Having trouble keeping calm with a jumpy gelding or spooky mare? Or a boy who is so full of beans you can’t keep him under control? As prey animals, horses are naturally highly strung and nervous – some more so than others. With longer nights, shorter days and less turnout time there may be more disturbances in your horses routine than usual.
If the situation is so bad that it is impacting on your enjoyment of your horse, resulting in unpleasant and even dangerous behaviour like rearing, shying, or biting, it may be time to consider how you can take the edge off of his/her anxiety, for both your sakes.
As you no doubt know, there are a whole raft of calming supplements and preparations available on the market to quieten down your horse. Before taking a look at these, however, it’s worth considering your horse’s health and management to see if there is anything relating to his diet, environment or routine that is causing or exacerbating his nervous disposition.
Feed is a Factor in Keeping Calm
Feed is the biggest factor. Starch-rich feed will literally make a horse “high”. Switching to a low-starch feed that is high in fibre and fat will calm him down and turn that starchy “high” into more sustained energy.
Your horse might be suffering stress because he’s being intimidated by a stablemate or field companion. Careful observation and paying attention to your horse’s interaction with others can help you identify any problems.
Stress can also be caused by boredom – characterised by stable “vices” such as cribbing – which you can ease by changing his circumstances. Look to your training methods too. Sometimes horses can be confused about what you expect from them. If you think this is making your horse anxious it’s best to consult a professional trainer.
Finally there could be a physical cause for your horse’s behaviour … horses with gastric ulcers, for example, are known to be short-tempered and panicky.
Products for Keeping Calm
Only if you are confident you have eliminated all the health and management problems that could be contributing to your horse’s anxiety should you consider turning to calming supplements?
You’ll find yourself mired in a quicksand of indecision! There are so many different products containing a range of different ingredients, all claiming to help your horse “chill out” and be more focused. Calmers come in the form of powder, pellets, grains, paste, and liquid. How on earth do you choose the right one for your horse?
Firstly, make it your business to learn about the different active ingredients used in horse calmers (more about those shortly), and judge which you think would be suitable for your situation (for example, valerian is banned by the FEI for performance horses).
When you have picked a product, trial it for at least a month, following the dosage directions carefully, before judging the results. Never use more than one calmer at a time – that is tantamount to overdosing your horse and you may end up with a zombie!
It’s a fact that there is surprisingly little research to support the effectiveness of many horse calmer ingredients, so trial and error is probably the best way to find a product that works for you.
Ingredients of Horse Calmers
Some of the main calming agents found in commercial calming supplements are:
-Valerian root (a plant extract) – reported to relieve anxiety without impairing the horse’s mental or physical agility.
-Magnesium is a mineral believed to be important for nerve and muscle function in horses. If a horse’s diet is magnesium deficient a magnesium supplement benefits stressed “fizzy” horses especially during box rest and for competitions. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if your horse needs extra magnesium. E.g. Equine America Magnitude
-Tryptophan is an amino acid fairly commonly found in horse calmers. It is a building block of serotonin, the brain substance implicated in sedation, inhibition of aggression, fear and stress in both humans and animals.
-Chelated calcium is said to assist nerve and muscle function in horses, having a positive effect on brain function, calming but not sedating and improving concentration.
-Chamomile is an ingredient in many “natural” horse calmers – a herb known for its calming and soothing properties in humans, and thus similarly for excitable horses and ponies.
- Withania Somnifera contains chemical that help to calm the mind, reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure - Science Supplements ProKalm and Global Herbs Supercalm both boast this herb as a main ingredient
-B Vitamins are believed to help panicky horses stay calm, just as a Vitamin B deficiency is related to anxiety in humans.
There is no way of knowing precisely which ingredient – or combination of ingredients – will work best at keeping calm for your horse. You may prefer to mix and match natural herbs to add to your horse’s feed, or buy a ready mix of dried herbs (Equus health calming mix).
Alternatively you can use a tried and trusted brand name product formulated and marketed for specific individuals, such as Dodson & Horrell “Stroppy Mare” or Wendals Special Calmer for Arab Breeds.
Totally Tack has a large range of "last resort" calmers that will hopefully make your horse happy and amenable. We'd love to hear your feedback on our Facebook page on how/if they work!