Choosing a calmer for your horse
Stressful situations can arise in horse’s lives despite your best management. From vet visits to fireworks, horses can sometimes need a bit of extra help to keep them settled and calm. Luckily for horse carers, there are a multitude of different calmers available. Ranging from powders to pastes with a variety of different ingredients, there are many options to choose from.
Horses are all individuals, and it is important to remember this when choosing a calmer. A product which works for one horse, may not work for another. And indeed, the conditions for when a calmer may be required can vary vastly between horse. Travelling, moving yards, fireworks, competing… the list goes on for potential stress inducing events that your horse might find stressful and challenging.
The purpose of a calmer is to reduce stress and anxiety in your horse, which not only helps both their and your safety, but also allows your horse to process their surroundings and learn, resulting in longer term positive behaviour. Nutritional support for balanced behaviour can help remove the challenges of handling a nervous or excited horse, as well as reducing the risk of stress induced injuries for your horse such as gastric ulcers.
I think my horse needs a calmer, what do I do?
First things first, be organised. Keep a diary for approximately two weeks before you start using a calmer. This gives you a baseline of behaviour for you to refer to and compare. Be clear on the undesirable behaviour you are trying to reduce, so you can monitor the calmer’s effectiveness.
Magnesium in horse calmers – what do I need to know?
Chances are, if you’ve been looking at horse calmers, you have seen the ingredient magnesium. Magnesium is involved in the transmission of nerve impulses and is a vital element of the horse’s diet. However, a magnesium-based calmer will only work if your horse is deficient in magnesium. If they are not magnesium deficient and their diet contains adequate levels of magnesium, adding a calmer with more will only result in your horse urinating it out – and that can make for some expensive horse wee!
For your horse to absorb magnesium through their diet or via a supplement, the magnesium must be highly bioavailable – this means, easily absorbed. Magnesium can come in several different forms, so when choosing a magnesium-based calmer be sure to carefully read the ingredient list. The most bioavailable forms of magnesium are Magnesium Aspartate Hydrochloride and Chelated Magnesium. Avoid Magnesium Oxide which is not so readily bioavailable.
Magnesium based calmers certainly have their place, and can be very useful. However, if you have tried using a magnesium-based calmer previously and it has not worked, it may be because the levels of magnesium were not high enough, it was not a readily bioavailable form, or your horse is not magnesium deficient.
How does good gut health help my horse’s calmness?
There are a variety of non magnesium-based calmers on the market, including products which contain ingredients such as tryptophan and valerian. There is also exciting new research which show the link between the gut microbiome and mental state. There has been much work in the last decade looking into the gut microbiome in humans and its many positive effects on the body and brain. This work is now being replicated in horses, and there are studies showing how positively influencing the gut microbiome supports calmness and wellbeing.
A calmer with ingredients that have a probiotic function, such as wheatgerm extract, can support good gut health and good microbiome health which then supports mental calmness. This is found in e-calm, where published studies demonstrated eCalm significantly decreased behaviour such as kicking, nervousness, tenseness and excitability.
What other ingredients should I look out for?
Other natural ingredients which help calm horses include chamomile, ashwagandha and chasteberry, but it is important that they are given in high enough quantities to have a beneficial effect. Similarly to magnesium, Vitamin B (particularly B1 and B6) supports normal nerve function and help support calmness.
How should I feed my horse’s calmer?
Calming supplements can vary greatly, not only in their ingredients but in their presentation and speed of action. You can choose for a daily calmer, or a fast acting single use calmer.
Daily calmers are added to the horse’s feed, typically as powders or liquid. The calmer has a cumulative effect and can take 2-3 weeks for the benefits to be seen, although some work much quicker than that. If you want to use a calmer for a specific occasion such as fireworks night, it is important to factor in this time to ensure the calmer is working to its potential for the situation you need it for.
Alternatively, calmers can also be given as fast acting gels or pastes which are administered via a syringe into the horse’s mouth. Using a paste which contains a rapidly absorbed, highly bioavailable Magnesium Aspartate Hydrochloride calmer, such as Nettex Calmer Syringe Paste Boost, can give a quick calming boost. This is handy for horses who don’t require daily calmers but benefit from their actions in stressful occasions.
How do I compare calmers?
With a variety of different ingredients and dose rates it can seem confusing to compare one product to another. As previously mentioned, horses are all individuals – a magnesium-based calmer could work wonderfully for one horse, whereas another could benefit from the actions of wheatgerm extract. Once you have decided on the type of calmer your horse needs, the next task is to decipher the label!
In order for a calmer to be beneficial it must be fed at an adequate dose. For example, depending on the levels of active ingredient in the product, one calmer may deliver the required dose in 25g whereas another may need 75g to provide the same levels. Not only can a high daily feed rate indicate a low level of active ingredient, but these products can work out to be more expensive. Even though the price of the tub may be lower, if you need to feed more each day, it won’t last as long and work out being more expensive per day. It can be useful to remember this when comparing different brands.
Calmer 1. £25 for 1kg. Requires 25g/day
Calmer 2. £10 for 1kg. Requires 75g/day.
Calmer 1 will last for 40 days (1000/25) which cost 62p/day
Calmer 2 will last for 13 days (1000/75) which will cost 78p/day
Choosing the right calmer for your horse can be a useful tool in reducing their stress and anxiety. When using calmers, it is always important to ensure your horse is getting enough exercise, turnout and mental stimulation. Check their diet is well matched to their needs, and if you have any concerns, be sure to contact your vet for advice.