Essential oils and equine pain relief

We don’t need to rely solely on pharmaceuticals to help give our horse pain relief. Age-old remedies such as essential oils are becoming more popular, and can have gentle, effective results.

Before the germ theory or the development of the microscope, man used nature’s offerings to achieve and maintain good health. The plant world provided plentiful and abundant opportunities to treat different conditions or ailments for man and animal. Hundreds of Biblical references refer to plants and their essential oils as medicine; for example, Revelations 22:2 states, “The leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations.” Communities revered the men and women who knew which plant or herb, or combinations thereof, could be used to treat different complaints or illnesses. The knowledge these “medicine men” possessed varied geographically and was passed down to only a select few.

Something old is now “new” again as essential oils have reappeared in healthcare. Today, we can dissect these oils to understand their chemical composition and how they work in the body – both human and animal. Essential oils are comprised primarily of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, some nitrogen and sulfur. Human and animal bodies are largely made up of these same elements, setting the stage for their compatibility. Much research has been devoted to understanding the different chemical constituents of essential oils and how they work for various conditions. Particularly, components such as eugenol, beta caryophyllene, alpha humulene, and carvacrol have been studied for their analgesic and pain-relieving properties. You can find many of these studies at

Top essential oils for pain relief

A number of essential oils can be used effectively for pain relief.

Lavendar has been shown to reduce pain through inhalation as well as topical application. In 1910, the French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse discovered lavender to be effective for burns when he used it after sustaining a severe burn. His pain was relieved, and he experienced rapid healing with minimal scarring.

Clove (Syzguim aromaticum) contains a high level of eugenol. Studies that look at relieving the symptoms of arthritis suggest this oil supports normal joint function and a normal inflammatory response in the body. The eugenol content causes clove oil to be considered “hot”, meaning it can be irritating when used full strength. Dilute the oil with a carrier oil for topical use. When you apply clove topically and follow it with peppermint or wintergreen oil, you create a warming, then cooling sensation. You can achieve the same effect by substituting oregano (Origanum vulgare) for the clove oil. Oregano is high in carvacrol, though, so it too is considered a “hot” oil. Oregano has also been studied for its pain-relieving properties.

Peppermint oil can be used topically, orally, or even through inhalation to ease abdominal discomfort, headaches and muscle soreness. It should be used cautiously around the face, eyes, and other sensitive mucus membrane areas due to the volatile menthol constituents in the oil. Keep a carrier oil such as olive, coconut or jojoba oil at hand to dilute the peppermint if it causes discomfort.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) has been used historically for arthritis, tendonitis, cramps, headaches and gout. The primary constituent responsible for the oil’s effects, methyl salicylate, produces salicylic acid when metabolized. This is the same metabolite that comes from acetylsalicylic acid, commonly known as aspirin. The essential oil contains up to 98% methyl salicylate, and there are many warnings about overdosing when taking this oil orally. As with all essential oils, you must be cautious about consuming wintergreen indiscriminately. Used topically, wintergreen gives a cooling and soothing effect on muscles and is often combined with other essential oils.

Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) also has a long history of use, especially in the Mediterranean. Studies show it inhibits mediators of the inflammatory response with corticoid-like effects, making this essential oil particularly useful for pain related to nerve, joint and muscle issues. For bruising and digestive pain, topical application has been clinically effective. In combination with lavender or myrrh, helichrysum is even more effective for pain stemming from sunburns or wounds.

Copaiba (Copaifera officinalis) is a relative newcomer to the essential oil world in North America. It is high in beta caryophyllene, which research suggests reduces pain and inflammation. Used alone or in combination with many of the aforementioned oils, copaiba shows excellent clinical results in reducing pain for many conditions.

Essential oils bring significant and welcome benefits to “modern medicine” for both the human and animal kingdom. As our understanding increases of how essential oils work, and the results seen clinically are documented, the possibilities for better health and wellness are endless.