A friend recently asked a group of instructors what their thoughts on calmers were, whether they are effective or placebos.
This is always a hotly debated topic, and calmers was a topic listed on my never ending list of subjects for my blog, however it has never been important enough to reach the top.
My Mum uses a magnesium based calmer for her pony, after he went scatty one summer. He was spooky and skittish, setting her nerves on edge, so she tried adding a supplement to his feed after reading that a lack of magnesium causes an imbalance of chemicals in the horse so they react erratically. She definitely felt it worked, as she could begin riding confidently again, and he stopped spooking at his own shadow. Nowadays I don’t think she feeds it during winter, when he is on more hard feed and hay, but if he starts to get silly in the spring or summer then she includes it in his diet again.
A client of mine had problems with her young horse in the spring. I think it became a vicious cycle, he would fidget and push his boundaries, she would get stressed, and then this would rub off on him and he would get more tense and fidgety. When I handled him alone I felt he was very worried, and seemed to have a “nobody loves me” sense to him, and he was much better when I was calm, quiet and efficient in the stable, finding it more relaxing and putting him at ease. I made sure I made friends with him at the beginning to, as I felt he needed a leader and a friend. I suggested to this client that we tried a calmer to try and break the cycle. If he was more relaxed then she should be more relaxed so he wouldn’t get uptight in anticipation of stress. Some on the yard thought it was a waste of time, but I tend to feel it is better to try to solve the problem internally than mask it or for it to become a confrontation.
I also did some research about calmers, and found that spring grass, or that which has grown rapidly, is quite often deficient in magnesium, so it stands to reason that a factor of his behavioural changes could be a deficiency in magnesium.
I feel that there was an improvement in the relationship between horse and handler, and also in the demeanour of the horse and he seemed to chill out both on the ground and under saddle, so from my perspective the calmer was effective.
So both those experiences were with magnesium based calmers, but sometimes herbs are used. A friend of mine has a whizzy, tense mare and found that feeding chamomile helped relax her mare and make her more rideable. Chamomile works on soothing the digestive system as opposed to correcting chemical imbalances, and there are many other herbs that are often fed in conjunction with chamomile in herb based supplements.
- My thoughts as to whether calmers are placebos or not depends on whether the calmer is solving the reason for a horse’s restlessness or skittish behaviour. If the horse has been adversely affected by the lack of magnesium in his diet then a calmer based on herbs will be ineffective, but a magnesium one should help improve behaviour. So when considering using a calmer for your horse there are a number of things to consider – namely why is his behaviour changing. Could it be the season, his diet, his workload, psychological problems, negative connotations with his environment, his daily routine, or pain. Once all those factors have been considered then you’re more likely to choose an effective method of calming your horse, be it changing part his lifestyle or diet. Then of course if you do use a supplement calmer then it should be effective.