By Sara Stewart Martinelli
This post was originally posted on the blog of the Boulder County Horse Association
Many of us are searching for ways to increase the use of natural products in our lives. Sometimes we forget that some of the simplest and most basic household products offer a wide range of uses in our favorite sanctuary: The Barn.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is one of the most useful things to stash in the barn and can be used for a multitude of purposes. Horses also seem to love the taste, though some take a little longer to embrace it. It’s high in potassium and minerals, so adding a little to feed or water is beneficial and offers a nutritional boost. When added to water it also destroys harmful bacteria, and can help improve the flavor of the water, enticing your horse to drink more. Internally, it helps to improve digestive function. Externally, it can be used on all kinds of skin conditions, including scurf and dry patches. It will neutralize bacteria on the skin and coat and will bring out the natural shine of your horse’s coat. It can also be used as a natural fly spay. (Try infusing it with one of the herbs in the section below). On the hoof, it can help prevent and minimize thrush.
How to use it: the recommended dosage is about 1 cup in a 50-gallon water tank, or about ¼ cup in feed a day. For skin and coat conditions, dilute the vinegar in a ratio of 1:1 with water and apply directly to the affected area.
Flax seed is high in omega 3 oils, which is one of the few vegetable sources of this essential fatty acid that cannot be synthesized in the body. Adding flax to your horse’s diet can improve a wide range of health issues, including reducing inflammation in joints and connective tissues, skin, coat and hoof issues, general stamina, condition, and athleticism, and reducing excitability.
It’s believed that it can improve the recovery time from injury or exercises by allowing faster removal of toxic metabolites. Flax helps to regulate thyroid function and is highly nutritive. It is high in mucilage and soluble fiber, so it helps to hydrate the digestive tract and can help to prevent impaction colic. Essential fatty acids have been shown to improve respiratory conditions and help to fortify the skin, coat, and hooves
Many sources will tell you that you need to freshly grind flax seeds daily to ensure freshness and complete absorption. However, research done shows that although some seeds are still seen in manure when fed whole, the majority of them are completely used in the digestive tract. New manufacturing methods now offer flax that is ground in a way to reduce its propensity to go rancid, and it can be purchased in bulk livestock grade to reduce cost.
How to use it? Flax should be gradually introduced into the horse’s diet over the course of a week or two, allowing the digestive tract to adapt to the newly added fat. Start with about ¼ cup per feeding, and gradually increase this over a two-week period until you are feeding up to ½ cup per feeding (maximum 1 cup per day). Check with your veterinarian for accurate amounts to feed and to ensure that flax is suitable for your horse.
Herbs for Fly Control
There are a number of herbs and flowers that can be planted around the barn to help keep flies to a minimum. Lavender (Lavendula ssp), Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and Marigolds (Tagetes ssp) are just some of the plants that can be used to provide both beauty and insect control. In addition to planting them near the barn and pastures, cuttings of these can be cut, tied together, and hung throughout the barn as attractive fly repellents. (Keep out of reach of horses, though. The horses will eat them, and although not toxic, if they eat the bundles, then you won’t be able to repel flies!) Dried, powdered herbs can be sprinkled in the stalls to help control flies and mosquitos.
Baking soda is a great option for all the scents and odors that happen in the barn. Use it as a natural stall deodorizer by sprinkling on the ground lightly when you muck. For added power, include some dried, powdered herbs from the section above for both scent and fly control.
Baking soda can also be made into a paste with a little water to use as cleaner for stall doors, walls, and feeders, as well as metal horse bits. To clean grooming tools, add 1 cup of baking soda in a bucket of water, and soak your tools overnight. Rinse well in the morning. Baking soda can also be used to deodorize horse blankets in the laundry. Add about a cup to the laundry water. An open box of baking soda can be placed in tack trunks to keep away odors.
Finally, a little paste made of baking soda is a great remedy for bugs bites for both horses and humans, and will help with both itching and inflammation.
Coconut oil has been shown to be safe for use for horses both internally and externally. Coconut oil has many benefits and is a perfect thing to be kept in the barn for everyday use. It has many antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, so it’s a great, quick salve for minor scrapes and bites. It can be used directly on the mane and tail to provide deep conditioning (although avoid use right before needing to braid, it can make the hair so silky that the braids don’t stick). Use coconut oil as a hoof conditioner too – you can rub it directly on the hooves to moisturize dry, cracked hooves. Dry skin patches can be treated with coconut oil, and it can be useful in cases of rain rot as well as bacterial or fungal infections on the skin. Internally, coconut oil is an energy dense supplement and are believed to provide energy without affecting behavior. It can be used to support immune function and regulate blood sugar levels and metabolism. It may help to improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, and many horses like the taste so it entices them to eat.
How to use it: if you choose to add coconut oil to your horses feed ration, start small. Mix ¼ cup into their grain, and gradually increase to ½ cup per day over a week or so. Coconut oil tends to be very stable at room temperature, so unlike flax, it will resist going rancid for several months. There are also commercially made, powdered coconut oil supplements available for horses too. Remember, check with your veterinarian before adding any supplement to your horse’s diet.
The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bariraci Levy, Faber and Faber, Inc., London, 1952
Complete Holistic Care and Healing for Horses, by Mary L. Brennan, DVM, Trafalgar Square Publishing, Vermont, 2001
A Healthy Horse the Natural Way: A Horse Owner’s Guide to Using Herbs, Massage, Homeopathy, and Other Natural Therapies by Catherine Bird, The Lyons Press, 2002
Horse Care: Natural and Herbal Remedies for Horses by Dr. A Nyland, 2015
A Modern Horse Herbal by Hillary Page Self, Kenilworth Press, 2004