Understanding moody mares

qflowersIt’s that time of year! Your mare is moody, pulling faces when you saddle her, not concentrating when you ride, harassing the geldings and rubbing her mane! Her hormones are running riot and you don’t know what to do.

First, a little understanding is in order: What are hormones? Why do they affect behaviour? Is there anything to be done?

Hormones are bio-chemicals responsible for regulating many functions in the mammalian body, most famously the reproductive cycle. The hormones commonly associated with the reproductive cycle are oestrogen and progesterone, but in fact there are many more hormones involved, many of which are multifunctional. Anything that affects one hormone, whether natural or unnatural, affects the whole system, throwing everything out of balance.

Mares are seasonally polyestrus, meaning they do not cycle year round. Hormonal activity is affected by the amount of sunlight, so mares usually come into season as the days lengthen and will not cycle during winter months. In warm countries mares can come into season year round, but the season will be much less obvious in winter.

Most mares have approximately 21 days between ovulations and remain in season (estrus) for three to five days at a time. At this time the ova is released and ready to fertilize. Mares will actively seek to mate at this time showing characteristic signs of ‘winking’ their vulva, and ‘squirting’, depositing frequent small amounts of extra acidic urine, which is often thick and white and can coat hind legs and burn off hair. They can also be more vocal and responsive/reactive with other horses.

Just as with we humans, the hormonal changes that occur throughout the estrous cycle affect mood, and the release of the ova can cause discomfort in the lumbar area. Young mares coming into season for the first time are often highly uncomfortable at this time physically and mentally. I believe many of the behavioural problems associated with ‘hormonal mares’ develop from our lack of tact in helping our youngsters through this time. I know that I pin my ears back and snap to keep others out of my space at this time, why should my horse not act the same way?

Essential oils for sensitive mares

I deal with sensitive mares in two ways, through management and with essential oils. First of all you must make it clear to your mare that you have heard her distress. Don’t ride at this time if she shows signs of discomfort such as head shaking, objecting to being saddled, or bucking.

When you are handling her hind end, picking up feet or cleaning under her tail, do so with tact as she may feel vulnerable, or be tight in her back muscles. In general, if you pay attention to her needs and accept her state of mind you will reduce the problem almost completely.

I then use essential oils to balance hormones and reduce inflammation. (listed below)

yarrowThe role of the liver

Apart from the ‘moody mare’ syndrome, common problems that I am asked to help with are mares that stay in season all the time, or mares who do not come into season at all. In Traditional Chinese Medicine these are both indications of a Liver imbalance, so I use essential oils that strengthen the Liver along with hormone balancing oils. A herbal liver detox is also recommended, early Spring is the best time for this.

The oils I use for hormonal balance

In order of frequency
Rose (Rosa damascena) is a powerful hormonal balancer, yin strengthener, encourages self-acceptance and relieves resentful anger
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) regulates hormones and can be used for both lack and excess, it also strengthens the receptive yin energy and helps you feel settled within yourself.
Bergamot, ( Citrus bergamia) tonic to the genito-urinary system, a pick-me-up, relieves frustration and depression. Particiularly useful post-parturition
Chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus) a very strong hormone tonic, especially good for older mares or those who have a very strong cycle with a lot of displaying and squirting.
Clary sage (salvia sclarea) stimulates production of progesterone, anti-spasmodic, warming and comforting, particularly good for mares who suffer from tension and back pain
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and emmenagogue, this is one of the best oils for relieving the physical discomfort of hormonal changes, particularly if there is not much physical evidence of ovulation
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) stimulates liver function and circulation, topical analgesic, I use it for mares who become sluggish and lack focus at this time
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) works much like yarrow and I use it when there are clear signs of physical discomfort. Most frequently this is selected by younger mares in their first year of season.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is anti-spasmodic, warming and comforting, good for those who got tight-backed and grumpy

Essential oils that support healthy Liver function can be used in conjunction with any of the above oils. Some of my favourites are, juniperberry (Juniperis communis), carrotseed (Daucus carota), and angelica root (Angelica archangelica).

Case study

A 20 year old thoroughbred-cross mare.
Heidi (as she was known) had always had dramatic seasons, her discharges were copious and smelly, her mood became dreamy and distracted and she wanted to be in physical contact with other horses at all times, leaning into them when ridden out in company. Her person asked me for oils that might help as the squirting was unpleasant and had started to damage the hair on her hind legs, and she now seemed to be cycling every two weeks.

Heidi needed chasteberry, geranium and angelica root, diluted in sunflower oil, 3 drops to 5 mls. Each oil was offered to her separately and she was interested in them all, going into a deep trance with the angelica root and licking the chasteberry avidly.

After 3 days she rejected angelica root but continued with the chasteberry and geranium for a couple more days.

Next time we noticed Heidi starting to come into season, we offered the oils again. She had no interest in the angelica root, mild interest in chasteberry and sustained interest in the geranium. The season was greatly improved with a marked decrease in emissions and greater concentration levels.

The seasons continued to improve for the whole of the year. The following spring she was given herbs to cleanse her liver and offered the oils again as her first season started, she had minimal interest in the chasteberry. That year her seasons were normal, she cycled regularly and with a minimum of display.