As a habitual thoroughbred (in particular ex-racehorse) owner I am fairly used to dealing with highly strung or excitable horses (glutton for punishment!) Once they leave racing and begin life as a ‘normal horse’ I find that the majority of residue ‘racing anxiety’ ebbs away with time as each horse settles into a new routine and a less hectic lifestyle.
I know that the popularity of taking on and re-schooling ex-racers has really taken off in the last few years as people have begun to realise what fantastic, and versatile competition horses then can be re-trained into, so I thought I would share some of the extra little things I have found helpful in calming down an excitable horse (in particular my ex-racers)
It is not uncommon for horses in racing to develop stomach ulcers as a result of their lifestyle.
“Prevalence of ulceration in thoroughbred racehorses is very high. In my experience, it’s around 85% to 90% and probably reaches 100% at some point in a horse’s career,” says Bryan Young, DVM, of Young Equine Services
Ulcers cause pain and discomfort for the horse. Girthing/riding/rugging/grooming a horse with ulcers can prove uncomfortable and they will often exhibit tell tale behaviour that indicates this (biting/pulling faces when being girthed up is just one typical example). In order to aid normal gastric function and promote a healthy gut I keep my horses on a pro-biotic. Gut Balancer from Protexin helps maintain healthy gut function and prevent digestive upset which can make ulcer issues worse, and this is fed daily. At times of high stress such as when competing, or changing routine, worming or travelling I use their Quick Fix product to make sure no stomach upset occurs.
In addition to this I also feed Aloeride which is a concentrated aloevera product. There are so many benefits to feeding aloevera, too many to list but this article from the creator of Aloeride Han van de Braak BSc LicAc MCSP explains in depth how it can help gastric ulcers. When I first added this supplement to Dustry’s feeding routine there were visible physical improvements in his condition and most importantly his behaviour also improved noticeably. I feed it daily as standard now.
Calm down you loon!
Magnesium calmers have been around for ages, and I have been very sceptical about them in the past due to the huge variations in price and ingredients. Through trial and error I have discovered one that works well for my horses and proves to be very cost effective too! I use Equine America’s ‘Magnitude’ calmer. You feed a tiny measure daily and 1 pot costs roughly £20 and is estimated to last 6 months! That works out at just £3.30 per month.
Sometimes the old remedies are the best but get overshadowed by new and excitingly packaged products. If you want to use old horsemanship knowledge and natural herbal ingredients you could try feeding Brewers Yeast and dried Chamomile flowers. Brewers Yeast is reported to have calming effects and also be beneficial for weight gain in poor doers (a great additional benefit as it can be very hard at times to keep condition on highly strung horses) Dried Chamomile flowers are easy to add to feed and also contain calming and anti-inflammatory qualities.
Hay not haylage
It always seemed like a good idea to me to keep my tb’s on haylage during the winter months to give them as much nutritional value as possible in order to help them maintain weight during the colder weather. By accident though one year (I ran out of haylage and had to go onto hay for a few days) I discovered that the haylage I was feeding was actually ‘hyping up’ my horses and so for all the good it did calorie wise they probably burnt that off during mad galloping moments in the field and general high energy behaviour. Since switching exclusively to hay previously excitable horses now feel like they have been ‘dialled down a few notches’.
On further investigation into haylage, the PH levels of the product, and the fact that it was originally produced as an agricultural product for ruminants (cows mainly, not horses who have a totally different digestive system) but some how seems to have become an acceptable forage for equines, I am baffled. I think it is probably one of the most widely blindly fed and digestively damaging products, but very few people really think about what it is they are feeding and the impact it can have.
As a general rule I try to feed a high fibre low sugar diet, and exercise my horses as much as possible. This combined with a regular turn out and bring in routine has helped me develop a calmer more focused, and most important of all, a more ‘ex’ ex-racehorse.
Now this might sound a bit nuts, but I believe that therapeutic rugs can also have a calming effect. I recently bought a Back on Track mesh rug for Dustry and I have noticed that he is much calmer when ridden and also there is much less resistance within his body when asking for more challenging work on the flat eg lateral, tight exercises etc. He wears the rug as much as possible and when ridden he feels more ride-able and free.
Back on Track products are made from polyester or polyester fibres with ceramic particles fused into the fibres. When heated (by warmth from the body) the ceramic particles radiate a heat back towards the body. This reflected heat is long-wave heat radiation aka long wave infrared radiation. Long wave infrared heat radiation increases the blood circulation. The increased blood circulation in the tissues helps to relieve muscles tension and improves performance.
I think that when a horse feels loose and warm and its body contains no tension or soreness then it will be much calmer and biddable. I am impressed with the results on Dustry, so much so that I shall be investing in some of their products for myself.
I hope that some of these tips will be useful if you are trying to deal with an excitable or stressy horse. My first port of call would always be to address the diet, and make sure that they have digestive comfort because behaviour and diet are so closely linked.
If you have any tips that you’d like to share then please leave a comment below.
Post updated 22/12/14