Choosing the Best Poultice for your Horse
Poultices have been used for healing over thousands of years; in fact, we can consider poultices to be one of the earliest forms of topical medicine.
The most popular poultice used throughout history is mud. The ancient Egyptians used honey, tree resin, meat and lard for poultices. The early Chinese dynasties used herbs and foods like carrots, bran, mustard, capsicum, opium, and ginger. American Indians made poultices from clays, and added plants including onions, pumpkins, bloodroot and red clover.
For hundreds of years, horse owners have used mud and clays as poultices for their horses’ legs and hooves.
How do poultices work?
Poultices assist the flow of debris out of an injured area, they can help increase circulation, and the clays like smectite can help remove excess fluid. This allows fresh tissue fluid to circulate into the area, bringing protective blood cells, nutrients, and oxygen to the site.
Clay is clay…isn’t it?
Most modern commercially available poultices are made with clay. However, not all clays are alike. They also do not all work the same. Some clays absorb, while other clays adsorb, and some clays do both.
Absorbing and adsorbing actions of clay
Clays with absorbing properties expand when wet. They act like a sponge to soak up toxins. Common absorbing clay are green Illite clay, red Moroccan clay, sea clay, bentonite clay, and kaolin clay.
Clays with adsorbing properties contain molecules that adhere to the surface of another substance. In essence adsorbing clays act like a magnet, pulling positively charged toxins to them. Common adsorbing clays are the smectite clay family including Fuller’s Earth, montmorillonite, and bentonite clay.
Bentonite clay can both absorb and adsorb.
The art of the poultice
Traditionally, poultices are made by hand. Modern poultices have become commodities that are mass-produced and blended in stainless steel industrial mixers.
What’s wrong with industrial mixers?
Clays with adsorbing properties (the smectite clay family including bentonite) have an electromagnetic charge that will act on the metal. This reduces the action of the clay when applied to skin. Metal does not render the clay useless, but it does reduce the osmotic benefits.
Essential oils, and herbs are important cofactors
The right combination of essential oils or herbs can augment the healing process of an injury and be more beneficial than clay alone.
If you need stronger anti-inflammatory or anti-bacterial effects then choose a poultice that combines clay with therapeutic essential oils and plants.
However, if you are using a leg poultice as you would a liniment or brace on your horse’s legs after training, a plain bentonite clay will work.
Many premixed commercial poultices for horses provide a single clay, such as bentonite or kaolin.
However, bentonite or kaolin clay can be blended with an absorbing clay like sea clay, Moroccan clay or French green clay to increase the anti- inflammatory and rejuvenating properties these clays provide.
Some clays like bentonite can be irritating if used alone, so blended clays are often beneficial for horses with sensitive skin.
The tradition of wound poultices goes back thousands of years. A wound poultice combined with antibiotic and anti-fungal medication can speed wound healing.
For a deep, open wound, use a wound poultice around the affected area, but not in the wound itself. Apply the poultice around the outside of the wound and surrounding tissues. Use topical antiseptic and antibiotics in the wound.
A poultice for wounds does not need to be wrapped. Just apply and let the poultice draw and then dry. Clean and reapply 2-3 times per day as needed. Often after 2 applications of poultice you will see a noticeable reduction in swelling.
For abrasions, summer sores, scratches, nicks and bruises you can apply a wound poultice directly on the area. You do not need to wrap.
Ingredients to look for in a wound poultice:
- Colloidal silver for its antibacterial properties
- Calendula for its anti-fungal and antiseptic properties
- Frankincense assists in reducing scar formation and wound persistence
- Myrrh provides wound contraction ability through the proliferation of epithelial cells and anti-inflammatory effects
Other helpful wound poultice ingredients:
- Lobelia for pain
- Slippery Elm to reduce inflammation
- Comfrey provides the protein allantoin to help promote wound healing
- Goldenseal a natural antibiotic
Hoof packing and hoof poultices
If you are treating a hoof abscess, you want a warming poultice to draw out the infection. You can make one at home with Epsom salts and bran mixed together with hot (but not boiling) water. The consistency should be like porridge. Use 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt to 1 liter of water and then add bran. You can add a few drops of Tea Tree Oil for its antimicrobial properties. For this poultice you do need to wrap to maintain the drawing properties.
For sore soles, use a bentonite clay with another absorbing clay such as sea clay. Commercial poultices that contain arnica extract are beneficial for sore soles. Plantain leaf powder is a time-honored herb for sore feet. You can mix it with some dry clays such as bentonite and kaolin, and add apple cider vinegar to get a nice, thick consistency.
Leg and muscle poultices
Poultices can be applied to a horse’s legs after workout or competition to reduce strain and inflammation.
Liniments work on the principle of cooling. Poultices work on the principle of drawing out fluids from an area.
If your horse needs compression support, apply the poultice to his legs, and wrap. You can use soaked brown paper over the poultice, then standing wraps. This prevents stocking up.
If your horse doesn’t need compression, just apply poultice to the leg and don’t wrap it. Let the poultice dry, and then either brush off the dried poultice or wash it off. One of the advantages of not wrapping a leg poultice is that you can turn your horse out with the poultice on, giving your horse’s legs the additional circulatory support of moving around the paddock.
Supportive ingredients in leg poultices:
Witch hazel has a long history of use for bruises, sprains and joints.
Oregano oil helps reduce inflammation. It is commonly used in human therapeutic massage oil blends.
Arnica is a member of the sunflower family. The plant and extract have been popular topical remedies in Germany for hundreds of years. Recommended for bruising, swelling, and sprains.
Apple cider vinegar has been used for centuries, dating back to Hippocrates. It provides antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Comfrey provides anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. It was traditionally used for injuries and bruising by placing whole comfrey leaves over the affected area. In old herbal books it is called Knitbone for its ability to heal broken bones.
The earth element of poultice
Clays are earth elements. Clay is created during the cycle of rock formation. The composition of clays includes macro and micro minerals, and silicates (salts which contain silicon and oxygen). Clays such as bentonite are actually formed from volcanic ash.
Animals and humans have a particular resonance with earth elements for healing. Earth elements act as purifiers, connecting us to the Earth’s forces and energies.
Potters who work with clay often describe a spiritual connection and therapeutic result from working with clay.
Applying a poultice can give us a grounding feeling, a connection with the earth. The clay is pliable, moving to our wishes. In our fast-paced and often stressed lives, spending time in the application of a poultice can be healing and rejuvenating to us as well as to our horses.
About the Author: With over 30 years experience in the equine and human supplement industry, Tigger Montague knows nutrition from the synthetic side as well as the whole food side. She started BioStar US in 2006 with formulas she created in her kitchen. Before she started the company, she was an avid rider and competitor with eventing and show jumping, until she got hooked on dressage in the late 1980’s. She has competed on horses she’s owned and trained all the way from training level to Grand Prix.