Calming supplements are in high demand and the right product can be invaluable for horses that suffer from stress and anxiety. However, before reaching for a supplement, it is important to ensure that your horse is on an appropriate diet as incorrect feeding can have a big impact on behaviour.
When feeding for a calmer horse the level of sugar and starch in the diet, referred to as Non-Structural Carbohydrates (NSC’s), should be kept low. The closer you can get to feeding in sympathy with the way your horse has evolved to digest food, the more relaxed he will be.
If your horse can be sharp, maximising turnout time should be helpful. However, if he is sensitive to the high-sugar grass in spring, or prone to excessive weight gain, access to grazing may need to be restricted. The good news is that the sugar level in grass becomes less of a problem later in summer as the grass matures but there may be another risk period in autumn, when a further flush of grass sometimes occurs.
When grass isn’t available, for example when your horse is stabled or travelling, he will need to have access to conserved forage. Early-cut hay or haylage, although beneficial for poor-doers, can have a negative effect on the behaviour of certain horses. If this is the case for your horse, late-cut meadow hay (which is usually lower in sugar compared to earlier cuts) should be more suitable.
Unless your horse is overweight, this hay should be offered ad-lib. If he does need to lose weight, before restricting the amount fed, you can soak the hay for 3 to 12 hours in ample, cool, fresh water. This will lower its sugar and calorie content, and help with both behaviour and weight control.
Hard feeds should also be kept low in sugar and starch. High NSC feeds (e.g. cereals, cereal-containing products and highly molassed feeds) cause a rise in glucose in the bloodstream and may lead to short-term ‘fizz.’ Large meals containing high starch feeds, can also lead to an overflow of undigested starch from the foregut into the hindgut. This can upset the microbial balance, increase the acidity of the hindgut and lead to irritable or sharp behaviour. High NSC diets can also predispose horses to gastric ulceration, which often leads to behavioural changes.
Basing the hard feed on an appropriate cereal-grain-free, top specification feed balancer is a very successful approach. A top specification, conditioning feed balancer will allow your horse to gain maximum benefit from his forage meaning that hard feeds can be kept relatively small. It will also provide him with high quality protein to promote muscle development and topline when combined with working in a correct outline. The pre- and probiotics included not only support fibre digestion but may also help to relax certain horses.
If further calories are needed, products that include highly digestible fibre and/or oil, instead of cereals, can be added to the feed balancer. This will keep sugar and starch levels down whilst supplying additional calories. Top specification conditioning cubes are ideal, and there are certain cubes available that also include beneficial ingredients for horses with sensitive stomachs, such as β-glucans.
If your horse is a good-doer, a non-conditioning, top specification ‘Lite’ feed balancer or multi-supplement provides an excellent solution and will not promote weight gain when used as part of a calorie-controlled diet.
Despite addressing the factors above, if your horse finds it difficult to remain calm, the addition of a calming supplement may then also be beneficial. A product that includes several scientifically proven ingredients for calming horses, can give you a better chance of solving a problem than a product containing just one ingredient. Ingredients such as tryptophan, certain B vitamins, magnesium and pre and probiotics may all have a positive effect on responsive horses when provided at the correct levels.
Feeds can be tailored according to individual requirements and an experienced equine nutritionist will be happy to give you specific advice.
Article supplied by nutritionists from the TopSpec Multiple Award-Winning-Helpline. They can be contacted, free of charge, on 01845-565030.