Calming Aromatherapy for Fear and Anxiety

By Catherine Bird

Buddy happily sniffing the aromas from Catherine's hands

One of the most unsettling experiences to deal with when you are handling your horse is an attack of fear or anxiety. Once the incident takes shape of its own then your own emotions come into play and continue the spiral of energy that leads you and your horse down an unpleasant path.

It is useful if you can find out the WHY when your horse shows such symptoms. Does he have a history of abuse? Was there an accident from which he has not let go of the negative emotions? Do you get anxious knowing your horse may react to a situation? When your horse shows anxiety, how do you react?

Aromatherapy will not replace good training methods, bit it will give you "keys" when you find blocks or resistance to your techniques. Use the essential oils that provide these keys to create a space for the next learning experience and then return to sound training foundations.

If you have acquired a horse with an unknown history you may have inherited a horse with fears and phobias that will not show themselves until the horse is placed in a situation to trigger them. Sometimes a dealer may not be aware of these traits or an owner might be reluctant to give you the full picture to avoid losing the sale. With a horse like this you have to create a "space" where new opportunities or patterns can be allowed to happen.

If it is a horse you have bred and raised yourself or a horse you have owned for over two years, then its time to look at your own emotions to see what you are doing to create this reflection in your horse. Suppressed emotions or anxieties in your own life that you may be pushing aside and denying will lodge in your body's electrical system and cause blockages in your meridians. This in turn is read by your horse on a subtle level or in your body language. It takes courage to look within yourself and address your own "stuff", but it is worth it - the outcome will be a happier horse and owner.

Two essential oils I will refer to in nearly every case listed below are bergamot and frankincense. In any case of anxiety or fear these should always be your first line of thought when addressing the situation.

Bergamot relieves any fluttering of butterflies in the tummy or solar plexus. It lifts away feelings of anxiety and clears a space for harmony.

Frankincense is the fear remedy. It has been used over centuries in rituals to banish evil spirits that in today's society can be drawn as an equivalent to our fears and phobias. It also helps clear the energy field of memories of hurts from the past.

Other essential oils include juniper, which relieves worries and will also remove from the energy field any debris from past experiences. Lavender will soothe and nurture a frazzled horse. If the anxiety has gone to the stage of a temper tantrum, you may select chamomile for its deeper relaxation effect. Sweet orange provides self-assurance and envelops your horse with a happy hug of warmth. Basil, lemon, and cypress provide focus and increase the ability to keep your horse's mind on the task at hand. Patchouli will provide a solid grounding and keep your horse aware of his feet at all times.

When dealing with the mental and emotional aspects of aromatherapy, you simply get your horse to inhale the scent. Place a couple of drops neatly into your hand, rub them to warm the essential oils and then hold your cupped hand under your horse's nose. If you have chosen the correct oil, then you will see a response within minutes. If you think your own behaviour is interrelated with that of your horse, then have a good sniff yourself after your horse does.

Once your horse has inhaled the scent molecule, the olfactory receptors in the nasal passages will send a message to the hypothalamus gland that in turn instructs cells in the body to release neurochemicals. For example, lavender triggers the release of the neurochemical serotonin, thus the reason for stimulating feelings of well-being.

In chronic cases, you may decide to apply a blend of diluted essential oils to your horse's neck or chest (If you will be entering competition, don't forget to verify that the oils used are acceptable). You may decide to place a few drops on a facial tissue and wear it tucked in a breast pocket while working on your horse's issues.


First you have to determine if your horse is refusing to go on a trailer, or a float as it is called in Australia, out of a genuine fear or because it is a learned behaviour.

If your horse has experienced an accident or suffers claustrophobia, you need to address the anxieties first with bergamot and frankincense. You may use one at a time, or combine the two, depending on his reactions.

If your horse has learned either from you or a previous owner that it's a game to back on and off the back of the trailer and that his refusal may be because he thinks that is what you want, then we select these other oils. Basil will help the horse focus on the task and when combined with lemon it will open up the horse to new pathways of behaviour. You then have to address your own body language and how you ask your horse to enter the trailer. This can be difficult and you may need to take a video of an attempt and then view it as you would a stranger. Watching yourself can be confronting, but it may show you how your stance encourages your horse to back off rather than onto the trailer.

Performance Anxiety

Molly was nervous during her first dressage test, so she sought out Lyn Palmer (UK Aromatherapist) to get a sniff of calming essential oils.

This manifestation of anxiety is usually always caused by the rider. Your horse will feel your energy field and he will also feel muscles tighten that you don't normally tighten and begin to respond to your seat. You need to work on your behaviour before you sit to a dressage test or begin a long endurance ride. Many endurance riders complain of the adrenaline rush their horses get just at the beginning of a ride. However, they are so busy noticing their horse that they forget they may be the source of the problem.

Bergamot and frankincense are also to be considered here. However I also look to lavender to help both the rider and the horse slow down and just 'be together', instead of the rider getting frazzled and then blaming the horse. It is important to let your horse know he is not to blame or he is behaving badly; all he is doing is reflecting back to you where you are at that moment in time. Sweet orange essential oil is for reassurance; it gives both parties a huge hug of happiness and helps ease the tension created by blame.


With a horse that tends to shy at scary things or falter on a trail, you need to develop your feel as you ride. You need to be able to keep your horse's attention and gently guide it back to you as you feel his mind wander. It is often when his mind is wandering that he is caught off guard by a shadow or something that snaps him out of his daydreams.

You cannot react with more pressure or panic when your horse does shy. This only reinforces to him that it was indeed a scary tiger in the gully and he may take that as his cue to get far away from this horse-eating monster as fast as he can.

Cypress, before heading out on a trail and possibly reinforced during a long ride, will keep your horse's attention drawn to you. It will help pull your horse's mind down to a specific point, again you, and make it less likely to wander off into the clouds of horse dreams.

Patchouli will provide grounding and a foundation so your horse is more connected to the ground. It will give strength to where he places his feet; it keeps his mind on his action and aware of where he is. If you tend to daydream and not keep your mind on your horse and riding when out on a trail, it may be a good perfume for you to wear each time.

Case study - Dealer

Tippy refusing to go on the float (trailer) for Stephanie at Centennial Parklands, Sydney

Dealer was a horse whose anxiety manifested in sexual excitement. He was gelded and lived happily with a single lady owner on an isolated property, so he had her all to himself during the day. She was his human, and he would stress if separated from her. Dealer showed this by getting sexually excited whenever a veterinarian, farrier, or therapist came to attend to him.

One day Dealer was brought in for a massage to a country area I visit, and because it was a rainy day, we had the horses stabled for their massages. When we came to Dealer he was agitated and began to paw the ground, and then became aroused. He was dangerous to handle so I quickly reached down and placed some marjoram on my hands. Marjoram is one of the most sedative essential oils readily available but it is also an anaphrodisiac. It will soften and remove any sexual desire from any male of any species. Within seconds we had Dealer able to be handled again and we were able to continue the massage.

Remember that aromatherapy and the use of essential oils will never replace effective training and should not be relied upon without the reinforcement of correct instructions. You must at all times treat your horse with respect and learn the most effective way to communicate what you wish him to do for you. He is always willing to work with you, however our way of expressing our wants often gets scrambled in the translation. The oils mentioned above are as much for the handler, rider or owner of any horse you consider using them on. Remember you are a team or a partnership, so what needs to be addressed in your horse often needs to be addressed in you.

Catherine Bird

Healthy Happy Horses, Naturally

PO Box 670, Randwick, NSW Australia

About the author:

Catherine Bird is a Sydney-based qualified Aromatherapist, Medical Herbalist and Massage Therapist specialising in treating animals. Her clients have included the NSW Mounted Police, Olympic level competitors and horses in all disciplines as well as backyard pets. She is the author of "Horse Scents,

Making Sense with Your Horse Using Aromatherapy" which is one of a series being developed and offers the Equine Aromatherapy Correspondence Course worldwide. For more information see and or email Catherine directly,