Choosing the Right Calming Supplement for Your Horse
The search for the best calming supplements for horses can be overwhelming… there are so many options to choose from!
Equine stress is the underlying root of fear, anxiety, over-reactivity, aggression, inattentiveness, and sub-par performance.
Each horse is an individual with unique stress triggers. The numerous causes of equine stress may include: pain, perceived threat of danger, metabolic imbalances, ulcers, changes in routine, travel, weather, and confinement.
Here are some helpful tips to guide you in choosing the best calming supplements for your horse.
Common ingredients in calming supplements
Vitamin B-1 (Thiamine): Horses produce their own B-vitamins from their hindgut (except Vitamin B-12) so deficiency in B-1 is rare. However, in some horses, adding B-1 helps to provide a calming influence, reducing undesirable behavior.
L-Tryptophan: Horses get this essential amino acid from hay, forage, and feed. Tryptophan is a precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin. Normal serotonin metabolism begins in the GI tract and is released upon mucosal stimulation. In fact, 95% of the serotonin in the body is located in the gut and is moderated by the gut microbiota.
Some researchers refer to serotonin as the “happy neurochemical.” I relate serotonin to the feelings of eating a good bar of chocolate.
A recent study on Tryptophan use as a calmer in horses was published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science (March 2017) and conducted by several researchers including Temple Grandin.
The study concluded:
We found little evidence for the behavioral or physiological calmative effects of supplemental tryptophan in horses at the doses tested. However, from our results, it appears that supplementing horses with tryptophan may produce desired results only a few hours after administration and that longer term use may provide no additional benefit or may even have unwanted effects.”
Magnesium: This essential macromineral is important for maintaining normal nerve and muscle function. Deficiency is considered rare in horses, as vegetative matter is a good source of magnesium. Some horses respond well to increased magnesium supplementation, helping them relax and be less reactive. The form of magnesium is very important; look for high-chelate forms such as Amino Acid Chelate, Magnesium Aspartate, or Magnesium Malate.
Valerian: This plant is thought to support gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA), an important neurotransmitter. It is one of chemical messengers that helps reduce anxiety by blocking specific signals in the central nervous system. This provides a calming effect on the brain. Valerian is not show-safe; it is forbidden by the FEI and USEF.
Inositol: This compound is related to the B vitamin family and has been used as a supplement for humans with mild depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or anxiety. Inositol increases serotonin, thus increasing the sense of well-being and relaxation. Some food sources of inositol include alfalfa, unrefined whole grains, bananas, brewer’s yeast, and lecithin.
Tips for Choosing the Right Calming Supplement for Horses
Powder, Pellets, or Paste?
Calming powders or pellets added to daily meals tend to last longer in the horse’s body. Paste calmers administered by syringe, along with many calming horse treats, go to work more quickly but the effects tend to not last as long.
Long-term stress, acute stress, or both?
Horses that experience long-term stress, such as being laid-up or confined, those who worry a lot, or who struggle periodically with training, may benefit more from a daily powder or pelletized calmer.
Horses that experience short-term acute stress from events like showing, shipping, or farrier work may benefit from a paste calmer given as needed.
Horses that are stress-prone at home and then experience a stressful event, such as going to a show, can benefit from both a daily feed-addition and a paste calmer when competing.
Biostar’s calming supplements are different.
Biostar’s calming supplements for horses address the mind-body-stress axis. Although calming supplements that work on the neurotransmitters to induce a calmer state can be very effective, it does not address the root cause: stress, specifically cortisol.
Equilibrium EQ provides a patented extract of the Ayurvedic plant Ashwagandha, combined with ingredients high in magnesium. Ashwagandha regulates cortisol, supports serotonin production, and balances the endocrine and circulatory systems. Equilibrium is made in a convenient cookie form, and produced by dehydration rather than high-temperature cooking, to ensure the nutrients and enzymes in the food are still active and available. Equilibrium is convenient, easy to give by hand or in meals, as needed.
THERA CALM EQ
We refer to this supplement as “Equilibrium 2.0.” It is a powder rather than a cookie, and it addresses the brain-gut-adrenal axis. These three major systems are in constant communication with each other.
Thera Calm EQ provides gut support from the Ayurvedic plant haritaki and undenatured whey protein. Tulsi is included for adrenal and neurotransmitter support. An important component to the formula is casein from milk which supports serotonin production. Addressing the brain-gut-adrenal axis for horses under stress is to address the whole horse, not just the neurotransmitters. Thera Calm is a great choice for daily use, or can be used as needed.
ZEN-X and IN-ZEN PASTE CALMERS
Zen-X, Zen-Max, and In-Zen are show-safe pastes that address the differences in how horses express and experience stress.
The two varieties allow you to customize your horse’s formula rather than choosing a one-size-fits-all calming paste. Because Zen formulas are pastes, they are fast-acting and convenient.
Horses can be categorized by the nature of their stress responses:
Externalizers can be all over the place, and have tendencies like bolting, lacking focus, stall-walking, vocalizing excessively, weaving, or spooking. These horses let you know they are stressed in no uncertain terms.
Zen-X is for the stress externalizer, providing the adaptogenic properties of Red Reishi mushrooms to address the brain-adrenal axis and immune system. With casein (bovine milk protein) for additional brain support, and Amino acid-chelated magnesium for muscle relaxation. Also included are sunflower lecithin and medical-grade micro-crystalized Aloe to help coat the GI tract, to support and protect the mucosa.
Zen-Max is also for the stress externalizer, but for more extreme cases. With Rhodiola rosea, an adaptogenic plant for stress support and mental focus, plus higher amounts of Red Reishi and bovine milk protein.
Internalizers can act withdrawn, show reduced responsiveness to touch, stand for long periods of time in the back of the stall, or display fear reactions to objects they have not been afraid of before. These are the stoic horses who keep their stress under the surface, but show a reduction in performance.
In-Zen is for the stress internalizer, combining the adaptogenic qualities of Red Reishi mushrooms with Tulsi for adrenal support and to help regulate cortisol. Like Zen-X, it also includes sunflower lecithin with medical-grade micro-crystalized Aloe for GI tract and mucosal protection.
Like all Biostar supplements, our pastes are made in our own facility in Gordonsville, Virginia. We produce our own products because that ensures ingredient quality, farm-to-table traceability, and good manufacturing practices.
Your Horse, Your Calming Supplement, Your Intuition
When choosing a calming supplement for horses, check the labels carefully to determine which might be the best fit for your horse as an individual — and to make sure all of the ingredients are show-safe, if applicable. If an ingredient that you do not recognize is included in the formulation, contact the company to find out why.
If your horse exhibits a pattern of long-term stress, be sure to observe them to determine whether other management changes could provide some relief. Don’t forget to examine your own lifestyle for ways to minimize stress, as our own stress levels can greatly influence theirs.
About the Author: With over 30 years experience in the equine and human supplement industry, Tigger Montague knows nutrition from the synthetic side as well as the whole food side. She started BioStar US in 2006 with formulas she created in her kitchen. Before she started the company, she was an avid rider and competitor with eventing and show jumping, until she got hooked on dressage in the late 1980’s. She has competed on horses she’s owned and trained all the way from training level to Grand Prix.