water to clean out open wounds before dressing. The cytophylactic (cell regenerating) properties of Lavender are wonderful, or you could use Bergamot, Myrrh or Nirouli.
With sore muscles, acting quickly is the key. If you have been out on a gruelling ride or worked up a sweat in training, adding some essential oils to a bucket of water and washing over the areas your horse is prone to soreness will assist with the muscles returning to integrity quickly. Peppermint is a nice cooling essential oil for use in summer. Just 2 or 3 drops will achieve results for you; no more than this is necessary as Peppermint is very cooling to the body and you don't want to drop your horse's body temperature too quickly. Simply sponge down the sore areas. In winter, when washing your horse after a ride is not practical, a warming essential oil like ginger or cardamom will help. Make sure in winter you squeeze your sponge so you are not leaving your horse wet after his workout.
When it comes to calming a horse, you can use water as a carrier for essential oils. A simple 32-oz spray bottle of water with a dash of liquid soap to help disperse the essentials can include a blend of relaxing oils to spray in your horse's environment. Again, you don't need to use a lot of essential oils. In a 1-oz bottle you can add 30 drops in total of essential oils including Lavender, Cedarwood, Chamomile, Patchouli, Bergamot, Frankincense, or Ylang Ylang, then add that to the spray bottle. Some of these essential oils have the added action of repelling insects as a side bonus.
If you are at a facility with a horse bath for hydrotherapy, you can add essential oils to the bath -- again only in small amounts. The most effective way to enhance the benefit of the water, to disperse the essential oils is to put them in a tablespoon of gentle shampoo before adding them to water. An after-an-event blend for sore muscles is eucalyptus, rosemary and lemongrass. Note that these essential oils contain prohibited substances, so if your horse is likely to be tested for prohibited substances within a week of his bath therapy, you may be wise to avoid using any essential oils.
Remember with essential oils in any situation that they are volatile. They will evaporate quickly, especially your lighter citrus oils, so do not add them to water and then leave, as you may return to only a lingering scent when you wish to use them on your horse.
If you are unsure of using essential oils with water, another alternative is Hydrosols. These are the waste-water discards from the process of distillation. They contain enough of the healing properties of essential oils and loosely follow the vibrational philosophy of homeopathy. Hydrosols can be added to drinking water, as long as you have an alternative water source, to address systemic complaints. With internal doses you need the guidance of an aromatherapist trained in this stream of aromatherapy. Hydrosols can also be sprayed onto infections and wounds safely and added to your horse's hydrotherapy.
The key to the success with aromatherapy is a little essential oil goes a long way. A few drops will have amazing results so there is no need to think that if three drops will help that a larger dose will serve better. Often using too much of an essential oil will have adverse effects. Orange oil in too large amounts can have skin reactions with water and Peppermint may cool the body too quickly if used in too large quantities.
Enjoy your essential oils by the drop and see them enhance how you work with your horse.
Catherine Bird is the author of A Healthy Horse the Natural Way (New Holland Publishers, UK and Australia; Lyons Press, USA). In her clinical practice in Sydney, Australia, as an equine therapist, she focuses on natural health care for horses; from the companion horse to the international competitor to Olympic and Paralympic level, Thoroughbreds from foals through track racing, the NSW Mounted Police horses, as well as horses competing in dressage, jumping, eventing, endurance, and pony club. Catherine regularly contributes to and is profiled in equestrian and general publications worldwide as well as on radio and television. She teaches face-to-face in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Sweden, United Arab Emirates and United States, and by correspondence elsewhere, www.happyhorses.com.au .