You walk into a friend’s kitchen just as she’s pulling a loaf of freshly baked bread from the oven, aroma-laced steam curls from the crust as she cuts off a slice. You had been looking forward to venting about a lazy co-worker but suddenly you are brought back to Grandma’s kitchen as the smell of the bread hits your senses and a warm feeling envelopes you. Your mood is instantly elevated as you sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee, completely forgetting the woes of the day.
You’re impatiently standing in line at the grocery checkout, feeling frustrated because several people are ahead of you, it’s 5:30 and you still have to get dinner for your demanding family. After a few moments you find yourself thinking of your favorite grade-school teacher. You smile and wonder why she popped into your head. Gradually you realize it’s because the woman standing next to you in line is wearing the same perfume that your third-grade teacher used to wear. It’s not so bad waiting in line after all, as you drift back to happy memories.
It’s no secret that scents are one of the strongest memory triggers. What isn’t so widely known is that aromas stimulate a multitude of important brain functions.
Our olfactory system has many purposes. It can detect hazards. Do you find yourself wrinkling your nose at the smell of spoiled milk or rotting meat? Your olfactory system knows that those things would not be good for you. This system is also your primary source of finding nourishment. Ever follow the scent of fresh out-of- the-brick oven pizza, around the corner and into the little bistro? It can even detect pheromones, sending signals to your brain when Mr. or Ms. Right is nearby.
Love at first sight?
Olfaction occurs when odorants bind to specific sites called receptors located within your nasal cavity. From there a chain reaction occurs with signals ending up at parts of the brain responsible for smell identification, memory, emotion, and even, self healing.
Aromatherapy is the practice of using the natural oils extracted from botanicals by either inhalation or by applying to the skin, to enhance psychological and physical well-being, by stimulating brain function. This alternative form of medicine is used for pain relief, mood enhancement and improved cognitive function.
Aromatherapy is gaining ground in human medicine, both physical and mental. It is also making its way into veterinary medicine, including treatments for horses.
A horse’s olfactory system is far more sensitive than a human’s. They can discern a multitude of scents in one inhalation, where we might be able to recognize only one or two. Have you seen your horse carefully sniff out the best pieces of hay while ignoring others? That’s not by accident. So you can imagine that aromatherapy is probably even more effective on horses!
Horses are prey animals and their sense of smell is directly connected to their limbic system, which controls the fight or flight response.
Aromatherapy can therefore be used to alter your horse's state of mind, making them more receptive to handling and more focused for training.
There are two ways to deliver aromatherapy to your horse. One is through application at various points on the body. This method requires a lot more knowledge than I have on the subject, so I am not going to delve into it here. There is plenty of information on the web on the subject.
The other method is through Inhalation. This therapy is lot less involved and you don’t have to worry about skin irritation. True therapeutic grade essential oils are quite potent so even if a small amount of undiluted oil touches the skin it can have adverse effects. Through inhalation that possibility is less of an issue.
Different horses will react in different ways to essential oils. Take it slow and start in a quiet place so you and your horse will have less distractions. Always dilute your oils in a carrier oil. This will ensure that 1) you don’t use more than you need, and 2) if any of the oil should touch your horse’s skin it will be less likely to irritate. You can use a variety of carrier oils such as almond, apricot kernel, coconut, olive or sunflower oil.
Put a few drops of diluted oil in the palm of your hand and rub your hands together. Put your hands out to your horse, but don’t thrust them into his face. Let your horse come to your hands. You will notice that he will inhale through one, then the other nostril. If he doesn’t like that particular oil, he will show no interest or even back away or turn his head. Keep in mind that he may not want it today, but he might want it another day for another reason. Horses are very good in knowing what they need. Allow your horse to sniff all he wants, but discourage licking the oil. This process can take a few seconds, to a few minutes or longer. Let your horse be the guide. If he turns away, don't press the issue. Sometimes they will surprise you by reacting negatively at first, then moments later, come back for a second sniff.
Experiment with different oils and oil blends. Eventually your horse will come to enjoy these sessions and you may see a better bond or sense of trust from him. Some commonly used oils include: lavender for calming, reducing anxiety; Bergamot for reducing nervousness; Basil for focus; Clary Sage for depression and stress. You can even mix your oils and spray them on blankets or stall walls to create a soothing environment. But make sure it’s an oil your horse enjoys.
La Bella Cavalla carries essential oil diffuser necklaces. Each one comes with your choice of essential oil, most of which are certified organic. Wear one while working with your horse and watch her reaction. Of course, you can use our diffuser necklaces for your own well being. Additionally, we carry diffusers that can be placed in your dashboard vents, to disperse essential oil scents into your automobile or truck.
In our next blog post we will describe several oils and their benefits.
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