Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Allison Price
They are said to be able to heal wounds, repel flies, and make horses’ coats shiny. Are homemade remedies reliable? Or are they a recipe for disaster? Let’s take a look at some home-made horse care solutions and see how they work.
You have tried everything you can to help your horse with his scratchy skin. You’re frustrated that your horse is still racked with scratches. You’re tempted to try a home remedy that a friend has used with great success. You can’t go wrong with it, right?
It might not. It could even provide relief for your horse. However, it can make your horse’s symptoms worse and cause new problems. We will examine 10 situations in which homemade remedies have been used. Horse & Rider contributor Karen Hayes, veterinarian and veterinarian, will discuss why or not the remedy is effective and provide some suggestions and treatment options. We will also examine remedies that have been around for generations (“Tried & True”) and warn about common horse treatment (“Proceed with Caution” below). We’ll also look at some of the more bizarre remedies that horsemen created to cure their horses (“Don’t try this at home”), just to give you a glimpse of how far horse care has advanced.
Always consult your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. Before you try any home remedies, make sure to ask.
Problem Sarah’s 16 year-old Quarter Horse Wisk is not sweating in the summer heat. He has anhidrosis. This is a condition that causes horses to not sweat when exercising or increasing their body temperature. He is not only uncomfortable, but also has compromised health.
Reader Solution: A friend suggested that he drink a pint Guinness beer once per day in the summer. She says it’s an old racetrack trick that helps him sweat.
Vet’s View: It is not as impossible as it seems. There is no proven treatment for anhidrosis. However, anecdotal reports of horses receiving supplemental vitamin C and one of the B-vitamins can show an 80 percent success rate. The more refined and filtered beers have a lower level of vitamins. However, Guinness, Guinness, and Guinness, contain good levels of these vitamins. Similar “cures” for anhidrotic horses have been reported. They are kept from the heat and humidity for at least one month. They are then allowed to exercise during this time or are restricted from working at night. Is it better to give your horse a break from heat and humidity or a cold one? I would start with the break. If he will drink the beer, it shouldn’t hurt… so long as it is in moderation.
Problem: Lynn brought Ty her Paint horse, Ty, into the rain. She noticed that Ty’s hair was standing up in a particular area and it felt warm. He was also sensitive to touch. Lynn noticed that he had sensitive scabs the next day. This was due to Dermatophilus Spp. bacteria, which is common on horse hair. The organism can multiply in humid conditions and rain, which can irritate the hair follicles of horses with the condition.
Reader Remedies: Her trainer suggested a homemade remedy of equal parts Listerine (and baby oil) Lynn applies the mixture to the affected areas. It seems to work.
Vet’s View: I think that the recipe is on track. However, it could be improved. Listerine is made up of alcohol which can cause irritation to your horse’s skin. Rain rot is caused by an organism that exploits the fact that horse skin that is waterlogged is immune-compromised. Inflaming that skin can make it more susceptible to infection. My clients have requested a milder mixture that, while it is messy, works well. In a large bowl, combine a 16-ounce container of mineral oil (baby oil works well), a 16 ounce bottle 3 percent USP hydroperoxide and a half-ounce of tincture iodine. Apply the oil to the affected areas. Let it sit for at least 24 hours. It will soften the scabs and soothe the skin. Next day, wash your horse with mild shampoo. Dry the area in the sun. NOTE – Do not store this mixture in a sealed container. It will explode and bubble up.
Problem Several weeks of spring rain and thaw make the barn muddy. Jeri’s Morgan, 8 years old, loves standing in the muddiest place in the pasture, which seems to be a favorite spot for his fetlocks. She notices that he is a bit sore when she takes him in to wash him. He also has cracked and scabby areas around his heels. Her vet diagnosed scratches (also known as greasy heel cracks or foot rot) as an equine bacterial infection.
Reader Remedies: Jeri hears from another rider about a treatment that worked for her horse, and it was as simple as going to the grocery store. The deli mixture is applied to the affected area and wrapped in plastic wrap. She washes her leg and dries it well.
Vet’sView: While I would prefer to see sauerkraut on Reuben sandwiches, I can understand how this strange treatment might work. The high vinegar content of sauerkraut helps skin achieve a lower pH (more acids), which is generally healthier for skin. A slightly acidic environment can also be inhospitable to various fungal organisms. It is unlikely that someone with a real case of scratch would respond to this treatment. It is known that scratches is a persistent, long-lasting condition that can be difficult to treat with any therapy. My energy would be directed at getting the horse onto dry, high ground to ensure that his skin doesn’t become waterlogged or filthy.
Splints Caused Lameness
Problem Mary’s 3-year old Thoroughbred Thoroughbred, Clockwork has been diagnosed as having splints. This is an injury caused by a horse tearing the connective bone between the splint and cannon bones. She is concerned about his lameness and wondering what she can do to help him when he gets sore. An old friend, who has been with horses for many years, tells her of an old-time remedy. She decides to try it.
Reader Remedies: Combine 1 gallon of apple cider vinegar, 1 jar of alum for pickling and 1 small bottle oil of wintergreen. Apply liberally to the affected areas. Use a standing bandage.
Vet’s View: The pain and swelling caused by a simple splint are usually intermittent and will resolve over time. It doesn’t really matter what, if any, you do to the splint – it’ll “work!”
Problem: Julie and her horses are being driven crazy by a plague of nasty flies. She doesn’t believe her fly spray works, or it’s wearing too fast.
Reader Remedies: Julie discovers a recipe for homemade fly spray online and decides she will give it a go. This recipe combines apple cider vinegar, dish detergent and salad oil. The reaction of her horses to the mixture is not favorable. It seems that the horses react more to the mixture than the flies.
Vet’s View: It is easy to see why this concoction did not bring about a happy ending. Apple cider vinegar may be beneficial because it is acidic. Skin is more likely to respond well to acidic products. If you have ever used dish detergent to wash your body, and then left it on for too long without washing it off, you will know how irritating it can be. Salad oil is a fly food so it’s not something you should add to your efforts to repel pests. Citronella essential oils have been shown to repel insects. However, too much oil can cause irritation. Even more irritating is the fact that Julie used citronella oil for her backyard torch.
Problem: Melinda’s Appaloosa filly Mars jumped into a gate sideways and got a severe cut on her cannon bone. Instead of it healing properly, it’s being filled with pink, fleshy tissue known as “proud flesh”.
Reader Solution: Melinda is familiar with two methods to treat proud flesh. One is using Preparation H, which is a human remedy; the second is using a handful dry, granulated sugar. She is curious if either one or both will help.
Vet’s View: You need to prevent proud flesh from getting outof control. The first is cleanliness. You must keep the wound clean and dry. The second is to avoid irritation. Anything that can irritate proud flesh tissue will stimulate it to grow. Light pressure is the third requirement. This should be about the same pressure as normal skin. A homemade solution of 1 teaspoon table salt and 1 cup of distilledwater is the best way to clean a wound at home. Preparation H is a good option once the wound has healed. It is made up of mineral oil, shark liver oil, and petrolatum. These oils soothe and protect the skin, as well as phenylephrine, which constricts the superficial blood vessels and slows down the growth of proud flesh. Preparation H should be used on a wound that has been filled with granulation tissue, which is the source of proud flesh. Petrolatum and mineral oils could seep into open wounds and cause problems with healing. A few tablespoons of sugar can kill bacteria but it can cause irritation to the tissues so I don’t recommend it. Depending on the type of wound, I may apply a bandage to the area. I will keep it closed until the skin heals.
Problem Kim has a 5-year old grade gelding named Bear that has a vertical crack running along his front hoof. The crack is growing up her front hoof and she has been trying to get rid of it. Bear isn’t wearing shoes and she doesn’t show any signs of it.
Reader Solution: Kim goes to the hardware shop to pick up some Gorilla Glue in an effort to avoid having to shoe Bear. Although the crack is open, it’s not large enough to cause any damage to sensitive materials. She seals the crack with glue. The crack is sealed tightly the next day.
Vet’s View. This might work but it could be dangerous if there is contamination in the crack. It will seal the crack and prevent it from becoming infected. Kim should consult her vet before taking the bull by its horns.
Problem Bill’s 9 year old Arabian, Jewel, has mild colic but frequent episodes. In the hopes of reducing her colic frequency, he will add a supplement to her food.
Reader Remedies: He gives his vet approval and gives her half a cup of aloe vera juice every morning and evening.
Vet’s View: I worry about most colic home remedies because you must first understand why your horse is colic and then treat it. Aloe vera is said to calm upset stomachs, but horses who colic frequently aren’t suffering from an underlying problem.
These long-standing, respected remedies are still available in barns.
114 years old: Absorbine Liniment
Wilbur Fenelon, a former piano salesman, developed a blend of essential oils and herbs that could reduce the discomfort and swelling in horses without blistering. Mary Ida, his wife, and Wilbur Fenelon Young created Absorbine Vet Liniment in a tub inside their farmhouse kitchen.
Uses : A mild analgesic for sore muscles and minor cuts. It also acts as an antifungal bodywash. It prevents sole and hoof infections.
107 Years Old: Bag Balm
John L. Norris purchased the formula for Bag Balm in 1899 from its creator, who was located in Wells River (Vt). This salve was originally made to soothe cow udders. It quickly made its way into horseman’s toolkits, and eventually to human medicine cabinets. Shania Twain reportedly loves it.
Uses Bag balm is made of petrolatum, oil, lanolin and some antiseptic. This is a great emollient, protectant, but it’s not recommended for open wounds.
100 Years Old: Corona Ointment
Corona was developed in 1906 by dairy farmers outside Kenton, Ohio to protect their cows from the cold.
Uses : The popularity of the ointment meant that more people started to use it to treat hoof and saddle sores, and eventually cracked and chapped hands.
68 years old: Shapley’s M-T–G
Henry E. Shapley, a Waterloo barber, created a product to treat dandruff, and psoriasis in 1938. His formula quickly became Shapley’s Original Mane-Tail Groom (a typical horse lover’s formula).
Uses: A leave-in conditioner/detangler; also a dermatitis treatment for a variety of skin problems including: fungus, rain rot, girth itch, scratches, dandruff, and tail rubbing. Before applying the conditioner to your horse’s hair, always test it in a small area.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
It is crucial to use the correct remedy at the right time and in the right manner. These treatments can either be very effective or they can cause more harm than good. Before you apply them to your horse, make sure you are familiar with how they work.
Caution – Do not apply to new wounds or areas
You may get a bruise or hemorhage. DMSO can cause bleeding to worsen and may even lead to a large hematoma. DMSO can be rapidly absorbed through skin. It can also “carry” certain compounds. Therefore, it is important to be careful about what you mix with DMSO. Only apply it to skin that has been cleansed of any liniments, blisters or other ingredients.
Use for Thrush
Caution : Some people apply it to flesh wounds. Don’t! It is toxic and irritating, and can cause damage to delicate tissue.
Cold Water for Hosing Off Wounds
Use to clean wounds and reduce swelling
Caution: Too harsh water can cause damage to already damaged tissues. If the tissue is irrigated for too long, it can cause damage and worsen the chances of healing. Your veterinarian should be contacted if a wound is not visible after 10 minutes of gentle irrigation.
Peroxide for Wounds
Use to clean and oxygenate a wound.
Caution: Peroxide can cause irritation to some tissues and burn the more delicate tissues if it is used frequently. Peroxide’s bubbles can cause contamination to be pushed down into deeper tissue channels, making a superficial wound into an abscess. Ask your vet if peroxide is the right choice for your particular wound.
Duct tape as the outer bandage for leg wounds
Holding a bandage in position.
Caution: Duct Tape has no stretch and can cause damage to delicate leg structures.
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME
You may find some of the most bizarre and absurd remedies from the past making you smile, laugh, or feel compassion for horses who tried these concoctions.
- Hold a saucer filled with turpentine above the horse’s navel. The founder will “suck it up”, and he’ll be cured in 24 hours.
- To treat laminitis, bleed your horse with one gallon of water. Then rub your forelegs with raw linseed oils.
- To treat heaves, put 1 teaspoonful oil tar on your tongue. Followed by grain to “help transport the tar into the stomach”.
- Tapeworms: Turpentine mixed in egg yolks and camphor.
- Mix hops with carbolic acid in boiling hot water to create strangles For 20 minutes, let horse inhale steam. Give your horse mash and boiled veggies.
- To colic: Force-feed the hornet’s nest.