I have been called upon to treat quite a number of respiratory problems in the past few months.

Respiratory conditions in horses are usually classified as infections or allergies but one can often lead to the other, so both need treatment.

Maria Millikan from Ballarat, Vic, has been a client for more than 15 years and usually due to the fact that her riding horses are maintained on their VF Natural Diets and she utilises her Just-in-Case first aid kit, she rarely needs any extra assistance.

However two of her horses developed respiratory problems and needed prescribed herbal medicine.


The first one was Calero, her young Andalusian gelding who contracted a viral respiratory infection after a long transport trip in January.  He had a really bad cough, a snotty nose and was very low in energy with an elevated temperature.

Maria immediately doubled his Rosehips and raw organic Garlic intake together with extra honey, which helped but she wanted to get it under control quickly, which is especially important with respiratory infections.

I formulated a prescription of liquid extracts for oral dosing,  with the emphasis on providing anti-viral herbs and immune system stimulants,  together with expectorant and soothing herbs and specific anti-bacterials for the lungs.

After 2 weeks Maria reported that Calero had stopped coughing and wasn’t showing any symptoms, but she completed his 4 week herbal prescription to ensure that there would be no relapse, which there hasn’t been.

Maria’s other problem pony was her lovely Oliver, a 10 year old new Forest pony used for dressage.   He had developed an exercise induced cough at the end of last year which I treated as an allergy with success.

However he also contracted the same virus that Calero had, and this complicated matters for him.  So Oliver’s prescription was a combination of anti-allergy herbs as well as specific herbs to treat his breathing difficulties.  He did take longer to recover than Calero did, due to the fact he had already had an allergic condition, but at the end of 8 weeks of treatment during which he steadily improved, Maria reports that he is totally cough free and eager to work.

So just when she was very happy with their health, her senior Torino suddenly developed a frightful skin rash with lumps and hair loss.

The positive side of this was that he was not itchy or distressed but it was covering a large part of his barrel.  I advised Maria to make some strong tea with Calendula and Chamomile flowers and to mix it in with the Aloe Vera Gel and to spread it over the affected area after first washing with Orlando’s Coconut & Lemon Myrtle Shampoo.   After 3 days the lumps had disappeared and the hair loss had ceased.


I sometimes receive criticism when I write up these case histories for not revealing which herbs I have used.  There is a very good reason why I do this and that is because I treat every horse holistically and therefore differently.  The other massively important factor is that I use human medicinal quality extracts which are only available to qualified herbal practitioners.

For information about respiratory infections and allergies, here are some excerpts from The Complete Horse Herbal.



The ailments which affect the respiratory system of the horse frequently recur if they are not properly healed in the first place.

They include coughs and colds, viral and bacterial infections, allergies and bleeding.

If a horse has a cough, it is important to ascertain the cause, so that appropriate treatment can be given.  A cough is usually associated with a cold either of viral or bacterial origin, an allergy or post-viral syndrome.

An intermittent dry cough is not usually a cause for concern provided it resolves quickly.  All respiratory ailments can be assisted by adding two to three drops only of Eucalyptus Oil to the water or molasses or honey water used to dampen down the feed, once daily.

If the cough is associated with mucus discharge from the nostrils and/or throat, the cause is viral, bacterial or allergy.  The horse should be rested, temperature and respiratory rate monitored and herbal treatment administered without delay.

A cough associated with a cold may mean that only the upper respiratory system has been affected and the lungs, the lower respiratory system, are not involved.  Horses can be suffering from respiratory infection even if they are not coughing, other symptoms are elevated temperature, elevated respiratory rate, enlarged glands and raspy breathing.

To avoid recurring illness at a later date continue treatment after symptoms have gone.  This is especially important in the case of respiratory ailments because of the need to heal tissue damage after the infection has gone.  Remember the old adage “structure governs function”.

Management and nursing are of the utmost importance in the care of horse suffering from respiratory infections.  They must be kept warm if the weather is cold, comfortable, out of the wind, stress free and if stabled, good ventilation is essential.

As with all health problems, prevention is better than cure, not to mention being less expensive and certainly less stressful to all concerned. To give your horses their best chance of resisting respiratory ailments through their own immune system, incorporate Rosehips & Garlic into their every day feed.

If any kind of respiratory illness is suspected immediately administer herbal first aid and obtain a herbal prescription or formula.


The amount of air that a horse can get into its lungs to utilise metabolically is of great consequence. Allergies also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in horses have a serious negative affect on the capacity of the airways, causing breathing difficulties similar to asthma in humans. Causes of these symptoms include obstruction, narrowing of the airways, inflammation, excess mucous and infection causing fluid in the space between the lungs and the chest wall.  They all to some degree reduce breathing capacity, intolerance to exercise and loss of performance.  Veterinary examination by endoscopy is a useful diagnostic tool.

The biggest difficulty in treating allergies is discovering the allergens involved in each case.  The herbal method of treatment is to reduce the extreme reactions, while toning and balancing the respiratory, immune and lymphatic systems, rather than trying to isolate the horse from a long list of possible allergens. Anyone who has had allergy tests conducted will realise that it is impossible to prevent exposure in most cases, let alone ascertain them for sure.  It is also important to understand that it is possible for any being to be allergic or intolerant to almost anything. Horses are no exception.

The usual treatment for allergies affecting the respiratory system is cortisone.  If a horse suffers an extreme, acute allergic reaction affecting its ability to breathe, it is imperative that a vet is called urgently so that an injection of cortisone can be administered, which may very well be a lifesaver. However medium to long term use of corticosteroid hormones is contra-indicated due to the fact that they suppress normal immune system function, weaken muscles, produce loss of muscle mass, mood swings, weakening of bone and degeneration of joints and tendons.

Another problem that results from chronic allergies is that tissue in the airways becomes damaged and prone to infection, so herbs for prevention of infection and for tissue repair are also needed.

© Victoria Ferguson Dip.Herb.Med.