Horses can find transportation stressful, and risk injuring themselves if they become restless or agitated during the journey.
Could aromatherapy help calm horses in potentially stressful situations?
Kylie Heitman and colleagues in the Department of Science, Albion College, Albion, MI looked to see if aromatherapy with lavender had a beneficial effect on stress in transported horses.
Eight horses were chosen for the study. Each undertook a 15 minute trailer ride, with or without lavender aromatherapy.
To assess the horses’ stress levels, the research team recorded the horses’ heart rates and measured cortisol in blood samples, before, immediately after the trailer ride and after a recovery period (50 minutes after completing the ride.)
During the ride, horses were exposed to either Lavender aromatherapy (LA) or water (control). Each horse completed the ride twice on separate occasions, with either LA or water, and so acted as its own control.
As expected, horses showed an increase in heart rate and cortisol levels in response to the trailer ride.
Lavender aromatherapy did not reduce heart rate in transported horses. However, the researchers did find that trailered horses had significantly lower blood cortisol levels when transported with lavender aromatherapy compared with the water control.
They conclude “Overall, our results show that cortisol levels were suppressed in stressed horses that received lavender aromatherapy. These conclusions partially support the original hypothesis that lavender aromatherapy has positive effects on horses during a stressful situation. Cortisol was the only parameter that was lowered in horses that were subjected to lavender aromatherapy during a stressor.
They suggest that follow-up studies should include additional stress biomarkers, different essential oils, and should examine how aromatherapy can affect baseline values without a stressor.
For more details, see:
The Use of Lavender Aromatherapy to Relieve Stress in Trailered Horses
Kylie Heitman, Bradley Rabquer, Eric Heitman, Craig Streu, Paul Anderson
Journal of Equine Veterinary Science (2018) 63, p8