Unlike sedatives, some nutrients can help calm horses without sacrificing their alertness or responsiveness. However, the beneficial effects may take a minimum of 2 to 3 hours to occur. Many horses have a noticeable positive response and will stand quietly; other horses may not derive the same results. Among the nutrients that can help calm a horse are tryptophan, thiamine, and magnesium.
Tryptophan is necessary for serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that carries signals between nerve cells. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means it is not produced in the body and has to be ingested. Plant proteins of grains and hay in equine diets are usually low in tryptophan content.
Thiamine, or vitamin B1, has a direct role in nerve impulse transmission, is important in energy metabolism, and helps control hyperactivity. Sufficient thiamine is produced by hindgut microbes in the majority of horses; however horses that are stressed or have impaired digestive function may not produce enough thiamine. In those cases, supplementing thiamine can be very beneficial.
Magnesium is important for nerve transmission and muscle function. Some horses may have a diet deficient in magnesium. Also, magnesium deficiency can occur when too much of another inversely correlated nutrient, such as zinc, is present in the diet. Supplementing magnesium to these horses can produce a calming effect.
Although sedatives have an immediate effect, a calming supplement can be safer because it doesn’t cause the horse to lose alertness and responsiveness.
When deciding which calming supplement to try, choose a supplement backed by research and manufactured by a reputable company. The key is using a calming supplement that provides tryptophan, thiamine, and magnesium in the correct ratios and amounts to avoid nutrient interference, under supplementation or over supplementation.