An expert’s view of calming products for horses

An animal behaviorist discusses feed supplements, pheromones and aromatherapies marketed to promote calmness in horses.

Horse owners can choose from several types of products formulated to help calm horses. Options include feed supplements, pheromones, aromatherapies and more.

Aromatherapy

Just like aromatherapy products for people, those for horses use plant extracts and essential oils to promote health and well being. Many believe aromatherapy aids in pain relief and reduces anxiety. Research shows that aromatherapy with lavender oil can reduce heart rate and other physiological evidence of stress in horses.

Valerian is used for alternative therapies, tea, oil and beauty products. (Getty Images)

Pheromones

Another popular type of calming product for horses are pheromones. Pheromones are substances excreted into the environment by an individual that can affect how others behave. A calming pheromone for horses comes in a gel form. It is applied inside the nostrils. But Bonnie Beaver, DVM, DACVB, DACAW, of Texas A&M University, advises horse owners to be careful. “The company’s studies suggest that this product will decrease the time it will take to load the reluctant or fearful horse into a trailer,” she says. “It seems to work in certain situations, but not if the horse is highly aroused and very scared.”

Supplements

Calming supplements may contain many different ingredients. Some mix vitamins and minerals, as well as traditional herbal ingredients, such as chamomile, valerian root and raspberry leaf. One product offers alpha-casozepine, a protein derived from milk that calms nursing youngsters. Studies have shown that alpha-casozepine has a calming effect in several species.

Talk to your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist before starting your horse on a new product. They may be able to suggest brands or ingredients that are more likely to be helpful. “Most people don’t realize that there is actually a placebo effect with most calming medications, of greater than 50 percent,” says Beaver. “The horse owners think their animals are less afraid because they are using product X. They are less afraid, only because you think they are less afraid. It’s your perception. You want the horse to be better, so you think he is: You are just certain that he is less reactive than he was before.”

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