Professor proves lavender essential oil calms horses

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Many horse owners reach for lavender essential oil to ease their own stress. Now, there’s proof that it works on equines, too!

Stress is a common concern in horses. Now, thanks to research conducted at the University of Arizona, horse owners have a natural remedy that’s proven to help manage equine stress – and it’s one they might already use on themselves! The researchers, led by undergraduate Isabelle Chea and her professor Ann Baldwin, discovered that when horses inhale lavender essential oil from a diffuser, their stress levels were significantly reduced.

While other studies have tested the effects of aromatherapy in horses exposed to a stressor, such as trailering, none have attempted to measure its impact on horses in a normal state. In the study, nine dressage horses of varying breeds and ages were led to a small paddock. The researchers tracked each horse’s heart rate and heart rate variability before, during and after a diffuser containing lavender essential oil was held near the horse’s nose.

Heart rates didn’t change, but a component of heart rate variability did. “One of the parameters of heart rate variability is RMSSD, and that represents parasympathetic input, which is the relaxation part of the autonomic nervous system,” says Baldwin. “If RMSSD goes up, that indicates the horse is relaxed. We found that when the horses were sniffing the lavender, RMSSD significantly increased compared to baseline.” They repeated the experiment with water vapor and chamomile, but neither produced a similar affect.

Baldwin adds that a diffuser isn’t needed to recreate this result in your own barn – just rub a few drops in your hands and let your horse sniff!