Aromatherapy for horses

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CALM: Lavender aromatherapy has calming effect on horses. (Photo: University of Arizona)

RESEARCHERS are recommending lavender aromatherapy for horses.

While there are a myriad of things that can stress a horse – trailering, bathing, clipping, vet visits, hoof trims, bridling, saddling – calming options are few,

Now the University of Arizona offers a new tool to help manage equine stress, and it’s as simple as a sniff.

Researchers found significant signs of stress reduction in horses that inhaled lavender from a diffuser.

Ann Baldwin, professor of physiology and psychology, used nine dressage horses of varying breeds and ages. Each horse was led to a small paddock and held by a volunteer while a diffuser containing lavender essential oil was held near the horse’s nose.

A monitor tracked heart rates and heart rate variability for 21 minutes – seven minutes before the introduction of the diffuser, seven minutes with the diffuser close by, and seven minutes after it was removed.

Baldwin says one of the parameters of heart rate variability is called RMSSD for Root Mean Square of the Successive Differences.

If RMSSD goes up, it indicates the horse is relaxed.

“We found that when the horses were sniffing the lavender, RMSSD significantly increased compared to baseline.” Baldwin says,

The data were supported by the horses’ observed behaviour, including relaxation signals such as neck lowering and licking and chewing while the lavender was being inhaled.

The experiment was repeated with water vapor and chamomile, neither of which produced a similar calming effect or increase in RMSSD.

“We did get a calming effect with the lavender, but when we measured afterward, we no longer had the effect,” Baldwin says. “So, it’s just during the sniffing of the lavender that we see this calming effect.”

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