Spillers’ equine nutritionist Clare Barfoot provides one H&H forum user with some helpful advice on how and when to feed calming supplements and how feed can affect behaviour

Q: Feeding calmers: “I’m looking for advice on calmers — specifically supplement ones as opposed to syringes. My horse is quite a worrier. It only takes one thing to startle him and I’ll completely lose his attention. Thereafter he will be very spooky and seem to use anything as an excuse to exacerbate the issue. Then will come the loose droppings and I get cross because we can’t achieve anything productive. I’ll continue riding until he settles out of principle, but it seems like a pretty pointless exercise. Take tonight for example. I was leading him in from the field, the wind was blowing a hooley and someone was banging around in the feed room as we walked past. He didn’t jump, but it worried him. After that he spooked at an out of place bag of shavings, a leaf that blew past his foot and he then wouldn’t settle when tied up — it’s a real pain. I’m not worried that it’s his feed as he goes through spates of worrying rather than it being all the time. I’m considering introducing a calmer in his feed to take the edge off the worried spells. What would you recommend? Is it best to feed calmers every day or is it better to feed during his worried periods (although is that a little like shutting the door once the horse has bolted)? Any advice is much appreciated.”

A: Although all horses are individuals with their individual temperaments and characters, there is no doubt that feed can affect behaviour and performance. But before you reach for the supplement shelf at your local tack shop, it might pay to take a closer look at you horse’s diet.

Firstly, you might have to accept that this type of nervous behaviour is part of your horse’s character; like people, some horses are just more highly strung! Then I’m sure you are, but it can also be of benefit to get some help from a trainer who can assess you and your horse and give you some tips on how to tackle some of these behaviours.

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Then it’s time to turn to the diet. If you have an excitable horse or a horse that gets spooky and up-tight like yours, make sure you base his diet on fibre and oil and avoid cereal-based feeds, such as coarse mixes. Fibre and oil are described as slow release energy sources and are therefore less likely to cause excitable behaviour than the ‘instant’ energy that is provided from starch contained within cereals.

Your horse’s condition will dictate the calories he will require from his feed. If he is a good doer he may benefit from a feed balancer such as Spillers Original Multi Balancer alongside hay. If he needs a little more in the way of calories try Spillers High Fibre Cubes, or for even more energy try Spillers Slow Release Energy Cubes.

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Once you have adjusted the diet, you could also try a calming supplement, although it is important to note there is little in the way of scientific evidence to support their use. This is not to say they won’t work, but their effect is highly individual so it might be down to some trial and error to see which one has the desired effect. However, whichever one you choose make sure if you are competing under affiliated rules you feed a supplement that is BETA NOPS approved.

For more information on feeding to support weight gain call the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626.