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Can aromatherapy calm competition horses?

April 26, 2017

Although studies suggest that inhaling certain scents may reduce stress in humans, aromatherapy is relatively unexplored in veterinary medicine. But new research presented today at the American Physiological Society (APS) annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2017 in Chicago raises the question of whether aromatherapy may be beneficial to horses as well.

Transporting competition horses from one location to another is often disturbing to the animals. The loud noises and confined spaces of a horse trailer and unfamiliar territory of a new venue may cause an increase in heart rate and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Stress may also provoke unpredictable behaviors such as running and an unwillingness to perform. Stress reduction therapies are highly regulated among competition horses, which often rules out the use of sedatives and herbal treatments.

Albion College student Kylie Heitman observed eight horses across two trips in horse trailers. During each trip, the horses were individually hauled for 15 minutes. In one trial, the animals were exposed to an air diffusion of lavender oil during transport. In the other, the horses received a diffusion of distilled water. Heitman measured heart rate and blood cortisol levels before and after each animal's hauling. She found that cortisol levels were significantly lower when the horses were exposed to lavender. She also found a small, yet not statistically significant, decrease in the post-transport heart rate when the horses were exposed to lavender. The horses' heart rate increased slightly after spending time in the trailer without aromatherapy. These results warrant more study into lavender as another means for stress reduction in competition horses.
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Kylie Heitman, an undergraduate student at Albion College, will present "The Use of Equine Lavender Aromatherapy to Suppress Stress" in a poster session on Wednesday, April 26, from 12:30 to 2:15 p.m. CDT in the Skyline Ballroom of the McCormick Place Convention Center.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: To schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact the APS Communications Office or 301-634-7209. Find more research highlights in the APS Press Room.

About Experimental Biology 2017

Experimental Biology is an annual meeting comprised of more than 14,000 scientists and exhibitors from six sponsoring societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the United States and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research. http://www.experimentalbiology.org

About the American Physiological Society (APS)

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents more than 10,500 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.

Experimental Biology 2017

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