Do You Recognise Your Horse?
A lighthearted look at some personality types in the horse and how aromatherapy can help

By Lyn Palmer

This is really tongue in the cheek - if you have a problem with your horse then you must first check with your veterinarian or trainer that there is not a physical problem or a training issue causing the problem. Whilst these issues are being addressed, essential oils may help make both your (and your horse's) life more pleasant!

The "Thug"

The "Thug"

I've sort of got one of these! He is all of 13.3hh, Welsh, 35 years old and stroppy! Not a total thug but by dint of his great age and innate pony knowledge with his 'been there, done that, got the tee-shirt' attitude and having broken in several generations of aspiring riders he takes it as his right to be first in everything …… funny thing is I am putty in his hands - you wouldn't see the 'big boys' getting away with it!

The true thug is the horse who is always 'in your face'. He may crowd you in the stable or turn his bottom toward you as you walk in. He barges out of the stable door, when he feels like it, and in and out of gateways. He may run at you when you go to bring him in from the field. When out with other horses he will sometimes run at and scatter a quiet grazing group or picks out one horse and keeps it moving on, stopping it from being caught up etc. Although he is a bully he loves to be noticed by you, usually by being naughty, but even when he has your full attention he will show his affection by rubbing against you so hard you fall over!

Try offering him nutmeg - this is not much used in human aromatherapy but seems to be liked by horses, especially the male variety of the thug listed above. It is soporific and calms restlessness. It seems to trigger a "feel good" reaction, almost aphrodisiac in its nature. Mares often respond to patchouli. 'The Thug' is often angry and feels frustrated and misunderstood so offer him bergamot as it is refreshing and uplifting and stimulates a forgiving feeling toward whatever was causing anger. Geranium is another oil that is balancing and offers relief from frustrations, calming and soothing inner anger. Finally lemon is very calming but uplifting, it's sharp aroma clearing the hot and bothered mind.

The "Weed"

This is the horse that finds everything scary! He sees monsters everywhere and they are all going to eat him up. If something is changed on his route to the field you might not notice but he certainly will - and he will probably end up knocking you over because he 'runs' to right where he feels safe - as close to you as possible. He is usually a very sensitive horse, will often have itchy skin and allergic reactions to bites or feed changes. He is bright and super intelligent but the idiotic way he acts actually suggests he had only been endowed with two brain cells!

So try chamomile as that is soothing and calming and antispasmodic for his mind and his itchiness. Try vetiver for it's grounding effect; it will help bring him to what is actually happening now and not what his overactive imagination thinks is going to happen. Basil clears the mind but sharpens logical thought, as well as slowing the heartbeat, and rosemary is mind clearing for an overactive imagination.

The Fearful Horse

Fear is probably the worst emotion of all, as it threatens life itself. Dread, terror, panic, and trepidation - all these have a profound effect on the quality of life of both the body and the mind making the horse totally un-rational and unreasoning. These emotions cause physical effects such as digestive problems, increased respiratory rate and finally mental breakdown. Sometimes the "fear" that grips a horse has nothing to do with his boldness cross-country and whether he will go over a water jump - they will often still do all this sort of stuff. The fear is deeper and instinctive - and often it is triggered by something you cannot define. The fear may have been caused by lack of food or attention as a foal, maltreatment or having experienced something really awful like a natural disaster or at some point one of his most basic needs for food or safety had not been met. Strangely this situation is probably something that aromatherapy, because it works through the olfactory system at such an instinctive level, can certainly help to control, if not cure. Look to frankincense to deepen and calm the breathing, controlling the physical effects of fear. Look to rose for deep-seated traumas from the past. Look to ylang-ylang for younger horses, especially male, as it seems to relax the spasms and slow down respiration and blood pressure, both which tend to rise when an irrational fear grips, thus acting like a security blanket.

The Moody Mare

Most horses have periods of general moodiness - not because they consciously 'have a strop on' as their minds don't work like that - often it is to do with changes in their routine, the weather, pressure of work, even the spring grass creating 'magnesium madness'. One of my horses gets the miseries if his best mate is worked before him and one of the ponies gets really irate if he can't go out every day. Essential oils offered through the olfactory system can help them feel better - offering geranium, bergamot or grapefruit or something grounding like vetiver along with a nice big serving of hay, can usually calm things down a bit.

The moody mare, however - irritable/good natured, happy/unhappy and being generally inconsistent, that tends to have moods in connection with the reproductive system - is one instance that generalisation cannot be made because the chosen oil will often be different at varying times of the cycle. Phyto-hormonal oils such as clary sage and fennel may be useful, as these are also calming and neurotonic, even antispasmodic toward those irritable feelings as well as helping with stimulating and balancing the hormones. Marjoram, though more often indicated for stallions, can also be the oil needed as its balancing can be both sedative and uplifting - useful properties in mood swings. Lavender is also balancing; Mandarin or Sweet Orange could be just the one that is needed as it is sedative and helps to instill a positive attitude again - a bit like giving them a big hug and saying "stop being a miserable old bat 'cos I love you anyway".

The Hypochondriac Horse

We all know one of these! This is the horse that has been going fantastically at home - but a few days before the competition shows colic-like symptoms that clear immediately after you withdraw! Or after a long boring winter of 'quickie' rides the horse that goes inexplicably lame before the first planned long trail ride of spring - then seems fine the next day. Or the horse that suddenly 'goes off' before the long awaited clinic or training session. In fact the sort of horse that makes you wonder why you keep on keeping horses that you can never ride when you really want to! Hypochondriac is perhaps a little strong a word to use, but that is what it feels like to you, the long-suffering owner!

Well, some of these incidents may be avoided with a little care and the judicious use of essential oils on a routine basis. If you offer essential oils regularly as part of your management routine you will be well aware of those he chooses most often. When a horse chooses an oil that is not one of his usual favourites you will be given an 'early warning' that all is not well. Perhaps a choice of fennel will indicate a slight digestive upset before the colic signs emerge, or lemongrass may show that there is more soreness in his muscles than usual, indicating that you back off the training until more investigation has been done. Bergamot may suggest some sort of viral action that may need veterinary attention.

Another thing that horses are very good at is picking up on their owner /handler's change of mood. By using some of the calming oils on yourself every day, trying to always have a positive attitude toward the time you spend with your horse, and making a conscious decision to leave the hassles of your day at the farm gate on your way in, maybe you will no longer have a hypochondriac horse.

The Clown

This is the horse that displays what one would often consider 'coltish' behaviour that hasn't been addressed in babyhood. Most things are a laugh and a joke to them - they will kick at stable doors, throw food skips around, nip at your hands or clothes even try to 'play' with you in a foal like way - not a good idea if they now weigh 600kgs! Really none of us should own a horse who behaves like this due to the excellent articles and pointers toward training courses in Natural Horsemanship - however there are still many uneducated owners with horses like them around, and at some time you may have to address problems like these in a horse you meet. Essential oils can be of use to help keep you and the horse safe during the period of retraining whilst the new 'ground rules' are being established.

Most of the oils useful in this instance have been mentioned before. Once again vetiver has a grounding effect that is necessary - encouraging focus of the horse's mind onto its own body. Spatial awareness and respect of personal space are not usually very well developed in this type of horse so the vetiver encourages the mind to be more aware of how the body is being used. Also nutmeg again - this is quite deeply calming on boisterous, bargy horses who have little respect for human handlers. But be careful, if you choose to apply this oil, that it is well diluted in a carrier medium as it is known as a 'strong' oil - in fact if used in excess it has been known to have an hallucinogenic effect and you certainly don't want to add to your problems by making the horse more unpredictable than he already is. I would prefer the use of nutmeg through the olfactory process only and even then in an 'acute' or 'first aid' situation rather than as part of a regularly offered treatment.

Neroli and jasmine are also both worth offering. Neroli, in particular, will help encourage a release of old patterns of behaviour. And if your 'problem child' is a mare, patchouli is quite earthy and grounding whilst being very balancing hormonally, should this be part of the problem.

There is one category yet to be mentioned, in fact it is an unmentionable category that seems to be encountered in every yard I visit at one time or another. On occasion even Mr. Master or Miss Perfect Horse seems to have a relapse into it, which brings out profanity in the best of us… Well all I can say, folks, is that there aren't any specific oils I can recommend to you for this fall from grace situation on 'one of those days' - my best advice is to take yourself home, run a very deep, pleasantly warm bath, add a few drops of lavender and bergamot to the water and have a good soak - tomorrow will be better, I promise!!!

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

About the Author:
Lyn Palmer is based near Glastonbury, England where she owns a dressage schooling and livery yard with her daughter, Vikki. She works with both horses and humans using aromatherapy, massage and Bowen Technique, arranges aromatherapy clinics for horse owners and is the Equine Touch coordinator for England. Lyn can be contacted at for equine aromatherapy email consultations.