In Ancient Greece, herbs were used as medications to relieve pain and cure wounds. In the last 30 years, the use of herbal supplements for animals has gained popularity. Horses are given feed supplements for three main reasons; to fortify horse feed with herbal medicinal agents, to optimize their performance, or to address certain health concerns. Whatever the reason is, herbal supplements can bolster health and prevent certain health conditions in horses. Here is a guide to answer all your herbal questions and to make your decision easier.
Why herbs for horses? Fuss or reality!
For a long time, horse owners have been using herbs and conventional veterinary medicines. Lack of adequate research in this area has led many to believe that “herbs for horses” are nothing more than anecdotes. But their appeal is undeniable. Herb supplements such as ginger, garlic, Echinacea, ginseng, and peppermint, though not regulated, are administered in safe doses. Many studies have revealed the effectiveness of certain herbs for horses. These herbs along with many others can be used with caution as curative or preventive medicines.
Benefits of using herbal supplements
Herbal supplements are made from plants and are meant for both internal and external usage. They have many benefits, out of which few are mentioned below:
Herbal supplements increase the efficiency of energy utilization essential for keeping the digestive system functioning.
They have special active agents that develop resilience and calm the nervous system in stressful situations.
Minerals and vitamins optimize the bones and cartilage health and support synovial fluid.
Herbal supplements assist in providing the right quantity of nutrients to help horses develop a strong immune system.
Supplements contain herbal oils to keep the coat, hooves and skin in good condition.
Active agents of some herbs have antibiotic properties while others have antiparasitic.
Beneficial Plants and Herbs for Horses
Here is a list of the most commonly used plants and herbs and their benefits as horse herbal supplements.
Tea tree oil is an essential oil used mainly as an antiseptic, fungicide, and mild disinfectant. When diluted, it is a good massage oil for sore, bruised, and strained muscles. It reduces inflammation, strengthens the immune system, accelerates healing, and relieves swelling. It can also be used for cuts, abrasions, bug bites, ringworm, thrush and sweet itch. However, it should never be ingested! Do not add to feed and prevent licking of the area it has been applied to. Also, keep it away from the smaller barn animals: dogs and cats.
This is a great oil for supporting digestion, ease sore muscles/joints, and act as fly repellent. When using the essential oil as aromatherapy, the horse can smell the oil to help clear the nasal passages of any blockages. It also helps clear the mind and brighten the mood for both you and the horse. You can also use the peppermint oil to soothe sore muscles and tension before and after your ride. We also use peppermint candy as treats for horses.
Echinacea root is helpful to reduce inflammation, kill bacteria and viruses, and relieve pain. However, the leaves, stems and flowers also provide reasonable benefits. If your horse is anaemic or you want to optimize its blood cell function, Echinacea extract serves this purpose well. It is also well-known for its potential to enhance athletic abilities in horses. Great for preventative and complementary care in fighting viruses and infections.
The seeds of this plant are used to make evening primrose oil which contains unsaturated fatty acids. These fats can benefit the horse’s hooves, coat, and skin. Racehorses can benefit from their anti-inflammatory properties. Besides these benefits, evening primrose leaves are known to fix minor wounds and digestive issues.
Garlic is, with no doubt, the most used herb in the horse community. Freshly grown garlic contains compounds suitable to kill bacteria, maintains gut flora, and is anti-inflammatory. Garlic is also administered to treat chronic respiratory diseases in horses. Garlic is also a natural insect repellent and is used to keep away flies, mosquitoes, and fleas. It is contraindicated when you have an anemic horse because it will reduce the platelets in the bloodstream, and slow clotting.
Ginseng root is a natural nervous system inhibitor and stimulator. Not only is ginseng a great stress reliever but it also doubles to increase performance. There is little research in dosing for horses, but a research study showed the antibodies increased after vaccination after given a low dietary dose of ginseng.
Flax is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and perfect for skin and coat. Ground flax seed is best to use for easy digestion. Omega 3's can be helpful for heaves and osteoarthritis in horses as well, but more research needs to be done. Flax also provides many calories due to its fat content as well as high in fiber.
Rose hips powders are an excellent source of iron and vitamin C. It is also a great antioxidant for horses. Whole rose hips are great for hoof health due to natural biotin.
The Arnica flower is commonly used to treat external ailments like bruises and strained tendons/muscles because it can increase bloodflow. When mixed with water or with hazel it serves as a good wash down for sore and bruised muscles. You can use it to soak bruised soles or soak tendon strains. It is also great to cool down warm, laminitic hooves and soothe joints. Do not give horse arnica by mouth or use on open wounds.
Yucca is a renowned anti-inflammatory herb root. The root is rich in saponins, the chemical used for its antispasmodic, anti-arthritic, and antioxidant properties. Yucca may also help reduce the ammonia in the barn.
Dandelion leaves are an excellent diuretic while the roots clean the blood, cure rheumatism, improve digestion and stimulate liver function. It is also a great source of potassium for horses. It has been used for chronic pain and inflammation in place of bute. Horses usually find it more palatable than bute.
Kelp is a natural compressor with anti-rheumatic and antibiotic properties to help reduce pain and inflammation. Kelp supplements are mineral-rich mainly containing potassium, magnesium, and calcium which can greatly reduce nutritional deficiencies in urban horses. It is also a source of iodine for horses, but too much can create thyroid issues. Always use directed amounts on supplements.
Lavender oil works as an excellent relaxant and antidepressant if you’re dealing with a stressed and nervous horse. Rub a little diluted oil on your hands and massage your horse to stimulate blood circulation. This is a good option to calm a spooky horse before the farrier or traveling. You can simply let the horse smell the oils from your hands. Be sure to keep away from cats and dogs!!