One of the tools I keep in my bag is my essential oils. I started using them personally a few years ago and one day thought, “why not see what the horses think about them?” My dog is always very interested when I use peppermint on myself or around the house, so I was curious to see what horses would think. I started with just opening the bottle and letting them smell it. I got a variety of reactions from indifference or avoidance to curiosity and obvious interest. Some horses would turn their head away from certain oils but be very interested in others.
I kept starting with lavender thinking most horses might enjoy the calming scent, but hardly anyone seemed interested. My gut instinct tells me that some of the more stoic horses or those who have abuse in their past can’t seem to let their guard down enough to “be calmed.” But they’re interested in some of the brighter, spicier oils.
One gelding really loved lemon and would shove his nose in my arms trying to eat the whole bottle. I would put a drop on the back of my hand and he’d eagerly lick and lick and lick. Another gelding even surprised himself with how much he wanted the lemon, so I’d give him a drop on the back of my hand or one of my tools to smell before his trims. We used lemon to re-introduce him to the Hoof Jack. I trimmed him for the first year without the Hoof Jack because it was just too scary for him.
A different gelding, whose personality has changed so much in the past few years that no one but his owner (and a very select few of others) can touch him, had the same reaction to bergamot. I let him smell the bottle and he just lit up! I put some on my hand and he licked it off while nosing and nuzzling me. His owner now has new people put bergamot on when they meet him as a way to break the ice.
When I first met a chestnut pony mare, I sensed that she had been manhandled a bit too much for her preference. She was small enough that someone could easily push her around. She wasn’t too thrilled about her trims and was thinking about giving me a hard time. I made a deal with her that I wouldn’t push her around if she would respect me back. If she wouldn’t give me her foot, I would just keep asking until she decided to lift it. We got along pretty well but once I introduced her to clary sage, our appointments went even better.
If I am meeting a new horse, I size them up and guess at what kind of oil they might want to smell. I add a little to the back of my hand and see what they think. Or other times I’ll get a few bottles out and see which one they seem most interested in. It has worked well so far and I enjoy having something in my bag that can help a tense or anxious horse.
This is the brand I like the best because they’re clinical grade: Ameo essential oils.
Great article on using oils safely around horses: http://thenaturallyhealthyhorse.com/essential-oils-horses/
Another article on the best oils for anxious horses: https://equinewellnessmagazine.com/essential-oils-anxious-horse/