By Juliet M. Getty

Agitated, nervous horses that are normally well-behaved may benefit from a calming supplement. These products can contain vitamins, minerals, herbs or amino acids. So, which should your client choose and what’s the best way to use them? Before your clients make a decision, they should consider these important points:

· An empty stomach is the main cause for behavioral issues — forage (hay and/or pasture) should be available at all times.

· Magnesium deficiency may be the issue, since most horses don’t get enough of this mineral — if this is true for your client’s horse, supplementing 5,000 mg of magnesium per 500 pounds of body weight will make a positive change in demeanor.

· A borderline B vitamin deficiency will affect behavior and can result when the hindgut microbial population is compromised by stress, high starch diets, illness, or antibiotics. Thiamin (vitamin B1) has been shown to be especially effective at high doses (1 mg per pound of body weight). Prebiotics that feed existing microbes also result in more B vitamin production.

· Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, leads to serotonin synthesis in the brain and can be useful in soothing a nervous horse. For this effect to occur, it is best to offer tryptophan as a paste between meals. When added to a meal, tryptophan will not be used for serotonin production and the calming effect will be significantly diminished

· Caution! Herbs such as chamomile, valerian, black cohosh, ginger root, and passion flower may have an over-tranquilizing effect, interact with other medications and have side effects. Consult with your veterinarian before using.

 Juliet M. Getty is an independent equine nutritionist and author of "Feed Your Horses Like A Horse."