Aromatherapy…is it just "hot air"? I can positively say "NO", because I have experienced them first hand and seen the positive effects on many horses! So what is it about essential oils that allows them to affect our horse's mood and emotions in a positive way? Let's talk just a little bit about the science behind the emotional use of essential oils.
The molecules that make up an essential oil are extremely small…so small in fact they can actually bridge the blood-brain barrier. That's the protective barrier that protects the brain from foreign substances. Most molecules are too large to get through, including traditional medications. In the case of essential oils however, when the tiny lipid-soluable molecules are inhaled through the olfactory system, they can then interact with the emotional centers of the brain (the amygdale and hippocampus) – the limbic system. The limbic system controls emotions and retrieves learned memories through the release of certain chemicals which control the release of neurotransmitters, antibodies and endorphins. This in turn can induce feelings of relaxation, calm or joy and excitement.
Essential oils, like all organic things, vibrate at a frequency – a life force so to speak. This frequency can be measured. For example, one of my all-time favorite essential oils, Lavender, has a frequency of 118 MHz. The lowest frequency of an essential oil is around 52 MHz. Compare that to herbs which run anywhere from 12-22 MHz (dried) to 20-27 MHz (fresh). Through the principle of "entrainment", it is believed that an essential oil’s higher frequency will raise the vibrational frequency of the individual it is in contact with. Even the great scientist Albert Einstein said "Everything is energy."
When we look at using essential oils in relation to influencing positive behaviors and emotions in our horses, we are NOT using oils to "fix" behavior problems. Our goal is to make oil choices to help take the edge off some of the more extreme traits associated with our horse's innate personality type and promote the positive attributes of our horses. The extreme traits that we often consider "problems" can usually be shaped in a very positive way when our horses are in a Calm, Connected and Responsive state, as is taught in the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program. We can use essential oils as a tool to help facilitate that state in conjunction with reading the motivations behind our horse's behavior (i.e. fear, stress, playfulness, dominance, etc.).
By looking at the properties of individual essential oils, we can select oils that meet the goals during any given session with our horse. If we need focus and clarity for an extremely energetic horse, we might offer Peppermint, Lemon or Vetiver. If we want to encourage confidence in a new situation or to overcome fear, we might offer a blend like Valor. If we want to coax a horse out of it's shell and connect with it's playful side, we might offer Inner Child. For the domineering and/or argumentative horse, perhaps Humility is in order…there is no end to the combinations you might experiment with.
The information in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any condition or illness. Nor is it meant replace proper veterinary care. It is meant for educational purposes only. Always consult your chosen veterinary professional before starting your horse or other animal on any therapy.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork, using essential oils for animals and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the "whole horse".
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