When I was in school, the highlight of every week was riding a big chestnut mare called Jenny. Jenny got arthritis and in an effort to help the yard to treat her I started researching what could help. This was long before the days of being able to buy ready made and mixed herbal remedies for horse aliments in Ireland but after reading everything I could get my hands on I found a shop on Georges street in Dublin that had a wall full of A – Z herbs. The lovely man who owned it was fascinated by my use of the products for horses and became a big help. I started mixing tailored herb mixes for the big mare and for horses belonging to friends. These mixes helped and to this day I have remained fascinated by how the plants and herbs that we can so readily avail of can help to heal. There are many herbal remedies that can be used and I would encourage everyone to do their research. The herbs and plants listed below and those I have personally used and found beneficial. Often products come onto the equestrian market that are based on a specific plant, it is always worth checking the ingredients as it may be cheaper to simply source the key ingredient (ingredients are often listed under the latin name of the plant). As with everything, if you are competing, make sure to check the permitted substances list for your sport and governing bodies to ensure that any supplement you feed is permitted for competitors.
Nettle (Latin Name Urtica Dioica)
When I was a kid my granddad used to tell me how his mother would pick nettles and make tea and soup from them to build them up. I was horrified but actually, nettle tea doesn’t taste all that bad! Nettle is a good blood, it is high in iron and very useful for horses as a general tonic to improve energy, circulation and bloom. With nettles so common in Ireland, it is easy to pick, dry and chop your own – grandad’s advice was to grab them as quickly and tightly as possible to avoid a sting but I’d suggest to get modern and use rubber gloves! One caution with nettles, if you see the horse come out in a rash, discontinue use. I unfortunately cannot take nettle myself as I come out in a nettle rash!
Fenugreek (Latin Name Trigonella feonum-graecum):
Fenugreek is what is known as an aromatic herb, it has a strong smell which stimulates the digestive system and is often used in Indian cooking. I have used this on horses who need to gain a better appetite and put on more condition from food. It worked well on my stressed little mare who used to refuse to eat whenever she was excited / nervous / unwell and who was a poor doer.
Fennel (Latin Name Foeniculum vulgare):
Fennel is often used in human dietary supplements as it helps to keep the gut and digestive system flowing regularly. I used this on a horse who was prone to colic triggered by stress as it helped to keep his digestive system in regular motion even when he was emotionally upset.
Echinacea (Latin Name Rchinacea Angustifolia):
This is a well known herb said to help increase the immune system in humans and horses. I use this as a preventative measure if a horse is travelling to a competition where they will be exposed to many other horses from various backgrounds and where they will be stabled overnight anywhere away from home.
Chaste Tree / Berry (Latin Name Agnus Castus):
This herb is found in a number of supplements such as Herbalwise Slut Mix. It has effects on the female reproductive system and can help ease the symptoms of mares who become difficult to handle or ride when in season.
Comfrey (Latin Name Symphytum Officinale):
Comfrey is also known as ‘knitbone’. This herb is a great asset to the bodies natural healing process where a bone has been broken or fractured. Comfrey can be fed internally to horses or applied as a cream or an oil. (it can also be used externally on humans). I used this on my mare when she fractured a hock years ago to aid the healing process. Due to it’s high alkaline content, comfrey should not be used beyond a few months.
Devils Claw (Latin Name Harpagophytum procumbens):
Devils Claw is a natural painkiller and anti inflammatory and is found in various supplements, often marketed as a natural alternative to bute (phenylbutazone). It is important to note and understand that this herb is not a preventative herb for conditions causing pain and stiffness (to try and help prevent stiffness and joint conditions in horses I would use a supplement with glucosamine, chrondritin and MSM) but it will provide relief from those conditions. Devils Claw is very good to relieve pain and stiffness in horses and I found this useful in older horses especially those who often come out stiff and take a while to warm up.
Seaweed (also known as kelp or bladderwack):
I absolutely swear by seaweed. I use it myself in the form of kelp tablets and the difference it makes to my hair, skin and nails is incredible. I stopped taking it for a while and had weak nails, spots on my chin from allergies and dull hair. Taking it again has given me fast growing strong nails, clear skin and healthier looking hair. For this reason I feed seaweed to the horses as well. It is so beneficial to the coat and hooves and when fed in Spring and Autumn can really help the horses coat changing.
Clivers / Cleavers & Marigold (Latin Name Galium Aparine / Calendula Officinalis):
These two herbs work best when combined due to their effects on the lymphatic system which controls the level of fluid in the body. These herbs when fed can help to reduce filled legs in horses and to help relieve and prevent resulting conditions such as lymphangitis. I have used these herbs many times on older horses whose legs fill when standing in.
Marigold by itself is a great healing herb for the skin.
Arnica (Latin Name Arnica Montana):
This well known homoepathic remedy is derived from a yellow flowered plant. Arnica is a very helpful first aid remedy for both humans and horses and is best used for bruises and inflammation. I am quite accident prone and have used this many times. For best effect I would apply cream externally as well as taking tablets internally. In my experience arnica will bring a bruise to full purple glory faster than normally and will kick start the healing process.
Chamomile (Latin Name Matrricaria Chamomillla):
Often taken by people in the form of tea, chamomile is one of many herbs that can help with stress and emotional upset. Chammomile can be particularly effective where the stress is affecting the digestive system as a psychosomatic reaction. I am currently using this herb on a horse who worries who passes many loose droppings when in work or under pressure.
Dandelions (Latin Name Taraxacum Officinale):
When we were kids you were told not to handle these as you might wet the bed. Not quite true but dandelion does have an effect on the bladder – it is a diuretic and will help to reduce water retention in horses and people.
Feeding Herbs to Horses by Wendy & Terry Jennings
Complete Herbal by David Hoffman
A Modern Horse Herbal by Hilary Page Self
Where to buy:
In Ireland I have found the following shops and websites brilliant:
Old Mill Saddlery – saddlery.biz
Orchard Equestrian – orchardequestrian.com
Amazon – amazon.co.uk
All content produced on this site is my own original content. Please like and share but please dont reproduce without prior permission. Thanks, L