Excitable behaviour in horses is linked with environment, breeding and nutritional imbalances. Dietary supplements are a competition safe method of calming nervous horses and improving performance.
Modern horse husbandry is often far removed from a horse’s natural environment, which along with athletic training, competition demands and high starch and sugar diets can lead to over-excitable behaviour in some horses. This anxious behaviour can negatively affect performance and handling of horses.
The many symptoms of over-excitability in horses are well recognised by horse owners, and can include by some of the following;
- Over-reaction to external stimuli
- Inclination to flinch/spook
- Lacking focus during competition>
- Resistance to training
- Difficult to manage/ride
Additionally some horses get stressed by particular situations such as; clipping, shoeing or traveling.
The causes of anxiety in horses are many and varied. Some of the predisposing factors to over-excitability include;
- High carbohydrate/sugar diets
- Low pasture turnout
- Inadequate exercise
- Temperament (which can be related to breed)
- Exposure to unnatural situations (for example clipping)
- Competition/training demands
Changes to horse husbandry, training and diet can benefit some over-excitable horses. Restoring a horse’s composure and calmness can significantly improve their performance, handling and competition focus.
Reduce carbohydrate intake
- An overall reduction in calorie intake can help calm a horse by ensuring there is no excess energy in the diet. Where a horse is taking in excess energy, this must be expended in some form, often through nervous behaviour.
- Avoid feeding high starch concentrate feeds 3-4 hours prior to exercise
- Take care to match the exercise level of the horse to its carbohydrate intake
Regular Daily Exercise
- Routine daily exercise for horses in training
- Increase turnout, which allows the horse to exercise and interact with other horses as an outlet for energy.
- Some naturally anxious horses settle well once they have a buddy. A buddy works particularly well for young horses, such as weaned foals.
Familiarisation with environment
- Where a horse is in a new or strange environment allowing some time to adjust to the environment can help reduce the horse’s anxiety.
Hormone therapy in Mares
- Where cyclical bad behaviour in fillies or mares is thought to be due to being in season, your veterinary surgeon can prescribe progesterone treatment, which keeps the mare out of season. Progesterone treatment is not suitable for competition horses.
- Magnesium supplementation is perhaps the most widely recognised nutritional supplement used to aid calm horses. Magnesium is an essential mineral in horses necessary for nerve conduction, cardiac rhythm and muscle relaxation. In anxious horses “nervous” energy expenditure and sweating can deplete magnesium stores. Spring grass and hay are naturally low in magnesium. Where the body’s magnesium levels are low this allows a relative calcium overload, which can lead to nerve and muscle over-stimulation. Low magnesium levels can lead to loss of appetite, increased stress and nervousness and poor condition in horses. Many over-excitable horses benefit from magnesium supplementation.
- L- Tryptophan is an essential amino acid required to form the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is important for normal brain function and particularly is associated with reduced fearfulness and aggression.
- The B vitamins are essential water soluble nutrients involved in cellular metabolism which must be supplied daily by the diet. Vitamin B1 (thiamine), B6 and B12 are critical facilitators of sugar metabolism and energy regulation within the body. They are also involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and brain function, which are essential to controlling nerve impulse conduction within the body.
Nutritional supplements are a safe way to ensure all your horse’s nutrient requirements are met. This allows normal nerve and muscle function, leading to a less anxious more relaxed horse.