Sedatives or Nutrients for Calming Horses?

Calm Horse

The invasiveness and duration of a procedure, and the health and composure of the horse are factors a veterinarian assesses when determining if administration of a sedative is appropriate. Sedation of a horse undergoing a procedure often results in a calmer and safer environment for the horse and the handlers. However, there is also the chance of a drug reaction or a profound sedation leading to injuries to the horse or handlers. 

Although sedatives have an immediate effect, a calming supplement can be a good alternative because it doesn’t cause the horse to lose alertness and responsiveness. However, the beneficial effects may take a minimum of 2 to 3 hours to occur. Many horses have a noticeable positive response and will stand quietly; other horses may not derive the same results. Among the nutrients that can help calm a horse are tryptophan, thiamine, and magnesium.

Tryptophan is necessary for serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that carries signals between nerve cells. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means it is not produced in the body and has to be ingested. Plant proteins of grains and hay in equine diets are usually low in tryptophan content.

Thiamine, or vitamin B1, has a direct role in nerve impulse transmission, is important in energy metabolism, and helps control hyperactivity. Sufficient thiamine is produced by hindgut microbes in the majority of horses; however horses that are stressed or have impaired digestive function may not produce enough thiamine. In those cases, supplementing thiamine can be very beneficial.

Magnesium is important for nerve transmission and muscle function. Some horses may have a diet deficient in magnesium. Also, magnesium deficiency can occur when too much of another inversely correlated nutrient, such as zinc, is present in the diet. Supplementing magnesium to these horses can produce a calming effect.

When deciding which equine calming supplement to try, choose a supplement formulated by veterinary nutritionists and manufactured by a reputable company. The key is using a calming supplement that provides tryptophan, thiamine, and magnesium in the correct ratios and amounts to avoid nutrient interference, under supplementation or over supplementation.

Recommended Calming Supplement: Compose® 2x

Learn More

Calming supplements are a good alternative to sedatives for most horses; however, there are a few horses that do not have a nutrient deficiency of thiamine, tryptophan or magnesium and therefore do not respond – these horses may ultimately require a sedative. We recommend trying a calming supplement a few times, or daily for a few days, before determining if it’s a good option for your horse.

J. Frank Gravlee, DVM, MS, CNS
Founder of Life Data Labs, Inc.
H. Scott Gravlee, DVM, CNS
Equine Nutrition Consultant