When someone mentions the fact that they have a nervous horse, the topic of calming supplements often comes up.
Aside from the potential health issues some cause, there is good reason we avoid them.
Firstly, they are not a substitute for training, and relaxation is a result of good training.
The reason most people resort to calming supplements is that they are looking for a shortcut to replace actual training.
Yes there are some people who still believe horses are flighty creatures that can’t be calm by nature, but most people now understand correct training alleviates the stresses associated with horses living in a human world.
I would go as far as saying ONLY correct training can make a sustainable change in horses anxiety levels. Secondly, many supplements are designed to correct mineral imbalances. This is completely understandable… IF your horse has a mineral imbalance. Using these supplements for extended periods on a horse with correct mineral balances will actual throw off the horses mineral balance,
All calming supplements artificially alter a horses neurochemistry. If we think of human anxiety medication or mood altering medication we know that over time the bodies natural ability to produce normal amounts of the happy, or calm hormones is affected and those on the meds for sustained periods of time end up needing progressively higher doses to function.
Horses actually have naturally occurring mechanisms to deal with anxiety when in natural settings. When horses groom each other there is a trigger on the upper lip which releases dopamine and oxytocin, causing relaxation and bonding to their herd mates. Tjis is crucial for horses. They are a prey species and just about everything could eat them, but if they were in a constant state of flight they would use all their energy in a very short period of time, burning more calories than they eat. This is the reason for these dopamine triggers. Another dopamine trigger is the forelock. This is actually to get foals to bond to their mothers while they suckle. Their forelock rubs their mother’s belly while they drink, releasing dopamine and oxytocin after a sustained period of rubbing.
This is why horses kept separated from other horses for extended periods of time are generally more anxious, even if they can see other horses or “touch over a fence”.
It is crucial that training comes first… these techniques would not work while a horse is rearing or running around madly. At those times more physical techniques like the hindquarter disengagement will need to be used.
Once communication is in place you can add these techniques during dwell time or every time you catch your horse and let it go. Horses that have been anxious for long periods of time will produce more adrenalin than dopamine, so stimulating dopamine production could go a long way to balancing a horses neurochemistry.
Feel free to send questions if you have any!