In my previous blog post I offered an overview of what I mean when I refer to a Natural Supplement. I also covered our first area of concern of the five in this series, the Equine Digestive Track. I would encourage you to read that blog before moving on to this. You can click here to access it.
In this blog post we will discuss the Natural Supplements horse owners can look to for help with equine nervous system issues like too much energy or not enough.
The equine central nervous system is where good health (and good behavior) begins. Unfortunately, many horse owners resort to the use of chemical sedatives and tranquilizers to calm their horses, and steroids to boost energy. Not only are these products often illegal to use in competitive situations, they can damage the horse’s overall health and well-being.
The nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and several different kinds of nerves that are found throughout the body. These create complex circuits through which horses experience and respond to sensations.
Many different types of diseases can affect the nervous system, including birth defects, infections, inflammatory conditions, poisoning, metabolic disorders, nutritional disorders, injuries, degenerative diseases, or cancer. When looking for ways to support or fix an issue with the nervous system always start with a visit from your vet.
When I talk to horse owners about nervous system (behavior) issues they usually are reporting the problem of too much energy and are looking to supplements for calming and focus. As I have said before, chemical fixes are treating symptoms and are temporary, especially when it comes to treating the nervous system. Natural Supplements nourish, strengthen and re-balance the nervous system so that once an anxious horse calms down he no longer reacts to things around him.
Chemical sedatives simply block nervous system responses for as long as the drug remains in the horse’s system. This is why they are a “one-time fix” instead of an overall cure. In a nervous horse, a tranquilizer will dull his reactions and make him physically unable to jump around. The right Natural Supplement will mean the nervous horse will no longer want to jump around.
In treating Nervous System issues I cannot stress enough that we must look at our horse care before we start trying to change behavior.
Before you look to calmers start by asking yourself these important questions….
- Am I over-feeding my horse? Does the food have too many calories? What about exercise and turn out? Does my horse have enough social stimulation? What about medical issues like injury, pain, ulcers? Could his behavior be due to tack fit? What about how I ride, am I causing the bucking and shying?
If you can rule out physical,care-giving, and riding as causes for the high strung horse then we can look at Natural Supplements to help. We will start with herbs, then look at essential oils, and finally we will look at “other” things such as whole foods, vitamin/minerals and such. Note: Before you use any of these, I would encourage you to find a holistic vet, an equine herbalist or to work only with companies that specialize in equine products.
HERBS FOR CALMING-
As herbivores, it is natural for horses to seek out and eat herbs, such as comfrey, red clover, garlic, dandelion and nettle, which have healing properties in their seeds, flowers, roots, stems or leaves. Generally speaking herbs are used for chronic, long-standing problems and often can allow your vet to reduce the amounts of pharmaceutical drugs they use on your horse.
Before you use any herbs with your horse you should first:
- Check with your veterinarian first to be sure you’re not dealing with a problem that needs conventional treatment.
- Feed the recommended amount, not more. Some plants used in herbal formulas have toxic properties.
- Buy only formulas designed for horses; horses and people react differently to many herbs.
- Look for the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal. Members of this group agree to follow certain standards in manufacturing and labeling.
There is a class of herbs called ‘nervines’ that have specific actions on the nervous system. Many of the nervines contain high levels of magnesium phosphate – a mineral that has been found to be very important to the health and well being of nerves. Different nervines nourish different aspects of the nervous system. There are many that can be used but of these the ones I like are:
- Chamomile-best known for its relaxing qualities and can be helpful for nervous tensions before competing. It will not adversely affect the performance.
- Valarien– a natural tranquilizer and can cause drowsiness. It is also a banned substance under competition rules.
- Jiaogulan is an adaptogenic herb which means it improves a horse’s (or person’s) ability to deal with stress. It does this by regulating the hormone, cortisol–increasing or decreasing it as needed.
ESSENTIAL OILS FOR CALMING-
When using essential oils with your horse remember to let your horse choose the oils which will help him/her best though. Before you use an oil, hold the open bottle (or some oil dabbed on a cotton ball) close to the horse’s nose so he can sniff it. His reaction to the oil will let you know whether you should use it or not.
There are two basic ways you can use essential oils with your horse–
- aromatherapy and
- topical application.
For emotional issues, let your horse inhale the oil and you can dab it on their forehead or poll.
There are a variety of blends out there specifically created for the equine nervous system, heck, there are even blends so specific they are only for trailering! If you want to look at individual essential oils here are the most common used for this purpose:
- CedarwoodEssential Oil: Grounding and calming, helps ease anxiety and nervousness.
- Lavender Essential Oil: Calming, relaxing, and balancing.
- Chamomile- Certain horses show anxiety is through his digestive system. Presenting with diarrhea when nervous or worried. May even suffer an attack of colic when under stress, and may lose in stressful. These horses are best treated with Chamomile.
- Juniperessential oil is for the worrying horse; it stills the mind.
There is one more category of Natural Supplements we can look at to use on the Equine Nervous System. Whole foods and Vitamin Mineral supplements.
“OTHER” for Nervous System Issues: Many of the issues horse owners have with high strung/nervous horses are directly related to their diet. Look at the diet for sources of energy and to determine if there is “too much”. Then look to these additions to help:
- Magnesium-plays an important part in nerve and muscle function, and horses deficient in this important element can show signs of nervousness, wariness, excitability.
- Pumpkin seeds- high in magnesium (1200 mg) and fiber
- Flax or Chia seeds: High in magnesium and high in omega 3s.
- Split peas: 230 mg of magnesium and fiber
- Bee Pollen- Stress can use up vitamins quickly, and bee pollen can relieve stress and anxiety by replacing essential nutrient reserves in the body.
At the opposite end of the energy spectrum are horses with not enough.
The number one reason I see for lack of energy is improper diet. What I mean is that there not enough calories for the job they are asked to do. Another contributor is illness. So let’s check the energy sources in the diet for clues, also check the overall caloric content of diet, and finally rule out illness that can cause a lack of energy. Then, you can look to these Natural Supplements to help:
HERBS TO INCREASE ENERGY:
- Hawthorn– A general tonic for the heart, lowers high blood pressure and aids digestion.
- Ginkgo– Improves circulation and blood flow throughout the body which can energize.
- Nettle-Provides iron and vitamin C to help strengthen and enhance the circulatory system. Helps in the elimination of waste products through the functions of the liver and kidneys which can cause sluggish behavior.
- Fenugreek-Very good for stimulating appetite to help increase caloric intake and improving condition.
ESSENTIAL OILS TO INCREASE ENERGY:
- Grapefruit- An uplifting essential oil useful when horses are tired. It is also a mild detoxifying essential oil and useful in recovery after operations or serious illness.
- Peppermint- Invigorates the mind and senses, while inspiring a sense of peace.
“OTHER” to INCREASE ENERGY:
- Bee Pollen- Can relieve brain fatigue and improve alertness. This can increase the capacity for intense concentration and enable longer periods of work without becoming tired.
- Coconut Oil- All fat (oil) is 2.5 times the energy of carbs and protein so this oil packs an energy punch. Of all the oils you can feed your horse coconut oil is a really easy to absorb.
- Flax Seed Oil- Flax Oil has been shown to reduce the build-up of lactic acid in muscles, which is a common cause of fatigue in performance horses.
- Soybeans, and corn- These contain Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) which is protein synthesis in muscles. This helps reduce exercise-induced muscle damage. BCAAs are of particular benefit to endurance horses which can suffer from muscle breakdown during competition.
I am so glad you are looking to a more integrative approach for your horse care, and including alternative, more “natural” options. If you want to look at herbal blends that are created by a highly reputable company and specific to horses click here and a line of essential oils created just for horses click here.
Please check back in next week for Natural Supplements for the Equine Immune System. Until then…
Peace and good riding!