Calming Treats Versus Traditional Calmers
Whilst calmers have traditionally been sold in powder form, recent years have seen an increase in calming 'treats' available on the market. Whilst traditional calmers are typically fed on an ongoing basis, these ‘treats’ are mainly fed on an as-and-when required basis. This makes them appear more cost effective, particularly for horses who may only get stressed during certain situations such as travelling, shows, farrier and vet appointments.
Whilst this ‘quick fix’ may seem appealing, there is definitely more than meets the eye. It's important to understand that calming ‘treats’ may not actually be suitable for many horses. Most of us know the importance of checking the ingredients and nutritional information on our horse’s feed, particularly if we are feeding a sensitive, spooky or reactive horse. However, many horse owners may not actually think to look into the ingredients in the calmers they're using. Surprisingly many calming treats actually contain ingredients that can exacerbate spooky, reactive and anxious behaviours so may not be suitable for the majority of horses. Let’s take a look into some of these commonly found ingredients that are a big no no.
Ingredients to watch out for
In order to make a calmer into ‘treat’ form, the use of several additives and bonding agents are often required. A common ingredient added to give these treats their shape is molasses. Molasses is essentially pure sugar and we all know that sugar can have a heating effect on horses, so is essential to avoid when feeding a spooky or reactive horse. A lot of calming treats will have a combined sugar and starch content of more than 20%. When feeding spooky, reactive or excitable horses, it is very important that the combined sugar and starch content does not exceed 10% - less than half of the amount often found in these 'calming' products.
Treats containing molasses are also totally unsuitable for horses and ponies who require a low sugar and starch diet, such as those with laminitis, EMS and other metabolic conditions as well as good do-ers who are at greater risk of unnecessary weight gain.
Soya is another key ingredient in many of these calming treats. Soya is rich in protein and energy, which is why it is most commonly found in competition and conditioning mixes. However, many horses are in fact extremely sensitive to soya. If your horse is sensitive to soya, feeding just a tiny amount is enough to have a huge effect on them, exacerbating spooky and reactive behaviours further.
Further additives found in the most popular brands of calming treats include L-Arginine and L-Tyrosine, which in many cases are actually derived from animal sources and have to be produced artificially in a lab. Horses are herbivores and can only digest plant matter, when animal based products are fed, your horse is likely to struggle metabolising them properly. That means they won’t get the full benefits of the product and in some cases may also end up with digestive upset - the very last thing you want!
Are calming treats safe?
Many calming treats are quick acting, claiming to show results within less than an hour of feeding, essentially having a sedative effect on your horse. This sedative effect slows down your horse’s reaction times - not quite the effect you want when competing!
The FEI have strict guidelines in place with many known sedatives being prohibited for use in competition due to the increased risk this will put on both horse and rider, particularly in fast paced sports such as showjumping and cross country. Just because a sedative is ‘competition legal’ doesn’t mean it does not carry the same risks as those that are banned.
Changes in diet
Continuity is extremely important in your horse’s diet and where possible, sudden changes should be avoided as this can upset the microbiome in the hind gut, leading to a plethora of other health concerns. Whilst the occasional treat every now and then is unlikely to lead to digestive upset, suddenly feeding your horse a handful of these treats prior to a stressful event can quickly create an imbalance in the gut and may lead to other digestive complications.
The effects of these types of calmers are often only short lived and can wear off very quickly depending on your horse’s metabolic rate. Some horses will require several of these treats at once and this can work out to be very costly in the long run.
100% natural alternatives
Calmers such as No More Nerves work to regulate the nervous system and are a much better option for long term results. While it may take a little longer to see results (three to four weeks of continuous feeding is recommended to see full benefits), the outcomes are far more desirable. With No More Nerves you can expect a calmer, more focused state of mind without dulling your horse’s sparkle or effecting their performance. No More Nerves is made entirely from natural herbs with zero unnecessary additives whilst being non-sedating and safe for use in competition.
It's tempting to reach for something that seems like a quick, easy and fun fix. It's much better to to take a more holisitic approach to calming which will have better outcomes for your horse both in terms of their stress and their well-being.