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Spring, summer, grass or tree pollens. Some horses react to just one or all of them; some horses don't react at all. For those that do, horse or human, experiencing the irritations of respiratory pollen allergies is a frustrating, debilitating syndrome that causes real misery.

Our Kelso was a classic all-pollens reactor, driving him to the point of violent headshaking. If we were out hacking but I got the time a bit wrong (I always endeavoured to go out first thing in the morning before the humidity hit), I'd have to dismount and he'd literally bury his face into my back for the rest of the walk home, to try and stop the irritants in the air getting up his nose and driving him crazy.

It's all down to an over-reaction by the body's immune system. So, while a fairly swift fix can be sought by blocking the histamine and associated symptoms, what we'd rather not do is end up with scripts of inhalers, steroids and inappropriate antibiotics (pollens aren't bacteria), which not only suppress and inhibit the immune system, but also add to the body's toxic load, which weakens the immune system further. And all without addressing the root of the problem to boot.

We all know that the immune system is the body's defence system to help fight infection, toxins and aliens from Mars. However, with an allergic reaction, the invader isn’t necessary a harmful substance - an out-of-balance immune system identifies an invader when it is not, and so the killer army of white cells (lymphocytes) are given the wrong instruction and head off to fight something they shouldn't, causing the adverse reaction.

The obvious route is to try to identify what causes the reaction and attempt to eliminate it, but with pollens filling the very air we breathe, it's nigh on impossible. We ourselves have had our fair share of allergic reactions in our herd over the years. Blas, our stunning TB, would double in size at the merest hint of ticks, but it was our elderly ex-show cob, Kelso, who had a problematic allergic response to just about everything life could throw at him - he had chronic sweetitch, his respiratory system was in meltdown, and he was a violent headshaker. In fact, it was all due to Kelso, and our desperate need to find something that actually worked to help him, that many of our blends were created.

Taking the functional, holistic approach, we need to look a little deeper and first up, a good place to start is to ensure that the immune system is as healthy as it can be, alongside cleansing and toning the Lymphatic System, upon which the lungs rely on to drain the toxins away. When the body is having an allergic reaction, in an overburdened system the lymphatic glands will be blocked and swollen, and not draining properly.

Immunity starts with the gut, but everything begins with the microbiome, so a key strategy involves keeping the gut healthy and boosting beneficial microbiome levels. An unhealthy, inflamed gut won't keep the immune system strong enough to fight off potential allergens.

As the saying goes, "Take out the bad and put in the good." Check what you're feeding as there may be food allergens wreaking havoc.

  • Eliminate common feed triggers like wheatfeed, corn, soy, alfalfa, GMO and so on.
  • Check for other causes such as food additives, pesticides, chemicals, pollution, moulds in the immediate environment.
  • Avoid any sugary feed and feed a clean, high-fibre, very low-carb diet, adding in anti-inflammatory omega-3 plant nutrients such as linseed.
  • Are there any hidden or chronic infections such as viruses, bacteria, yeasts or parasites?
  • Has your horse recently been on antibiotics/bute?
  • Add a quality probiotic to supplement the microbiome.
  • Reduce stress and ensure there's adequate rest. A stressed, fatigued horse will develop gut stress.

Thankfully, nature has provided us with a wonderful range of herbal therapeutics with their actions which can really help. We know what's at the root of the problem - we have a runaway immune system that needs 'normalising', so we need adaptogen support by way of an immunoregulator, of which there are none finer than Astragalus. We're also getting an allergic response, so we need an anti-allergenic action, for which we use the wonderful Yarrow (probably my favourite herb of all time).

Now we look at the symptoms and how we can help these as well. We likely have a runny nose, so we need an anticatarrhal. For the itching, we'll use an antipruritic. And if you've got itching you've got inflammation - enter an anti-inflammatory with cooling astringent properties to tighten everything back up again. A bit of antihistamine help wouldn't go amiss either - enter Nettle and Plantain. And finally, for the stress involved, we'll use Chamomile as a gentle nervine, and also a powerful anti-inflammatory in its own right.

Vitamin E and C are also powerful antioxidants which have a positive effect on the upper respiratory tract and lung tissue, both of which are available in our EquiVitaPlus mineral balancer.

Allergic responses don't have to make life miserable for you and your horse. Ensure that the immune system has a good clean-up on a regular basis, and in addition there are excellent herbs that can help specific issues.

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Useful herbs

~ Apis mellifica - Polifloral (Bee Pollen) - Considered one of the finest sources of immunity-building nutrients that supports the body's natural defences, bee-pollen is considered very useful against allergic responses as it reduces production of histamine (Journal of Phytotherapy Research, April 2009). The study showed that in humans, mast cells are responsible for the production and release of histamine when we come into contact with an allergen; histamine triggers the inflammatory response we know as sneezing, itching, runny nose and coughing, so reducing the amount of histamine being produced can give enormous relief.

Our bee pollen is organic polifloral from Romania, collected from a large, unpolluted rural area in Transylvania, within the unspoilt, Carpathians mountains. The Apis melifica bee is used as it has a gentle nature, so the beekeepers, who manage around 100 bee colonies, can work without any protection. Polifloral honey is derived from the nectar of many types of plant species, and our bee pollen is no exception; the pollen is harvested from a wide variety of fauna with a potential source of 1000 different flowers.

~ Matricaria recutita (Chamomile) - Chamomile is considered to be one of the best herbs for pollen response with its antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

~ Euphrasia officinalis (Eyebright) - Eyebright is said to be extremely effective in treating allergies, soothing the mucous membranes and itchy and/or watery eyes, and helping to reduce nasal discharge.

~ Ginkgo Biloba (Maidenhair) - For its anti-allergenic and potent anti-inflammatory actions which reduce the production of histamine and help to keep the airway open and reduce bronchial restriction and wheezing.

~ Althaea officinalis (Marshmallow) - Marshmallow soothes! With its high mucilaginous qualities, marshmallow is very useful for soothing the mucous membranes associated with coughing and sinusitis.

~ Glycyrrhiza glabra (Liquorice) – Pollen allergy can be really stressful, and Liquorice is such a valuable herb to counter stress due to its balancing effect on the adrenal glands, and its useful anti-allergenic abilities due to its Immunomodulating effect, which helps regulate and normalize immune function, reducing excessive immune response to allergens.

~ Verbascum thapsus (Mullein) - A long-standing, tried and tested respiratory herb with an excellent reputation, used to remedy respiratory problems including asthmatic symptoms and other breathing difficulties. It's an excellent expectorant that supports the body in stimulating the cough reflex, clearing out congestion and expelling excess respiratory phlegm and mucous. It also soothes and tones the mucous membranes of the respiratory system and reduces inflammation. The mucilage in mullein lubricates the throat and lungs, easing the bronchial passages and throat irritation.

~ Urtica doitica (Nettle) - One of the first herbs that I reach for for when treating allergies. Super nutritious, it fortifies the body to fight off the allergy problems. It also allies well with plantain, a natural anthistamine, and Yarrow, a superior anti-allergenc.

~ Rosa canina (Rosehips) - Probably known best for their extraordinary source of vitamin C, Rosehips allegedly contain 60 times the amount of vitamin C than found in lemons. Natural Vitamin C and bioflavonoids are combined in nature, and for efficacy, it is essential that they be used together. Rosehips are rich in both, and due to the high vitamin C content, they are also helpful in enhancing the immune system. Vitamin C is also a key antioxidant found in lung tissue, with studies showing that Vitamin C levels are low in the lungs of horses with respiratory issues.

~ Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) - An extremely resourceful herb with multiple properties and is anti-allergenic in nature. Yarrow is specifically useful for respiratory conditions as an anti-inflammatory, and one of the best herbs to prevent the build-up of congestion.