The nitty gritty science behind how your horse benefits from smelling essential oils.

Inhaling the aroma of an essential oil allows your horse to benefit from the therapeutic properties of that particular plant essence. Using essential oils aromatically actually involves a lot of chemistry between the essential oil and the horse's brain and other body systems. Today we are going to take a deeper look at the science of using therapeutic grade essential oils aromatically. But don't let the word science scare you! We make learning fun and easy ;)

Having a collection of great quality essential oils is one thing, figuring out when and why to use them is another. 
There are three main ways to use them: aromatically, topically and internally. Here we are going to talk about what happens inside your horse's body when she inhales them. We are also going to address various beliefs behind using this method. 

Once you are familiar with the science of using essential oils aromatically, check out our other amazing article on how to use essential oils on around your horse using this easy and beneficial method. Just click here to read it! 

Oils for Horses Pony PointsPony Points

  1. Using essential oils aromatically means inhaling the oil's vapour. Essential oils are highly volatile and no heat is required or recommended to change the oil from a liquid to a vapour. 
  2. Essential oil molecules affect the limbic system by entering the nose and interacting with olfactory sensors that take messages to the brain. 
  3. Some molecules of the essential oil will also make it to the lungs and are then absorbed into the blood stream and transported throughout the body.
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How your horse's body reacts to smelling essential oils

Just like with people, when your horse smells an essential oil, the brain has an almost instantaneous response.

When essential oils enter the nose, the oil is in its gaseous form. Some of the tiny molecules become attached to the olfactory receptors in the upper and mid to back part of the nasal cavity. This links directly to your horse’s brain. The contact creates an electrical response which travels through the nerves and fibers that make up the olfactory system.  

Now the electrical impulses created by the essential oils are intensified in the brain and sent on to the limbic system. 
The limbic system is responsible for a whole host of things, including emotions, memories and controlling the endocrine system. The endocrine system in turn is responsible for regulating hormones and the nervous system. 

Having such direct access to the limbic system is wonderful but it comes with responsibilities. For maximum health benefits and to minimize unwanted side effects, you need to know the quality of your oils, the correct oil species needed for the effect you are looking for, the quantity to use and the style of diffusion best suited for your situation. For more information on the importance of purity when it comes to essential oils, please read our article here

Some oils that are inhaled make it past this initial mucous trap in the nasal cavity and into to the lungs. 
In the lungs, the essential oils have three pathways:
  1. Some of the essential oil is directly absorbed into the blood stream. 
  2. Some  of the essential oil will simply be exhaled 
  3. A small portion of the essential oil combines with mucus for a therapeutic effect. Veterinarian Melissa Shelton, DMV suggests that the body’s metabolism and/or excretion from the lungs is her favourite part of the science of inhaling essential oils. Basically, she explains how the molecules can become stuck in the mucous of the lining of the lungs and the cilia (tiny hairs) work to literally push the trapped oil molecule back up the trachea (wind pipe). Eventually this is successful and then, what Dr. Melissa Shelton terms as “Therapeutic Mucus”, is swallowed into the stomach! This is admittedly in very tiny amounts but she still feels this has beneficial qualities.

It's easy to use essential oils aromatically

Aromatic use of essential oils is facilitated rather easily because the liquid form of a oil readily transitions to the gaseous state when exposed to air. There is no heat needed to get it to change its state of matter. Their volatile nature, light weight and small size of molecules creates an easy method of use. 

How to prevent unnecessary evaporation of essential oils

When using oils aromatically, work has been done by the fragrance industry to label the oils in accordance with their volatility or how fast they disperse into the air. This is a delicate science and useful to these companies when making compounds to use as perfume. The goal is to balance the initial smell with the aroma that is there after various amounts of time have passed. 

Evaporation rates are not as important for our use of oils at this point, though it is something to think about in the future, especially if you plan on making essential oil blends. 

For now you can just be aware of this fact;
If you leave the bottle open, the top note of your essential oil (e.g. lemon) will evaporate very quickly. This means that when you're done puttering around in the barn, you will come back to a bottle with less oil than when you it. 
Tip: When not using your oils, keep the lids on tightly or you will be inadvertently using your precious essential oils aromatically!

We hope you found the science of using essential oils aromatically both revealing and interesting! Please reply in the comments below and let us know which essential oil you currently use aromatically or which essential oil you would like to learn more about! What was your biggest take away from this article? Also feel free to email us at!

With love,

Amanda and Daniela 

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Melissa Shelton DVM, The Animal Desk Reference II Essential Oils for Animals (Melissa Shelton, September 2018)

Carole Faith, Essential Oils for Horses A Source Book for Practitioners and Owners (J. A. Allen, 2002)

Nayana Morag, Essential Oils for Animals (Off The Leash Press, 2011)

Peter Holmes Lac MH, Aromatica Volume 2 (Singing Dragon, 2019)

The Essential Life 6th Edition (Total Wellness Publishing, 2019)

Modern Essentials 8th Edition (Aroma Tools, 2016)

Advanced Oil Magic (Oil Magic Publishing, 2019)

dōTERRA, Essential Oil Specialist course (dōTERRA , 2020)

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