Skipper Goes to Camp
… and We Test an Essential Oil
When I started leasing Skipper on June 1st, I had a goal: to take him to Adult Amateur Camp. Our region puts on a great Camp, which I’ve attended the past several years with Micah. Since Micah retired, Skipper would be a whole new experience.
My first concern was getting Skipper fit enough to work for four days in a row, with a total of six lessons. Skipper arrived at our barn he was unfit and pudgy, after having had several months off.
Fortunately, I co-lease Skipper with my friend, Mary, and we worked together to increase Skipper’s workload at a reasonable pace. As we did so, Taryn Yates DVM kept Skipper feeling good with regular chiropractic work.
Skipper progressed well but I wasn’t sure how he’d handle the stress of a new facility and the challenge of back-to-back lessons. He’d been to shows with trainer Mari Valceschini and done well but a) she’s a professional and b) Skipper can get a little hot if he feels insecure or gets frustrated.
With this in mind, I decided Camp was the perfect place to test out an essential oil, specifically Show Thyme Calming Oil by Equi-Spa. I’d never used essential oils before but research has shown that there are calming benefits from lavender and other oils, so why not? This one contains a blend of Lavender, Geranium, Clary Sage, Patchouli and Ylang ylang .
I’d also read that the essential oils can calm the handler, as well as the horse, and that’s a good thing. I had butterflies in my stomach as we packed up for camp, not knowing what to expect. Before loading Skipper in the trailer, I added a few drops of essential oil to Equi-Spa’s Fairy Tails lotion (a mane/tail conditioner) and rubbed it into his forelock, temple, and muzzle. He didn’t mind and he smelled yummy.
When we arrived at Camp, Skipper came out of the trailer calm yet curious. What is this place?
My plan was to lunge him before our afternoon lesson if he needed it — and with Skipper, it’s easy to tell if he’s got nervous energy.
As I debated, lunge? or not? I let Skipper hang out in a stall while I unpacked, then hand-walked him around the facility. Skipper was calm and curious — no anxiety. We walked around the indoor arena where we’d be taking our lesson and I let Skip look at the mirrors on the wall, the chairs for spectators, neat stack of jump poles, and out the open doors into the world beyond.
We walked in, out, and around a few times and I decided against lunging. While I knew lunging would be the safest route, I decided to trust my gut and my horse.
When the time came, I tacked up, led Skipper to the arena, and got on. All was well, Skipper was relaxed, confident, and focused on his work. We had a super lesson and trainer Morgan Barrows was pleased with how agreeable Skipper was.
On day two, Skipper seemed a little amped. He wasn’t used to being in a stall 24/7 and missed his pasture time. I put on the essential oil and we did a hand walk to let him stretch and look around. Again I debated, should I lunge him?
Skipper was a little high-headed when I walked him around but, when I turned him loose in the round pen, he followed me like a puppy — no running or bucking. I decided not to lunge and we had a great lesson in the outdoor arena. He jumped out of the dressage arena once but that was my fault and it was a real crowd pleaser! He found the canter shallow loop frustrating and threw in flying changes, but kept his cool.
One day three, Skipper seemed really settled but now my concern was that, despite his mighty little engine, he’d be getting tired. By now using the oil was a ritual I found comforting.
Susan, one of my camp-mates confessed that she always uses an essential oil for clinics and shows. “The one time I didn’t,” she said, “my horse started up with a rolling buck. He never does that.”
Skipper was a champ through the entire Camp experience. I’ll never know to what extent the oils affected his behavior, but they certainly didn’t hurt. And he smelled so good, trainer Stephen Birchall said, “Wow! It smells like a cologne I’d be happy to wear.”
I was so happy with how Skipper handled new surroundings and situations, I’ll keep using the oils for adventures that might be stressful to either us. Smelling good was an added bonus!