Horses like their routine, and with change the one constant in the world today, it unsettles our horses. The stress of a major change, and this is relative from the perspective of each horse and owner, can have an affect both physically and mentally.
Supporting the nervous system goes a long way when change is happening. You might be excited that you have a new horse, but some horses don’t always automatically bond with a new owner, or the previous owner may regret selling their horse on, so there could be a pull back to what was previously comfortable.
Lemon balm is a key herb with any change, it helps the heart let go of the past and connect with the new. It is also useful with a horse that you may think is depressed, or gives you the impression of being ‘love-sick’ or forlorn.
The liver is an important organ for helping to deal with stress, and giving some dandelion root powder when a horse is going through a change such as moving to a new home is not only helpful with how the horse settles, it can also be a herb to use when recovering from injury or a previous role where drugs may have been used as a primary support tool. If you suspect a residue of drugs in the horse’s body, a combination of dandelion root, St Marys thistle and turmeric powders will help the different phases of liver detoxification.
When older horses lose a paddock mate, lemon balm has a role in supporting the heart emotionally while hawthorn berry can help with the physical heart-break often not acknowledged. Neither herb needs to be given long term, but depending on the impact of the loss, one to three months of these herbs included in your support would assist the older horse’s grief.
With horses finding it difficult adjusting to a new agistment, especially when moving into a group paddock and faced with herd dynamics: for the timid horse nettles can give courage; for the overly aggressive horse that is nervous under this aggression, chamomile can help with self-confidence.
Chaste tree berry can be helpful if the horse is recovering from long term ongoing effects of the continual release of stress hormones which over time can affect their strength and stamina. If you have begun to rehabilitate a horse who has come off the track, three to six months of chaste tree berry combined with nettle leaf and licorice root (for the more extreme cases), can support transition to a less stressful career and if there has been prolonged abuse or trauma this mix could include vervain.
The class of herbs – adaptogens and as the name implies, help with adapting and will help with any change where there is stress – gotu kola and licorice root are two herbs to include in a ‘change’ blend, when supported with nervines.
Which nervine you choose depends on how stress is expressed by the horse’s body:
if urination changes in frequency or consistency – cornsilk;
if anticipatory anxiety causes more sweating more than usual – lime tree blossom;
if stress comes out as distracted or over-excited – passionflower or valerian;
if your horse gets diarrhoea – chamomile or hops.
(Note: Most calming herbs are prohibited during competition).
The other consideration is how long the horse has been experiencing stress. If it has been longer than a week or two, you will also have inflammatory processes triggered in the body, which if not addressed as well may result in longer term issues to deal with later. Turmeric powder will cover off on the beginnings of specific inflammation such as in the gut or muscles, it will also help with low grade systemic inflammation.
Overall if you chose a combination of herbs that helps both the physical and behavioural aspects of the stress of changes, you are going a long way to help your horse adapt and be able to function in their new environment or situation.
Be careful with your selection of herbs when dealing with change, the role of herbs is to support transition from one circumstance to another. It is not that the horse needs any of the above herbs long term, in most situations one to six months will be what is required. The herbs create ‘space’ for that horse to settle into and be its own self, and from that, you as the owner can move forward with the horse to achieve your goals.