What are Calming Supplements for Horses?

Horse out to pasture

Horse calming supplements help horses who are stressed, nervous, and on-edge feel more at-ease, confident, and focused.

Some horses don’t react well to change or simply have a genetic make-up that makes them more sensitive and anxious.

Calming supplements for horses use specialized formulas that can include ingredients such as magnesium, theanine, thiamine, valerian, chamomile, and vervain. These ingredients may help support your horse’s nervous system, contributing to a calmer and happier horse.

In this blog we dig into the key questions we hear about horse calming supplements and horse behavior:

Please do not make any changes to your horse’s diet, supplement routine, or exercise habits without speaking to your veterinarian and trainer. There may be underlying problems contributing to how your horse is behaving.

It’s important you pay close attention to the ingredients all horse supplements – if you don’t recognize the ingredient – stay away from the supplement.

If you’re competing with your horse, make sure you’re using horse calming supplements that comply with the FEI Prohibited Substances List

Does My Horse Need Calming Supplements?

We cannot give you a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to this question. Horse calming supplements may be the right approach – it really depends on your horse, your horse’s environment, how you ride and train your horse, and your horse’s history.

However, we can tell you that horse calming supplements may support horses who are anxious, nervous, stressed, spooked, or who display other unsettled behaviors.

The challenge with every horse is in knowing what is triggering these behaviors and then finding the best way to manage these symptoms. Unfortunately for many horses, these stressed and anxious behaviors can trickle over into other destructive and unpleasant behaviors that makes it hard for you to manage and support your horse.

Your goal is to learn what is causing your horse to behave the way they are and then working with your veterinarian and trainer to find the best approach to supporting your horse.

Is There Anything I Can Do to Help my Horse Relax?

Before you decide to use calming supplements for your horse, it’s key that you rule out contributing factors including your horse’s diet, how you ride and behave around your horse, and underlying health problems.

Ask yourself these four key questions and discuss your horse’s health and behavior with your veterinarian and trainer:

1. How does the tack fit?

You feel your best when your clothes fit properly, and the same applies to your horse. Check the saddle for chafing, rubbing, and overall fit. Next, take a look at your horse’s bridle. Make sure the bridle fits your horse’s head properly and that the bit is comfortable.

If the tack fits well, it could be how you’re riding your horse.  Make sure you’re relaxed and confident when riding, remember your horse is super intuitive and will react to your body language.

2. What are you feeding your horse?

You are what you eat and the same applies to your horse. This is why it’s so important that you pay close attention to the ingredients in your horse’s food. How much grain are you feeding your horse? Remember that grains can be high in sugar and starches, which can make your horse overly energetic and excited.

To better understand how grains can impact your horse, watch Fireside Chat Video 13 – To Grain or Not To Grain. You’ll learn how to read and understand the labels on feed bags, so you can understand what you are actually feeding your horse. 

3. Is your horse getting enough exercise?

Your horse needs to move, run, and jump. Generally, your horse should be moving around for up to 20 hours a day. If your horse is standing in a stable too much or getting limited turnout, this could be contributing to your horse’s behavior.  

How much active time does your horse really have in their day? Remember, exercise is critical in helping your horse relieve stress, burn-off energy, and feel at-ease. And don’t forget that you horse needs exercise and movement year-round – this includes the winter! 

4. Does your horse have nutritional deficiencies?

Talk to your veterinarian about what you’re feeding your horse and their behavior. Your horse might be dealing with nutritional deficiencies that are contributing to their nervous and anxious behavior. 

Signs of a magnesium deficiency include muscle tension and nervous behavior. Or if your horse is low in thiamine, they could also be easily spooked or jumpy. A moody horse might need some extra support to help normalize hormone levels and a calmer disposition. 

What Are the Three Different Types of Calming Supplements for Horses?

The three different types of calming supplements for horses are: nutrient-based formulas, herbal formulas, and formulas specific to moody mares.

1. Nutrient-Based Horse Calming Supplements

If your horse has a nutritional deficiency or simply needs more nutrients in their diet, this type of horse calming supplement might help. As the category name suggests, nutrient-based horse calming supplements are centered around delivering nutrients that support a healthy nervous system.

When researching nutrient-based horse calmers, look for key ingredients including magnesium, thiamine, and theanine. Some nutrient-based supplements also use inositol or tryptophan – talk to your veterinarian about these ingredients and how they may impact your horse.

It can take up to six weeks for your horse to respond to these horse calmers. Note that if you compete in rated events, nutrient-based supplements are the only approved supplement option.   

2. Herbal Horse Calming Supplements

The horse calming supplements in this category are herbal-based and may help support a healthier nervous system. Key herbal ingredients in herbal horse calmers include valerian, chamomile, hops, vervain, and passion flower.

On average, it can take up to six week for herbal horse calmers to take effect. Remember that herbal horse calmers are not approved for competition in rated events.

3. Moody Mare Calming Supplements

The heat cycle impacts your horse’s hormone function which might cause moodiness and behavioral changes. Your mare might be experiencing painful sensations in her digestive and reproductive tracts, making it hard for to remain calm, focused, and happy.

Moody mare calming supplements are herbal based and typically include raspberry, vitex agnus castus, and cramp bark.

It’s important you discuss your mare’s health with your veterinarian before using these calming supplements. Your veterinarian will have recommendations that can help your mare during her heat cycle.

FEI-Exempt Ingredients in Calming Supplements for Horses

These horse calming supplement ingredients are exempt from FEI restrictions:

Theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid not readily available in a horse’s diet. It is most easily accessible to humans in green tea. This amino acid may help raise the levels of serotonin and dopamine in your horse. When this happens, your horse may be more relaxed and calmer.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral which is freely available in grass. It has over 3,000 known uses in the body, assisting with everything from regulating blood sugar levels to formation of hormone and enzymes, production of muscle tissues, conversion of glucose to energy, maintenance of a healthy nervous system, and the formation of bone and red blood cells.

A magnesium deficiency can cause horses to be stressed, nervous, and anxious. Magnesium is needed to help produce some of the hormones that regulate the adrenaline response to keep your horse calm.

Lack of magnesium in the diet can lead to increased respiratory rates, muscle tremors, loss of appetite, and aggressive or ill temper.

Thiamine

Thiamine is an essential part of several enzyme systems. It is involved in the release of energy from absorbed or stored carbohydrates and fats. It also seems to have a direct role in the activity of the nervous system, stimulating peripheral nerves.

When fed in higher quantities, it can also calm nervous horses. Also known as vitamin B1, this vitamin is necessary for proper carbohydrate metabolism and promotes a health appetite.

If you compete with your horse, always review the ingredients in any horse supplements you feed your horse, making sure they are FEI compliant. Always discuss supplement ingredients with your veterinarian and trainer.

Supporting and Caring for Your Horse

Remember that your first assumption should not be that you have a nervous horse. Do not rush into giving calming supplements to your horse.

It’s important you first review your horse’s overall health, environment, disposition, and your behaviors and actions around your horse. Your horse cannot speak – so the only way they have to communicate problems or concerns is with their behavior – pay attention to the signals your horse is giving you.

Talk to you trainer and veterinarian. Make sure you go through my four questions about your horse’s overall health. If you do decide to use a horse calming supplement, make sure you understand the ingredients (and why they’re in the supplement) and do not hesitate to ask questions about the supplement formula.  Our goal at Grand Meadows is to make sure your horse is healthy, happy, and strong. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have about your horse or calming supplements for horses. Like you, we want your horse to be confident, calm, focused, and happy.

by Nick Hartog

In 1994, Nick Hartog became an owner and President of Grand Meadows Equine Supplements bringing his talents and extensive background in domestic and international equine sales and manufacturing. He has a reputation for plain speaking of the truth. In 1997, when the US horse supplement market was something akin to the Wild West with a complete lack of standards, Nick personally tested 32 different horse joint supplements to see if they matched the label. Unsurprisingly, to him at least, only 2 products matched the label claim. Read more...