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
(Published in Wellness Times, June 21, 2012) http://soundofheart.org/galacticfreepress/content/wellness-news-top-3-healing-flowers
Sweet Violets – Viola odorada
Little sweet violets are the perfect harbinger of spring, with their quiet, humble purple faces cheerfully appearing amidst their heart shaped leaves. Native to Europe, violets are now found throughout the world and are known as sweet violets, English violets, wood violets, or common violet. Traditionally, violets are considered to “gladden the heart”, and their sweet aroma and flavor are unique and so very recognizable. Often used in cosmetics and perfume, the violet is also used in both culinary and medicinal ways. Violets are often candied and used in gourmet pastries, and both the leaves and the flowers can be added to salads. Violets have been used traditionally to promote relaxed sleep and bring mental balance and good cheer. Medicinally, it’s long been used as a cough remedy, especially useful in the treatment of bronchitis. An old recipe for Violet Syrup calls for taking 1 pound of fresh violet flowers and add 2 ½ pints of boiling water. Infuse this for 24 hours in a glass vessel, and then strain the liquid. Add double the liquid weight in fine sugar, and heat it into syrup, being careful not to let it boil. This syrup can be used for both medicinal and culinary purposes.
California Poppy – Eschscholzia california
This popular perennial flower is the official state flower of California (and it is illegal to pick it wild in California). It can be found growing both wild, and in the garden. Wild, it is found throughout California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico and Texas. The leaves are a feathery blue-green, and the flower color ranges from a vibrant orange to a pale yellow. This member of the poppy family is considered to be safe and non-addictive, while still possessing some of the sedative properties of it’s far more powerful cousins. California poppy has been used widely and safely with children of all ages to help combat over-excitedness, and promote health sleep patterns. It’s also an anti-spasmodic herb, and can be used effectively to treat stomach or bowel upset or cramping. Carefully dry the aerial parts, including the stem, leaves, and flower, and make a gentle tea of a cup of boiling water poured over 1 teaspoon of the dried herb. Allow this to steep for about ten minutes, add a bit of honey, and drink this at bedtime for a night of restful sleep. Dosage is one or two cups a day, as an excess can create feelings of lethargy the next day.
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
Also known both in wild places and in the garden, yarrow is a delicate plant with feathery leaves and a beautiful head of bunches of tiny flowers. Cultivated varieties can be light or dark pink, but the best yarrow for medicinal purposes is the wild white. Yarrow has been known for centuries as a plant to assist in the healing of wounds, and was considered “the soldiers’ woundwort” for its ability to stanch the bleeding of wounds of battle. This ability led to its being named after the legendary warrior, Achilles. The Highlanders of Scotland make an wound ointment from the plant. The feathery leaves can be placed directly on a superficial cut or scrape as a “natural” band aid. Yarrow was also called “Nosebleed”; the leaves rolled up and placed in the nose are reputed to immediately stop the bleeding. Yarrow has also been traditionally used to aid the body in dealing with fevers by being a diaphoretic (creating perspiration), and is useful as a tea in early stages of colds and flu. A famous old recipes calls for equal parts yarrow, boneset, peppermint, and elder flower as the most effective anti-fever tea. It dilates the blood vessels and is effective in stimulating the digestion. The above ground parts of the plant are used, and should be harvested when the flowers are at their peak in summer. These can then be dried and used as a tea. Along with it’s many medicinal uses, yarrow has been used in many cultures as a tool of divination. The long stalks are dried and used in the I Ching, and the leaves, when placed under the pillow, are said to bring visions of one’s future spouse.
by Sara Stewart Martinelli
Searching for a good boarding facility for your horse can be overwhelming. Not only do prices usually range on a wide scale, but so do the amenities, services, and quality of the facilities. Before you even begin your search, determine what you need in the way of care and amenities. Make a list of the things that are most important to you, and determine the areas in which you might be able to settle for less.
We all want the very best for our equine friends, but sometimes our budget doesn’t cooperate with our dreams. The good news is that horses are not bothered by the same aesthetics as we often are. Their needs are much more simple, but there are some areas in which you should not compromise.
Safe Fencing, Stalls, Paddocks –
The first thing to check is the condition of the fencing, stalls, and any other building or area that your horse may be kept. Age doesn’t really matter, but condition does. Check areas for exposed nails, sharp edges on panels, or broken wires in the fencing. Horses will find ways to hurt themselves no matter what we do to protect them, but ensuring that they are safely housed, both in pasture and in the barn, is a must
Experienced, on-site Staff-
You are boarding your horse because you can’t keep him at home, so you need to be able to trust the staff at the facility to care for him. Staff should be readily available to you and willing to talk to you about your horse at any time. You need to be able to trust them to do whatever needs to be done in an emergency, and to always put the best interests of your horse first. Additional services, like blanketing, putting on fly masks, exercising and turnout are often available at higher end facilities, and you need to be sure that the staff is experience and capable at handling horses.
Good Quality Hay and Feed –
Ask to see the hay before you agree to board somewhere. Take a little time to ensure the hay is high quality, not dusty, and stored properly. Ask where the hay comes from, and how often they take delivery. You should see a nice stock of hay – avoid facilities where they are clearly only purchasing enough hay to get by. This could be a sign of financial trouble. If there is pasture turnout and your horse will be getting a portion of his nutrition from fresh grazing, you need to walk the pasture and inspect what’s growing. If your horse eats a grain ration, or additional supplements, ask in advance how the facility handles that. Some facilities will custom feed your horse whatever you ask, while others will require you to measure and bag up meal size baggies so they don’t have to do that.
Facility Maintenance –
Cleanliness of the Barn, Aisle, Stalls, and Tack Room – in addition to checking the buildings, barn aisle, pastures, and fences for safety, you should also look with a critical eye to see how the facility is maintained on a daily basis. Is it clean? Are the stalls cleaned daily? Does the tack room, and tack, look tidy and well-kept? Do things look organized and easy to find, like First Aid supplies? Are the barn aisles, grooming areas, wash racks clean, organized, and free of clutter? Observing how the facility is generally maintained can give you a good idea into the general culture of the facility. Remember, things don’t need to be fancy and new to be clean and well organized.
Fly Control –
Although some might consider this a luxury, flies can become quite a problem. Not only are they annoying to both humans and horses, but they can carry disease. A good facility will make efforts to mitigate fly problems and will practice some kinds of fly control. Clean stalls and paddocks are a must, but additional efforts like using Fly Predators or even overhead fly mist dispensers can greatly reduce the fly populations at the facility.
Secure Tack Room and Tack Storage –
“Missing” tack is a notorious problem at even the nicest boarding facilities. People often borrow your supplies, thinking you won’t mind, and then forget to put it back or replace it. Does the facility have a secure tack room where you know your supplies are safe from theft or unwanted borrowing? Is there enough storage for all your tack and supplies on site?
Don’t forget to look at the restrooms. It might not seem like a big deal until you board somewhere where they don’t have these facilities. Really. It’s not fun. Ideally, the restrooms will be clean and functional, but experience has shown that most barn restrooms are just pit stops for people who have mud and horse poop on their boots all the time. Don’t be too critical!
Good Arena Footing –
Depending on your individual needs, a fancy, indoor arena may not be necessary. Whether you are training for upper level Hunter/Jumpers or are just a weekend trail rider, you need a safe place to exercise your horse. If they have an area that is used for this, check that the footing is suitable for your riding style. Even if it’s just a flattened outdoor area with no commercial style footing, you need to make sure the area is generally safe, flat, and not slick. Check the arena, round pen, and any other area that is used as an exercise area. Ask about how it holds up to the rain; does it puddle? How long does it take for it to drain? And, on the opposite end, ask how they facility controls the dust when it’s overly dry?
Drama- Free Culture –
A larger equestrian facility can offer a lively and fun social community, but sometimes that can come with a large dose of drama. If this isn’t your thing, ask around to get a feel for the reputation of the place. Make sure that your personality will fit the culture of the facility. If you are a laid back, casual rider who just enjoys spending time with your horse, then a fancy dressage barn might not suit you. On the flip side, if you are seriously competitive and working toward specific goals, you might not be happy in a more casual facility.
This is so important that maybe it should have been number one. Although often we have to drive relatively long distances to get to a facility, you need to determine if your boarding choice is close enough that you’ll be able to get there as much as you want to. If you think that distance might ever become a reason that you have to skip going to the barn that day, you might want to look for a facility closer. Your horse would much rather spend time with you than have a fancy stall door, and you never want visiting your horse to become a burden.
Choosing a boarding facility to care for your treasured horse is hard, but with a little forethought, planning, and a critical eye, you can make the process a little easier.
This fall has been a bit challenging for the Equines at Three Leaf Farm. Everyone’s favorite character, Tip, our young Arabian gelding, was diagnosed with juvenile osteo-arthritis and had to have two hocks fused surgically. And Cricket, one of our famous minis, had to have an eye removed after months of unsuccessfully trying to heal his injured iris. Both horses went up to CSU Equine Veterinary Teaching Hospital for their procedures, and both are doing great! Tip is expected to make a full recovery and be back to his competition form by the end of the year! And little Cricket is adjusting easily to the loss of the eye; we’ve been assured by the doctors up at CSU, and by many equestrian friends who’ve experience similar issues, that horses are perfectly happy with a single eye and they can go on to live a normal, healthy and happy life. Cricket is expected to be up to his antics with his partner, Merlin, within the next week or so.
We are so grateful to the doctors and technicians at CSU who took such good care of our horses (and us!) through this process. We’re so fortunate to have a top-notch, cutting-edge university equine hospital so nearby.
Well, its a done deal! Blue and her chosen stallion, Bit, have successfully completed the act (with a little help) and now we are in the waiting stage to see if it all worked as planned. The entire experience was not nearly as traumatic as I thought it would be, and the part that made it easier is that it was obvious that Blue was receptive.
Bit, of course, performed his duties with equine grace and virility, and the whole process seemed pretty natural.
The general plan is to take the mare to the stallion every other day while she is in heat. This gives more opportunity for the mare to have viable sperm in her reproductive tract at the time that she ovulates. As soon as she ovulates, she will go out of heat.
Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately), we were only able to get one successful breeding in this cycle. Due to a long horse show, and the week-long rains, we might have missed the beginning of Blue’s heat cycle since we were unable to see her behavior in the normal herd (she was kept in her stall). The second time we brought Blue to visit Bit, she wanted nothing to do with him. She had clearly completed her heat cycle, meaning that she had ovulated. Timing wise, we can be almost certain that she did, then, have viable sperm in her when she ovulated. Now we wait to see if she goes into heat again. If she does, then that means that she is not pregnant. If we don’t see any signs of another heat cycle within 21 – 28 days, we’ll get an ultrasound for her and then we will know!
We’ve decided that Blue’s experience was kind of personal, and in order to show her respect, we aren’t going to post any pics of it. But here’s a great photo of Blue learning to play polo with Finn!
Blue had her “checkup” today. The vet needs to check to make sure that she is healthy and that she has no infection or problem with her uterus. What I learned : horses are big inside! The vet had to reach all the way into poor Blue (who was gently sedated for this intrusive procedure).
Equine Vet Dr. Downey cultures Blue to make sure she is safe to breed.
In the meantime, I blended Blue a special Pre-Natal Herbal mix. The herbs I used are tonic herbs to the reproductive system, and will hopefully prevent major problems and improve general health to prepare Blue for the hard work of growing a foal. The blend includes:
Raspberry Leaf (Rubus ssp) – Raspberry leaf has been used during pregnancy for centuries and is known as one of nature’s strongest allies to nourish and strengthen the muscles of the pelvic region, and especially of the uterus. It’s high in Vitamins C, E, A, and B, and is rich in minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorous and potassium. Its been known to increase fertility and prevents miscarriage. It can ease morning sickness and other digestive issues during pregnancy. During foaling and post partum, it can ease labor by strengthen the uterine muscles, helps to increase milk production, and improves the process of expelling the afterbirth.
Nettle Leaf (Urtica dioca) – This rich, nourishing tonic is a valuable to whole body health. Highly rich in vitamins and minerals, the herb increases health to numerous areas of the body in a safe, gentle manner perfect for pregnancy. Like raspberry, it helps to increase fertility. Nettles will nourish both the mare and the foal, and strengthens the blood vessels which prevents hemorrhage after foaling. Nettles also help increase milk production and the nutritive value of the milk.
Dandelion Leaf (Taraxacum officinale) – Dandelion is one of natures most useful weeds, and can be especially useful during pregnancy due to it’s ability to aid the body in eliminating toxins by supporting the liver and kidneys, and also as a mild diuretic that can help prevent edema, water retention, and hypertension. Dandelion is considered one of the five most nutritious vegetables on earth and all parts of the plant are edible.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) – One of my all time favorite plants, Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. Lemon balm is a safe and gentle relaxing herb that can help alleviate anxiety and create a feeling of calm content. It’s an excellent addition to a pregnancy blend because in addition to it’s calming properties, it’s also one of nature’s strongest antiviral herbs.
Blue will get a cup of this herb blend in the morning, and a cup at night. I like to add it to a little bit of soaked beet pulp to add moisture to the herbs and make them more delicious, but she seems to love them dry just as much.
The final blend: 1 lb raspberry leaf, 1 lb nettle leaf, 1/4 lb dandelion leaf, 1/4 lb lemon balm.