Q. I need to feed my highly strung mare a calmer when we compete. But with so many options, how do I know which ingredients to include in her feed?
Ellie Holder answers When choosing a calmer for your horse, it’s helpful to understand how the ingredients affect her. Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, which has been associated with aggression, fear and stress. In low doses, such as those in many calmers, it can actually cause excitability.
There’s little evidence to support the use of magnesium because diets generally contain adequate levels, therefore horses are rarely deficient. Similarly, there is no evidence to suggest that a calcium deficiency can induce excitable behaviour. Chamomile has significant human-based study to support its efficacy, but the same cannot be said in horses – much like B vitamins.
None of these ingredients are on the FEI list of prohibited substances, which is likely indicative of their ineffectiveness. Valerian, however, is – making it illegal for use in competition. This is potentially because it’s shown some evidence of a calming effect. There is little research to support the dosage, period and safety margins, though.
When it comes to calmers, it’s easier to know what to avoid than what to look for. Always try to find a calmer that has clear scientific research behind it and you won’t go too far wrong.
If your horse is always sharp or spooky, get him checked out by your vet and physio to ensure that he’s not in any pain. Often discomfort can be the root of a abnormal behaviour, so it’s always best to rule it out.