Essential Oils for Overcoming the Past
By Lyn Palmer

Lyn Palmer with her two boys, Belet and Dude, just having licked some oils

The results of a study carried out by psychologists at Liverpool University here in the UK found that "smell is much more powerful than images or words in evoking memories". I knew that!!!! I'm an Aromatherapist! In my practice this statement has been proven time and time again. But it is such an individual thing!

Recently my sister was staying with me and, not being used to my Rayburn cooker, burnt her fingers quite badly by accidentally touching the constantly hot hob. Out came the lavender essential oil and a drop was placed on each finger. After a few seconds she said the stinging had ceased but added "yeuk! Lavender reminds me of old ladies and sick rooms". I was amazed; to me lavender makes me think of summer, of bees lazily flying from spike to spike, of the perfect herb garden, of the American Museum in Bath, England, where the rooms full of wonderful handmade quilts and wooden floors smelt of lavender floor polish, of fresh bedlinen, of relaxing "garden" evenings with friends … in fact everything good.

"Why do you feel like that?" I asked. She didn't know why this strong feeling had voiced itself but my mind went back in time (I'm 10 years older than she) and I remembered. Our Great Aunt Cissie, who was very old and bedridden, at the end of a visit would grasp you to her huge bosom to give you a hug and you would be enveloped in a lavender scented haze! Allison was only 2 years of age when Aunt Cissie died - how did she remember that? Whilst not in her conscious memory her instinctive brain obviously hadn't felt it was a pleasant experience and the smell of lavender oil many years later aroused an unpleasant memory. Perhaps now she will modify her feelings about the smell of lavender as she remembers how it helped her very sore fingers!

Human clients can find both emotional and physical relief through using essential oils at the times in their lives when mood swings can turn positive thinking into negativity, whether it be due to hormonal activity as in PMS or stress related due to work pressures or family worries. As therapists we are lucky practising in this day and age as there have been many "masters" who have gone before and done the research for us. During your training you learn the properties and effects of about 40 essential oils by rote and are able to practise as an aromatherapist effectively and safely after you pass your exams. However, in my opinion, that is the very beginning of your learning curve. If you are a true holistic therapist every client is a 'case study' as every single one has such individual needs that you can take the opportunity for each treatment to open new insights into balancing the body and mind.

And so it is with the horses. Each one is different and even the same problem is handled very differently by each individual horse. Physically, for example, a sore back in one horse would result in bucking or rearing when being ridden whilst another horse might just grind his teeth, or evade the bit depending on the pain threshold of the individual. There again another horse may have had a sore back for years and providing the workload doesn't increase, stoically bears the pain without a murmur of complaint.

However in the emotional field certain essential oils have proved themselves to be effective time and time again and I have taken the opportunity now to present some of these essential oils showing how they can help in making life more pleasant for both horse and owner. These are illustrated by case studies, with their owners' permission of course!

Unless a foal was homebred and then taken from birth to being ridden by the same person, most horses we meet in our lives have 'a history'. Whenever a horse is purchased, the caring purchaser wants to know as much about the new equine friend as possible, and in the case of a genuine reason for sale by a private individual this is usually obtained, making the change of ownership as painless as possible for both the new owner and the horse. That is in the ideal world! More realistically is the scenario where a horse has been sold more than once in its life, or is sold from a trainer's yard on behalf of a client, or a dealer may have found a horse for a prospective purchaser based on the performance record, so consequently the transition is not nearly so easy.

A couple of recent email consultations involved two beautiful Andalusian stallions that friends had found in the same yard in Spain. These ladies had planned the adventure of a lifetime and intended to ride the horses home to England. All the plans were made but when the due date of departure drew near, here in the UK we were in the grip of Foot and Mouth disease and Movement Restrictions throughout the UK and Europe were in force. Nobody could even ride out on the roads around their livery yards never mind trek across Europe, so the plans had to be re-thought and eventually, at Easter, the two handsome boys had permission to be transported to England by a specialist carrier and they arrived in their new homes. Mary, who is the Commercial Director of Equine-World-UK (good website if you haven't checked it out!!), had recently been in touch with me to commission an article for the website and during our conversations had become very interested in the effects of essential oils. So she emailed me asking for a suggestion of some essential oils to help Cairel settle in. Poor little man was so confused! Here he was, after a long, tiring journey, transported to a new home where the food was different, the water tasted odd and although he sensed this lady was really kind and caring didn't actually speak a word he understood!! By the Sunday morning he had taken his haynet down, dug up his bed and was busy rearing and rushing around the box like a mad thing. He was even rearing when tied up. This phase passed but in his ridden work he spooked and plunged and even did little runs backwards, so it was obvious there needed to be another form of communication - and this is where the oils came in.

The first oil that I would consider for a new horse changing his environment is neroli. This is helpful in allowing the horse to let go of the old routines and companions, is soothing but uplifting and useful in states of anxiety, and is a renewal sort of oil that soothes grief and offers hope for the future. Then being a stallion, marjoram was indicated, which is also sedating and relaxing. Remembering the long journey and complete change of diet fennel was also indicated. Very useful for digestive upsets, clearing and cleansing the system, fennel can also have the same effect on the mind, helping to clear emotional debris. Whilst it is calming it also sustains and will give courage to adapt. Cypress is the oil of 'transition' and in some cultures even today is used in purification ceremonies. Physiologically it has a tonic action on the nervous system, sedating jangling nerves in a soothing, warming way. It is also balancing hormonally.

These oils were offered and applied as necessary about 20 minutes before work. Then after a good grooming, which always has a calming influence, he was to be tacked up and, just prior to being taken from the stable, offered two more oils - vetivert and basil. Vetivert is 'the' oil to offer for horses that cannot keep their feet on the ground! Being extracted from the roots of a scented grass it is the oil most indicated when the imagination is running riot and the subject is living in their heads - literally this oil 'grounds' the emotions and brings the focus onto what is really happening rather than what is going on in the mind. Basil is also an oil of focus, so by offering them both just before riding, it made life a lot easier for both horse and rider! He is fine now, settled into his new life and is a joy to ride. His interest tailed off in the oils after about 10 days but sporadically he will have a sniff of basil, which helps him concentrate during his ridden work.

Cairel's travelling companion was Lucero who settled very well into his new stable and was fine to be handled, even ignoring another stallion in the yard who seemed intent to eat him over the stable door as he went past! The problem was that he was manic in work, bouncing on the spot, refusing to go forward, and so tense he felt just like an unexploded bomb! He was in fact behaving, during his ridden work, just like any macho man might - he had a stiff upper lip because he was not showing he had a problem by his demeanour but in work there was lots of activity going nowhere and he was not admitting to not knowing what was going on (sound like any men you know?!!)

The following oils I thought might be indicated.

Neroli - this is probably the most important oil for letting go of the past and will help with any feelings of having left people or horses behind that have been a part of a previous life.

Palmarosa - this oil would help a horse to adapt and stabilise in a new situation. It is soothing and offers a feeling of security, and in fact can also be re-hydrating, which may stimulate a horse suffering from travel fatigue to drink more water.

Sweet orange - this oil is soothing and again is known to help with adapting to changes. It is quite uplifting and will make the horse feel optimistic. There is often a reaction in the horse like when a mother picks up a child and gives him a big hug; somehow Orange seems to say 'it's all fine'.

Geranium - this oil is balancing, hormonally and emotionally, very useful for nervous anxiety about new situations.

About 20 minutes before riding I suggested that Susie, his owner, offer him jasmine then lemon - despite the fact that some of their properties are actually completely opposing! However I was not going mad; it was just that I wanted the deeply relaxing properties of jasmine and the emotional release it stimulates, but since he was to be ridden we didn't want him to go to sleep!! Lemon is a mental decongestant that will help clear any emotional confusion and any fears he may have had of a relationship with a new rider.

I also suggested to Susie that she should massage his legs, paying special attention to the area around the knees. Tightness in the knees in both people and in the horse can be indicative of retained emotions that will stop the moving on, both emotionally and in locomotion.

So how did the oils work? Well here is the email report:


Ist day - he was lying down and decided that he was not getting up for me. So we went through the oils whilst he was in bed. The neroli and sweet orange were his thing. I nearly got my hand licked off - except he cannot lick. He lips very well and tries to scrape the oil with his teeth - not a good idea!!

Next day. Jasmine - well received, and lemon, ok, but not really hung up on it. Lots of massage on the knees and back legs + his back too. Was this the same horse I was riding?! Within 5 minutes he was working on a loose rein and stretching.

Neroli and sweet orange for afters. No real interest in palmarosa and none in geranium. He is actually looking for the smells before I have had a chance to open the bottles.

Today was a riding repeat of yesterday - the lady who is teaching me could not believe the change in him - although I think she is a bit sceptical about the oils!"

I cannot understand why the trainer would be sceptical, can you?!

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional veterinary care.

About the author
Lyn Palmer (ITEC dip), Human and Equine Aromatherapist, owns and runs a dressage schooling and livery yard with her daughter Vikki, near Glastonbury, Somerset, UK. Lyn has found that the use of essential oils with some of the 'problem' horses who came for schooling transformed their attitude to work and their re-education, and offered a gentle and holistic support to sympathetic training and management. Due to the yard and competition commitments she only travels to treatments within a 50-mile radius but holds weekend courses at the farm on using aromatherapy with your horse. Lyn also takes email consultations world wide. She can be reached at or through Natural Horse offices (800-660-8923).