This article first appeared in Natural Horse Magazine.
Essential Oils for Hoof rehab.
by Nayana Morag
Over the years many horses have come to me for help because their humans have problems with them. One of the first things I like to do is take off their shoes. It always impresses me how this one simple thing can increase a horse’s confidence, dissolving problems such as kicking and rearing.
In particular I think of one thoroughbred ex-racehorse who had to be sedated every time he was shod, he fought against it so hard. To add to the problem, his feet were such poor quality he lost a shoe as soon as it was put back on. He also reared over backwards on a regular basis (the reason he came to me). He was so unhappy within himself that I really wasn’t sure he wanted to go on living.
Pulling his shoes was the first step in helping him find his way back. Now at least he would not have to suffer the pain of having his shoes put on, and being sedated. I was sure that feeling the ground under his feet, being a horse, and learning to negotiate the hilly terrain where I lived would help him reconnect with his body. Although I wasn’t sure his feet would ever handle barefoot riding as they were the classic crumbling, flat soled race horse feet. But he was the horse that convinced me any horse can go barefoot with the right management. Long story short- after about six months with me he was re-homed, and is still a happy, healthy, barefoot horse today.
To any thinking horseman, taking your horse’s shoes off must seem a logical step to maintain structural integrity over the long-haul. However it can be quite intimidating to take that jump.
Firstly, we have to get over the well-ingrained mindset that horses can’t take the strain of going barefoot, that it is cruel and unusual punishment to try. Then, tried and tested management practices may have to be adjusted, and not everybody has the space, climate and finances to support their horse on turnout 24/7. Finally there is the transition period to get through, when you may not be able to ride your horse as often, or as far as you want while her feet come back to life and heal.
However with the support of competent professionals to advise you through the process, a good diet and a few quality essential oils, you and your horse can make the transition, and enjoy the soft thud-thud of bare feet, rather than the jarring clap-clap of metal shoes, on the ground.
Essential oils that support healthy hooves:
Carrotseed (Daucus carota): This is the number one essential oil for healthy feet. Dry crumbly feet, cracks and slow growth all respond to Carrot seed. The oil has a powerful effect on the liver, repairing damaged cells, which leads to a rapid improvement in hoof quality.
Eucalpytus (any, but Eucalyptus citriodora is the strongest anti-fungal): This oil is a powerful anti-fungal and also helps to harden the hoof on a superficial level. It can be applied undiluted directly to the affected area for white line disease or thrush.
Garlic (Allium sativum): Garlic is one of nature’s strongest anti-bacterial agents and works on both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. It is my first essential oil for pus in the foot, applied to the sole of the foot diluted in aloe gel or blended in clay. It can also be offered for inhalation or orally, diluted 3 drops to 5 mls of base oil. It is also a vaso-dilator, improving circulation. I recommend wearing rubber gloves when handling it as it can be harsh on the skin, and frankly, even to a garlic lover, it stinks!
Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum): Also known as Immortelle or Everlast, this heals broken capillaries and stops bruising in its tracks. It is also anti-infectious and anti-inflammatory, and can be applied undiluted to bruised feet.
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin): Patchouli is also anti-fungal so can be used wherever you want to discourage fungi. It is anti-inflammatory and stimulates tissue regeneration. It also supports the emotional side of ‘feet’, giving a sense of groundedness and helping to re-connect to areas of the body that have been cut off energetically. This is a common problem that manifests as stumbling, grumpiness or an unwillingness to pick up the feet.
Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martini): This oil works on two fronts (as do most oils): Internally it encourages the body’s ‘Yin’ moisturising aspect, and is helpful for dry, undernourished feet. It is also anti-bacterial, viral and fungal used topically.
Seaweed (Fucus fesiculosus): The signature of seaweed is that it encourages movement, an energetic and physical function. It is anti-inflammatory and full of nutrients, and a powerful de-tox. I use it for abscesses, laminitis, and when I want a horse to feel she is standing in cool salty water.
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia): Good old tea tree, one of the best anti-fungals and antibacterials, is also a powerful immune stimulant. It can be applied undiluted to feet that need help fighting fungus and hardening up.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Another powerful anti-bacterial that stimulates circulation, Thyme can be used interchangeably with garlic, but is also a powerful stimulant of the body’s Yang functions being warming and invigorating, suitable for those who are run-down or depressed.
Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides): This is another oil that helps with foot related behavioural problems. Horses who kick or trample over you benefit from this oil. Energetically it is similar to Palmarosa (Yin and cooling), but it also gives a feeling of calm strength. Physically it is anti-inflammatory, a general tonic, and it helps build red blood cells.
How to use essential oils for hoof problems
As always with essential oils, offer your horse a selection and let her choose which essential oils she wants to use. I have described this in depth in previous Natural Horse issues but in brief:
Pick five possible oils to help your horse (looking at previous ‘in Essence’ articles can help you decide which oils best suit your horse’s character). Offer each oil to your horse to smell. Hold the bottle firmly in your hand, with just the mouth exposed.
Your horse will either smell the oil intently, try to eat the bottle, or turn away (if your horse turns away, she does not want or need this particular oil). Essential oil molecules enter the blood stream through inhalation so if she just wants to smell the oil it is as effective as licking or topical application . If she enters a trance-like state let her relax into it for a maximum of five minutes then close the bottle.
If she wants to eat the bottle, dilute 3 drops of essential oil in a teaspoon of cold pressed olive or sunflower oil, pour a little of the diluted oil into your hand, and let your horse lick it. Be patient when offering the oils as it might take your horse a minute or two to figure out the game and decide which essential oils.she wants to interact with.
Listen to your horses when using the essential oils and allow them to guide you. When they need help they will stand quietly as you apply the clay/gel, once they start to fidget or object to the application, the oils have done what they need to do and your horse is well on his way to healthy hooves.
Once your horse has chosen her oils you can add them to a clay or gel for topical application. The treatment will work better and faster if you also offer the oils for inhalation or licking every day if you can.
For a foot pack against fungal infection: In a glass bowl, put a cup of green clay, 10 drops of Tea tree oil, 10 drops of Eucalyptus, 5 of either Garlic or Thyme, and 5 Patchouli or Palmarosa. Mix the oils into the clay then add enough distilled water or suitable hydrosol to make a soft paste. Pack the paste into any cracks, old nail holes, or frog grooves, wherever fungus is suspected.
For a poultice to draw out pus: Proceed as in the above recipe but make the clay into a thick paste and replace the Eucalyptus with 5 drops of Seaweed absolute
For a hydrating gel that encourages healthy hoof growth: Take 4 tablesoons of aloe gel, add 20 drops of Carrot seed essential oil, 5 drops of either Vetiver orPalmarosa orPatchouli, and add distilled water, or cornflower or witch hazel hydrosol to make a thick liquid you can paint on the coronet band, or the whole hoof if you want.
For persitent thrush, use undiluted essential oils dropped straight into the frog groove or cracks. You can also syringe it to get deeper. Be careful not to get the essential oils on any sensitive tissues (including your hands). My favourite blend for this is 10 drops eucalyptus globulus, 10 drops tea tree and 5 drops thyme ct thymol 2 drops garlic. Use latex gloves when handling.
These are the primary oils I have used with ‘feet issues’ but it is not definitive. Hoof health comes first of all from within, so it is important to look at the whole picture of the horse and choose essential oils that also support any other problems that individual may have .
The best advice I have for anyone making the transition to barefoot is, be patient, and yes, it is all worth it! I have had great success using essential oils to support the transition
(and beyond) and am always amazed by the cascade of positive effects that removing metal shoes has on a horse, physiologically and psychologically.
To learn more about how to use essential oils to keep your animals healthy and happy, check out our courses.