There are times when I massage a horse where I find muscle soreness. I like to apply essential oils to ease that soreness out, address bruising, and have the horse respond with interest to the application.
Once I have selected essential oils for the horse, I offer the essential oils by uncapping the bottle and wafting each one under the horse's nose to get his/her approval. The horse helps me make my final decision because the scent triggers a response in the limbic system of the brain; within nanoseconds it registers with the horse which ones meet his/her needs. A positive response from a horse may have him lean towards the top of the bottle, his respiration may become more intense, or he may try to lick the top of the bottle. It is always a delight when he performs the Flehman to try and trap more of the scent in his nasal passages. If a horse does not want an essential oil he will show no interest or turn away from the offering.
Once a mutual decision is made regarding the appropriate oils for this horse's muscle soreness, I blend the oils together to a final combination of 2.5% in a carrier of a cold-pressed vegetable oil or aloe vera gel, again depending on the circumstance. Fortunately with horses, to give an aromatherapy experience I do not have to apply the blend to the whole body as I do with my human clients. I simply apply this blend to the areas that needed the added attention and sometimes the horse will request some rubbed on his poll or chest. The horse benefits two ways by doing this. By applying the blend of essential oils to the previously massaged muscle, the warmed area will invite the skin-permeable constituents to get into the bloodstream and soothe the sore muscle. The horse can also inhale the essential oils scent molecules and have the hypothalamus gland instruct the body on a cellular level to instigate healing from within.
Basil is antispasmodic in its action. I select this one when I have found a resistant spasm, often the sort you will find in the deep cranial pectoral muscle. I find it particularly useful when I have difficulty getting mobility with the scapula.
Chamomile deals with deep-seated muscle spasms that have been building up over a long period. I have found it useful with muscle spasms in the gluteal group of muscles, especially when there has been an injury that occurred many years ago and the horse has an ongoing weakness in this area that becomes evident with extra work.
Geranium is useful with mares who become muscle sore during oestrus. I also use it when working with mares known to be moody. It helps detoxify the muscles when there is an added influx of hormones throughout the body. Geranium is also useful when a muscle "bites" when massaged as it has a mild analgesic action.
I find Juniper useful with muscle soreness with a real "ouch". It helps the muscle to let go of the pain. It is also useful with muscles that get tight around the loin area. This area often holds projected jealousy and Juniper is useful to help ease out the tightness and the associated negativity.
Lavender is useful when a horse has recently injured itself and is surrounded by a frenzy of activity. I do not always massage it in if the muscle is still inflamed, however it is useful applied in aloe vera gel to help the muscle recover to a point where it can be massaged at a later time. It is useful to know the species of lavender you choose to use on a performance horse that may be tested for prohibited substances as some do contain camphor.
Lemongrass has an affinity with myofascial tissue. I will use this in a blend of essential oils where I have had to address areas where the myofascial tissue has become taut and to the point that I feel like I have been playing a guitar while trying to massage the area. I find this useful with horses recovering from tendon injuries or when the horse has tightened over the point of shoulder.
Mandarin is a versatile essential oil that will address muscle spasm and tight myofascial tissue while uplifting the tone of the blend to add a delightful and happy vibe. Added to any muscle blend it can make the experience for the horse light and free.
An essential oil for geldings or stallions who are "uptight" and I have trouble getting past the barriers to address the muscle soreness. It will soften most hardness in muscles and is also useful when a lad gets sexually excited because of its properties as an anaphrodisiac.
Rosemary and Eucalyptus are useful with horses who have general muscle soreness or have been put back into work or had their regimen increased. An excellent aftersports blend is rosemary, eucalyptus and lemongrass. Both Rosemary and Eucalyptus are high in constituents that will test positive if tested for prohibited substances, so do not use close to or at a competition.
It is important to remember that essential oils are very powerful in their action and you only need a small amount to achieve remarkable results. Always remember that this does not replace primary care by your veterinarian.
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 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