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Does Your Horse Need Herbal Supplements?

Updated: Oct 27, 2023


horse eating herbal supplements

In the realm of animal care, the wisdom of the past often intersects with the innovations of the present. In Ancient Greece, where the foundations of modern medicine were first laid, herbs were revered as potent remedies, capable of alleviating pain and healing wounds. The idea of harnessing the healing power of nature's botanical wonders has been ingrained in our collective consciousness for centuries. But it's not just humans who have benefited from the age-old tradition of herbal medicine; in recent times, the use of herbal supplements for animals, including our beloved equine companions, has experienced a remarkable resurgence.


Over the past three decades, herbal supplements for horses have gained widespread popularity, representing a significant shift in the way we care for these majestic creatures. Horses, with their grace and power, are more than just pets or working animals – they are companions, athletes, and symbols of freedom. To ensure their well-being and peak performance, horse owners now turn to herbal supplements for a variety of reasons.


Whether it's the desire to fortify their horse's feed with the natural, healing properties of herbs, optimize their equine athlete's performance, or address specific health concerns, herbal supplements have become a versatile and effective solution. These supplements, derived from nature's bounty, have the potential to bolster the health and vitality of horses, all while preventing and alleviating certain health conditions.


In this comprehensive guide, we aim to address all your questions and concerns regarding herbal supplements for horses. We'll delve into the science behind these supplements, their applications, benefits, and potential drawbacks. Our mission is to empower you with the knowledge and insights you need to make informed decisions when it comes to your horse's well-being. So, saddle up and join us on this herbal journey, where we explore the age-old wisdom that has found its place in the modern world of equine care, making your decision-making process smoother and more informed than ever.


Historical Roots: Herbal Remedies in Equine Health

To understand the resurgence of herbal supplements in modern equine care, we must first take a step back in time and explore the deep historical roots of herbal remedies in the realm of horse health. Horses have been integral to human civilization for thousands of years, serving as loyal companions, invaluable work animals, and, in some cases, symbols of power and prestige. Throughout this enduring partnership, humans have relied on the healing power of herbs to address various equine health issues.


Ancient Civilizations

Herbal remedies for horses can be traced back to the early civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. In ancient Mesopotamia, texts from as early as 2000 BC mention the use of herbs to treat horses for ailments and injuries. In ancient Egypt, where horses were revered for their role in chariots and battles, herbal preparations played a pivotal role in horse care. The Ebers Papyrus, dating to around 1550 BC, contains references to herbal treatments for equine ailments, ranging from colic to wounds.


Traditional Practices

As human societies expanded and diversified, so did the knowledge of herbal remedies for horses. Traditional cultures across the globe developed their own methods of using herbs to maintain the health and vitality of their equine companions. Native American tribes, for example, had a rich tradition of using indigenous plants to treat their horses.


The Classical World

The influence of herbal remedies extended to classical Greece and Rome. The Greeks, who laid the foundations of modern medicine, recognized the therapeutic potential of herbs. Hippocrates, often regarded as the father of medicine, documented the use of herbs for both human and equine ailments. In fact, the word "pharmacy" itself originates from the Greek term "pharmakon," which referred to a medicinal herb.


The Middle Ages and Beyond

During the Middle Ages, herbal knowledge continued to be passed down through various cultures. Monastic gardens in Europe were hubs of herbal cultivation, and monks used their expertise to treat both human and equine maladies. As trade routes expanded and knowledge spread, herbal remedies from different parts of the world were integrated into the equine care practices of Europe.


The Role of Indigenous Knowledge

In regions like Asia and Africa, indigenous peoples have developed their own herbal remedies for horses over centuries. These practices continue to be passed down through generations and reflect the intimate connection between local communities and their equine companions.


The historical significance of herbal remedies in equine health is undeniable. From ancient civilizations to traditional cultures and classical medical traditions, the use of herbs in horse care has been a constant thread throughout history. The knowledge and practices of the past have significantly influenced the modern renaissance of herbal supplements in equine health. In the next section, we will delve deeper into the contemporary applications of these age-old remedies, exploring how they are being embraced by horse owners and professionals in the present day.

herbal supplements for horses

The Shifting Paradigm: Embracing Nature's Wisdom in Equine Care

In recent decades, the world of equine care has undergone a transformation, with a notable shift in perspective. Horse owners, trainers, and veterinarians are increasingly turning to herbal supplements as a means of promoting the health and well-being of their equine companions. This shift in the paradigm of equine health is driven by several key factors that have redefined how we approach the care of these majestic animals.


A Desire for Natural Solutions

One of the central driving forces behind the resurgence of herbal supplements in equine care is the growing desire for natural and holistic solutions. In a world inundated with pharmaceuticals and synthetic treatments, horse owners and caregivers are seeking alternatives that align more closely with nature. Herbs, as ancient remedies, offer a compelling and age-old approach to promoting health, rooted in the wisdom of the natural world.


Concerns About Pharmaceutical Side Effects

Conventional pharmaceuticals have played a vital role in equine medicine, but they often come with potential side effects and risks. Some horse owners are wary of these side effects, such as gastrointestinal upset or altered behavior, and are seeking gentler, less invasive options. Herbal supplements, when used judiciously, can provide effective alternatives with fewer reported adverse effects.


Sustainability and Environmental Awareness

In an era marked by heightened environmental consciousness, herbal remedies align with a more sustainable approach to equine care. The cultivation and use of herbs can often be more environmentally friendly compared to the production of pharmaceutical drugs. This harmonizes with the broader commitment to reducing the ecological footprint of equine management.


Rediscovering Traditional Wisdom

The revival of herbal supplements in equine health is also a nod to the wisdom of our ancestors. Ancient civilizations and traditional cultures relied on herbs as their primary form of healthcare, and this knowledge has not been lost. By revisiting these time-tested practices, we can bridge the gap between historical wisdom and contemporary equine care.


A Broader Appreciation for Nature's Benefits

There's a growing recognition of the diverse and powerful compounds found in herbs. The scientific exploration of phytochemicals and their effects on horse physiology has deepened our understanding of how herbs can positively impact equine health. As a result, herbs are not merely seen as traditional remedies but as valuable sources of bioactive compounds with the potential to enhance well-being.


This paradigm shift in equine care, marked by the resurgence of herbal supplements, reflects a broader cultural and scientific transformation. It's a testament to our evolving understanding of the intricate relationship between horses and the natural world, where herbs serve as a bridge between tradition and innovation. In the following sections, we will explore the specific ways in which modern science and horse owners are harnessing the potential of herbal supplements to benefit these remarkable animals.


The Role of Modern Science in Equine Herbal Supplements

While the historical use of herbs in equine health is rich and significant, the modern resurgence of herbal supplements has been further catalyzed by the invaluable contributions of scientific research. Advances in analytical techniques, pharmacology, and veterinary medicine have allowed us to better understand the specific properties and potential benefits of various herbs for horses. Here, we'll explore how modern science has illuminated the path towards more precise and effective herbal supplementation in equine care.


Phytochemistry and Active Compounds

One of the foundational aspects of modern science's role in herbal supplements is the study of phytochemistry. This field focuses on identifying and analyzing the active compounds found in herbs. Researchers have uncovered a wealth of bioactive molecules in herbs, some of which have been shown to have positive effects on equine health. From alkaloids to flavonoids, understanding the chemical composition of herbs is key to harnessing their therapeutic potential.


Targeted Health Benefits

Modern scientific investigations have led to a more nuanced understanding of how specific herbs can be tailored to address different equine health concerns. Researchers have identified the herbs that may support joint health, improve digestion, boost immune function, and more. This knowledge allows horse owners and veterinarians to select the most appropriate herbs to target their horse's specific needs.


Standardization and Quality Control

Scientific methods have facilitated the standardization of herbal supplements. This involves ensuring that herbal products contain consistent and reliable levels of active compounds, offering predictable and effective outcomes. Quality control measures, such as standardized extraction processes and rigorous testing, help maintain the integrity of herbal supplements.


Safety and Dosage Guidelines

Through clinical trials and studies, modern science has also contributed to establishing safety guidelines and dosage recommendations for herbal supplements in equine care. This ensures that horse owners can use these supplements with confidence, knowing that their administration is well-informed and safe.


Integrating Traditional Knowledge

Modern science doesn't seek to replace traditional knowledge but rather to integrate it with evidence-based practices. Researchers often collaborate with traditional healers and herbalists to validate and refine traditional herbal remedies for equine use. This synergy allows for a more holistic approach to equine health.


Ongoing Research and Innovation

The world of equine herbal supplements is dynamic, with ongoing research and innovation. Scientific discoveries continue to uncover new herbs and applications, as well as refine existing knowledge. This progressive approach ensures that equine herbal supplementation remains at the forefront of equine care.


Modern science's role in the resurgence of herbal supplements for horses is pivotal. It bridges the gap between historical practices and contemporary equine care by providing a rigorous and evidence-based framework. As a result, horse owners can make more informed decisions about the use of herbal supplements to enhance the health and well-being of their equine companions. In the following sections, we will delve into the specific applications and benefits of herbal supplements in equine care, further illustrating the synergy between ancient wisdom and modern science.


Partnering with Veterinarians: Ensuring Safe and Informed Herbal Supplement Use

In the world of equine care, partnership with a qualified equine veterinarian is not only advisable but crucial. When considering the use of herbal supplements for your horse, consulting with a veterinarian who has experience and expertise in equine health is a responsible and prudent step. Here, we explore the importance of this collaboration and how it ensures the safe and informed use of herbal supplements in equine care.

horse owner talking with her vet about herbal supplements for her horse

Expert Guidance

Veterinarians are healthcare professionals who possess extensive knowledge of equine physiology, health conditions, and treatment options. Their expertise is invaluable when determining whether herbal supplements are appropriate for your horse's specific needs. A veterinarian can help you navigate the complexities of herbal remedies and make recommendations tailored to your horse's individual health and performance requirements.


Accurate Diagnosis

One of the primary roles of a veterinarian is to diagnose your horse's health conditions accurately. Before considering herbal supplements, it's essential to identify the underlying issues that may be affecting your horse. Veterinarians employ various diagnostic tools, such as physical examinations, blood tests, and imaging, to assess your horse's health and provide an accurate diagnosis. This diagnosis forms the basis for any subsequent treatment, including the use of herbal supplements.


Customized Treatment Plans

Collaborating with a veterinarian allows for the development of customized treatment plans that take into account your horse's unique health history, condition, and performance goals. Veterinarians can integrate herbal supplements into these plans, ensuring that they complement other treatments or management practices effectively.


Knowledge of Herb-Drug Interactions

Herbal supplements can interact with pharmaceutical medications and other treatments. Equine veterinarians are well-versed in herb-drug interactions and can help you avoid potentially harmful combinations. They can also guide you on the appropriate timing and dosage of herbal supplements to prevent adverse reactions.


Monitoring and Adjustment

Once an herbal supplement is incorporated into your horse's treatment plan, a veterinarian can closely monitor its effects. They can make necessary adjustments to the dosage or type of herbal supplement based on your horse's response and evolving health needs. This ongoing care ensures that your horse receives the most effective and safe treatment.


Ethical Considerations

Veterinarians adhere to a code of ethics that places the well-being of the animal at the forefront of their practice. This commitment ensures that any treatment, including herbal supplements, is administered with the utmost consideration for your horse's health and welfare.


Legal and Regulatory Compliance

Collaborating with a veterinarian ensures that you are in compliance with local regulations and legal requirements concerning the use of herbal supplements in equine care. Veterinarians can guide you in navigating any legal considerations, helping you stay within the boundaries of responsible and lawful treatment.


In conclusion, partnering with a qualified equine veterinarian is a pivotal step in incorporating herbal supplements into your horse's care routine. This collaboration ensures that the use of herbal supplements is well-informed, safe, and tailored to your horse's specific needs. It exemplifies a holistic approach to equine health that respects the synergy between traditional wisdom and modern veterinary science, ultimately promoting the well-being of these magnificent animals.


Benefits of Using Herbal Supplements

Herbal supplements, derived from a wide array of plants, have found a significant place in equine care due to their diverse and remarkable benefits. These natural remedies can be administered both internally and externally, addressing various aspects of a horse's health and well-being. Below, we delve deeper into the specific advantages of using herbal supplements for horses:

  • Enhanced Energy Efficiency for Digestive Health: Herbal supplements play a vital role in optimizing the digestive system of horses. They contain active agents and compounds that promote efficient energy utilization. By supporting the digestive processes, these supplements help horses extract the maximum nutrition from their feed, ensuring they have the energy needed for their daily activities.

  • Stress Resilience and Nervous System Calm: Horses, like humans, can face stressful situations, whether in the form of competitions, travel, or changes in their environment. Herbal supplements often contain special active agents that assist in building resilience to stress and calming the nervous system. This can help horses maintain their composure and overall well-being during challenging or anxiety-inducing circumstances.

  • Bone and Cartilage Health with Minerals and Vitamins: The health of a horse's bones and cartilage is essential for its mobility and overall soundness. Herbal supplements are known to provide valuable minerals and vitamins that support bone density and cartilage health. Additionally, they can help maintain synovial fluid, crucial for joint lubrication and flexibility.

  • Strengthening the Immune System: A robust immune system is vital for keeping horses healthy and resilient against diseases and infections. Herbal supplements assist in providing the necessary nutrients to bolster the horse's immune system. By ensuring the right quantity of nutrients, these supplements contribute to the development of a strong and responsive immune system.

  • Healthy Coat, Hooves, and Skin: The appearance and condition of a horse's coat, hooves, and skin are not only aesthetic but also indicative of its overall health. Herbal supplements often contain herbal oils and compounds that help maintain the coat's luster, hooves' strength, and skin's vitality. A healthy coat, hooves, and skin contribute to a horse's overall well-being and appearance.

  • Antibiotic and Antiparasitic Properties: Some herbs included in these supplements have natural antibiotic properties, helping combat bacterial infections. Others possess antiparasitic qualities, which are valuable in preventing or addressing parasitic infestations. This dual action of herbs in herbal supplements can contribute to overall health and reduce the risk of common equine health issues.

In summary, herbal supplements offer a multifaceted approach to equine care, addressing various aspects of a horse's health and performance. From promoting efficient digestion to enhancing stress resilience, supporting bone health, strengthening the immune system, maintaining a healthy coat, and providing natural defense against infections and parasites, these supplements are a valuable addition to the equine health toolkit. Their natural origins and versatile applications make them an appealing choice for horse owners looking to optimize the well-being of their beloved equine companions.


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

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.

peppermint oil used for horse digestion and sore muscles

Peppermint

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 herbal supplement reduces inflammation

Echinacea

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.


Evening Primrose

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 horse herbal supplement powder

Garlic

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

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.

ground flax seed for horse herbal supplements

Flax Seed

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

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.

Arnica herbal supplement for horses

Arnica

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

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.

horse eats dandelion herbal supplement

Dandelion

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

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 supplement relaxes horses

Lavender

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!!


Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle leaves are loaded with vitamin C, iron, potassium, calcium, and other dietary fibres. Horses usually don’t like them, so you can wait for them to wilt, and then add them to your horse’s feed. The leaf extract is beneficial to cure rheumatism, arthritis, and sweet itch.


Slippery Elm

This supplement is used for inflammation in the digestive tract and bowels. It helps heal and soothe stomach ulcers and other digestive irritations. When used as a preventative care option, it can prevent ulcers by providing a protective coating in the stomach. As complementary care, it can coat the ulcers and protect them from further damage while they heal.

salt blocks supplement for horses

Salt Supplement

Horses need sodium for muscle function, nerve function, and digestion. Salt also stimulates the need to intake water and keeps your horse hydrated. You can also provide salt in the feed or provide access to a salt block in the pasture or stall. Most salt supplements also include other minerals.


Preventative Care

It's always better to provide preventative care to your horse before illness occurs. Providing your horse with supplements, bodywork, dental care, and routine veterinary care will help keep your horse happy and healthy. Complementing each therapy with one another can boost the effectiveness.


Acupressure can also help complement each one of these herbal supplements. Practitioners choose a session plan to help boost the body's ability to heal itself. This may also include supporting the immune system, bodily functions, and emotional behaviors. Acupressure is an amazing "supplement" to keep your horse healthy. It works in 24 hour cycles and it is best to continue an acupressure session routine to prevent imbalances in your horse.


Important Note:

Just as important it is to get the right nutrients, it’s equally pivotal to get them in the right quantity. Herbal supplements should be given keeping this factor in mind: always consult with your veterinarian or equine nutritionist about the pros and cons of each product. Breed, age, sex, reproductive status, current diet and medication should also be considered while selecting a herbal supplement.

woman hugging healthy horse


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