Sweet Itch: essential oils hints & tips

A friend of mine has a young argentine polo pony (3yrs) so not yet ridden, who suffers from sweet itch. When my friend asked for the help of  my friend Mig’s & I, the constant irritation was already making the pony miserable & she’d already rubbed half of her mane away & had had a good scratch of the base of her tail too, although fortunately she hadn’t scratched hard enough to break the skin & leave sores yet.


Tail with sweet itch

Sweet itch is believed to be an allergic reaction to the saliva of the female culicodes midge, which causes severe irritation to the horse.


These minute midges are prevalent in the summer months, mostly May, June & September, although any time from April through September.

They breed in wet, muddy areas either around water (ponds/rivers/marshy areas) or in decaying vegetable matter (muck heaps/compost heaps/woodlands) so it is a useful place to start by trying to keep your horse away from these types of areas. Grazing on free draining, chalky soils, on exposed slopes with good air movement (breeze/wind) is really ideal, but obviously  this is not always possible.

The midges tend to be most active around the hours of dawn & dusk, so a lot of books recommend keeping horses stabled during these hours to give the horse a bit more protection. However it needs to be noted that putting your horse in a stable is not enough as the midges can still get in, care would need to be taken to cover windows and doorways and it is also recommended that the horse has fly repellant on & is kept covered to give it some additional protection.


Sweet itch on neck

In my friends case it wasn’t possible to keep the young horse stabled so we decided to get a fly rug, with attached neck and long tail guard that would give her additional protection, during these peak hours. This seemed to work very well & meant she was able to stay out with the herd where she was most relaxed & settled.


Mig’s also mixed up the following blend of essential oils (as recommended by Caroling Ingraham in her book animal aromatics) that were applied to the length of the mane & base of tail twice a day:

15 drops lavender – soothing & healing

30 drops peppermint – this has the effect of numbing the itch

7 drops Roman Chamomile – useful for skin & anxiety

6 drops German Chamomile – anti-histaminic

5 drops Yarrow – healing, anti-inflammatory

7 drops Garlic – fight secondary infection

Added to 150ml Aloe Vera gel.


We also kept her & her fly rug coated with fly spray twice daily to try & further deter the midges from biting in the first place.


This seemed to work well for her, she stopped scratching so vigorously & the hair even began to grow back during the summer months.


Subsequently I’ve read several articles about how effective Neem Oil (Azadirachta indica) is in helping in the treatment of sweet itch with its powerful fly repelling properties &  in Caroline’s updated Animal Aromatics workbook she recommends adding 2ml of neem oil to the above blend. Neem oil can also be offered for the horse to inhale if it selects this. She also recommends the use of Dead sea mineral mud as being beneficial, similar to animals in the wild who coat themselves in mud to protect themselves from biting insects.


I hope this gives you a few ideas if your own horses or ponies suffer from sweet itch, it really can be miserable for all concerned, if anyone else has used any natural remedies in their own sweet itch cases please add a comment to let others know of your successes (& indeed failures).


Until next time, With Love

Fiona & Jasper

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