Calm your horse with lavender | Wahpetondailynews

By February 18, 2019Essential oils

Horses appeared more relaxed when exposed to lavender. They performed behaviors such as neck lowering, licking and chewing to indicate that reaction. Such findings are helpful to those who work with horses. Courtesy Lori Ricigliano

The scent of lavender blossoms, a beautiful essence of spring. The scent just seems to relax and soothe.  Touted for its ability to have a calming effect, its scent is found in many perfumes, hand lotions and massage oils. It has been scientifically proven that the essential oil of the lavender blossom actually helps to reduce a person’s stress level. 

When a subject is exposed to the scent of lavender in a laboratory setting, and their heart rate variability is measured, this is the measure of the variations between heart beats, indicators of the body’s stress levels, the subject’s heart rate variability actually drops, showing lessening of stress. 

With this knowledge, a few tests have been tried on exposing horses to the scent of lavender to see if the results would be similar. This could be especially useful in stressful situations such as trailering, veterinary work, shoeing and training instead of using tranquilizing drugs.  The results of the lavender tests with the horses have been very promising. 

A research study at the University of Arizona, conducted by Isabelle Chea and Professor Ann Baldwin, found that lavender has a calming effect on horses and can be used to reduce their stress levels. 

In this study, which was featured recently in the American Farrier’s Journal, they tested nine dressage horses by monitoring their heart rates and heart rate variability for seven minutes without a lavender diffuser, for seven minutes with a lavender diffuser and seven minutes after the diffuser. They also tested water vapor and chamomile.

In this study, they found that lavender was the only scent that produced a calming effect, but only when the lavender was being actively smelled. The horses’ heart rates didn’t change, but the parasympathetic component of their heart rate variability did. The parasympathetic component of their heart rate is the relaxation part of the autonomic nervous system. 

“One of the parameters of heart rate variability is RMSSD, and that represents parasympathetic input, which is the relaxation part of the autonomic nervous system,” Baldwin said. “If RMSSD goes up, that indicates the horse is relaxed. We found that when the horses were sniffing the lavender, RMSSD significantly increased compared to baseline.”

The horses appeared also more relaxed and performed behaviors such as neck lowering, licking and chewing to indicate that reaction.

These findings can be helpful for trainers, veterinarians and for farriers who work with horses that are skittish or nervous during shoeing.

“Some horses don’t like to be shod. So, when the farrier comes and starts banging around with their hooves, it would be good for that,” Baldwin explained. “You don’t need a diffuser, really. Just put a few drops of lavender essential oil on your hand and let your horse sniff.”

Here’s to a fantastic spring and hopefully many lavender blossoms around you and your horse. Happy Trails!

LORI RICIGLIANO is a horse judge, trainer, riding instructor, equine photographer and clinician. She also hosts a weekly syndicated equine radio talk show “Hoof Beats with Lori”.  Lori has held her horse judges license as a USEF / AHA – “R” rated licensed horse judge for more than 25 years and currently operates Ricigliano Farms Horse Training and Riding Academy near Kent, Minn. She can be reached by email or phone for any questions at 218- 557-8762 or riciglianofarms@gmail. com. Her website is www. RiciglianoFarms.com

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