Pet Corner: Herbs for Horses

| March/April 2002

  • Herbal remedies can be extremely effective for horses.
    Photo courtesy of M. O’Brien
  • Herbal remedies can be extremely effective for horses.

When I was a kid, barely able to walk, my grandpa used to hoist me up on one of the team of Belgian horses he used to pull the plow and the wagons across his fields. Yellowing photos of those days show me with an ear-to-ear, gap-toothed grin, perched nearly spraddle-legged, atop Grandpa’s “mountain horses.”

As Grandpa’s gruff gees and haws moved the horses around the fields, I sat there, a death grip on the hames, and absorbed horse essence. Horse sweat stained my pant legs, the gentle sway of plodding horse became one of my inner rhythms, and I absorbed the odors of the workaday horse. Horses have a special kind of essence all their own—as do each of the various species of animals, really. But, horse essence is the forceful and spirited energy of warrior-nature, counterbalanced by a rhythmically permeating serenity. Horse “medicine” is an energetic that, to my way of thinking, perfectly matches with the powerfully balancing, calming, and healing effects of herbs.

As part of a total holistic package of health and healing, I’ve found that herbal remedies are extremely effective for horses. Before we get started matching herbs with horses, however, here are a few tips to help with your matchmaking.

The power of pastures

If I had only one piece of advice I could give to all horse owners, it would be: “Let them be horses!” Natural horses are nibblers, grazing in the protective company of their buddies in the herd. Given a quality grazing space, horses can provide for their nutritional needs. And if you’ve let the pasture be a natural pasture (and haven’t overcrowded the horses), the horse will also be able to find most, if not all, of its health needs in the weeds (herbs) of the fields.

Important herbal weeds I’d expect to find in a natural pasture might include dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), plantain (Plantago spp.), mullein (Verbascum spp.), cleavers (Galium aparine), chickweed (Stellaria media), nettles (Urtica dioica), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), and any of the mints (Mentha spp.). And don’t forget that alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) also have medicinal properties.

The right dose

Remember that horses are nibblers, and it may not appear that a horse is getting much of the herbal offerings from the fields when in fact it is. I’m convinced that herbs can be extremely effective in minute, almost homeopathic doses. This is certainly what I see clinically—patients often respond to herbal doses that are far below what would be considered by the biochemists to be an effective dose of the “active” ingredients. A few nibbles of a variety of herbs, then, may be the perfect herbal antidote for most of what could possibly ail the horse.

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