Research suggests aromatherapy treatment works to ease stress in horses and could benefit the equine industry.
The findings of the research, conducted at Louisiana’s McNeese State University, has been published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.
The Effect of Lavender Aromatherapy on Acute Stressed Horses was co-authored by assistant professor of animal sciences Dr Edward Ferguson, local veterinarian Dr. H.F. Kleinman and rodeo coach Justin Browning, who is also an agriculture instructor.
Ferguson said horses have a heightened sense of sight and sound and this excitable instinct can cause problems to the horse’s health during training or during transport.
“Environmental stimuli like loud noises can cause fear reactions and this repeated pattern can lead to chronic stress, which is known to decrease productivity traits in many farm animals,” he said.
Aromatherapy – the therapeutic use of aromatic essential oils derived from plants like peppermint and lavender to heal everything from digestive problems to stress – has been around for centuries for humans.
“Lavender is a known essential oil to reduce anxiety and stress in humans and it has been reported to restore calmness in dogs,” Ferguson said.
“So, lavender aromatherapy was looked into as a possible method to reduce stress in horses.”
The study tested the ability of lavender aromatherapy to decrease equine heart and respiratory rates following induced acute stress – an air horn in this case – and as a result enhance recovery from the stress.
Seven quarter horses from the McNeese rodeo program were used in the study.
First, all horses were assigned calm scores while they were resting in their stalls. Heart and respiratory rates at rest were then recorded.
The horses were then randomly assigned treatments prior to the air-horn blast, so half would receive the lavender treatment first and the other half would receive the control treatment. Then the horses would switch treatments – all within a two-week period.
Next, the air horn was blown for each group and all horses were allowed 60 seconds to calm before the stressed heart and respiratory rates were recorded.
Ferguson said the control-treated horses were then exposed to humidified air, while the horses receiving aromatherapy were treated with a mixture of humid air and lavender essential oil.
Following this, the recovery heart and respiratory rates were recorded.
All of these rates – rested, stressed and recovery – were then analyzed.
“There generally were no statistical differences between the control and aromatherapy treated horses for most of our statistics except for one. There was a significant decrease in the change of heart rate from the stressed heart rate to recovery heart rate in lavender-treated horses compared to the other group,” explained Ferguson.
“There are very few reports in the scientific literature that studied the effect of aromatherapy on horses or other farm animals,” he said. “We demonstrated that 15 minutes of aromatherapy with lavender essential oil did reduce the heart rate in horses.”
Ferguson said equine owners could utilize lavender aromatherapy as a short-term solution to reduce nervousness among horses in an examination area or for treatment following a performance competition.
Effect of Lavender Aromatherapy on Acute-Stressed Horses
Clarence E. Ferguson, Harry F. Kleinman, Justin Browning
Journal of Equine Veterinary Science – January 2013 (Vol. 33, Issue 1, Pages 67-69, DOI: 10.1016/j.jevs.2012.04.014)