Managing High Strung Horses
Nutritional solutions can help with highstrung horses that can be exasperating, but also have an abundance of talent and desire to perform.
Some horses are their own worst enemy. You know the type. They are often very talented and enthusiastic, but their eagerness can be over the top, leading to wasted energy. Also problematic are horses that seem to over analyze every situation, turning what should be simple and routine situations into a major event.
Management can play a big role here. These horses benefit from a rigidly adhered to schedule of feeding, exercise and turnout – and few surprises. Interaction with compatible companions helps satisfy their social needs. You can help desensitize nervous horses by taking them along to events even if they are not competing that day. Remain calm if you get an over-the-top reaction to something that should be commonplace. However, even with these best efforts there will still be horses that stress out for no good reason.
You can't use calming medications or even herbals on a daily basis, and not at all during competitions. These agents are overkill and often have negative effects on the horse's reflexes and responsiveness. Fortunately, there are alternatives for helping the horse handle stress and anxiety.
Taurine is a nitrogen and sulfur containing organic acid very similar in structure to amino acids. Taurine alleviates anxiety without compromising alertness. The end result is better performance and focus.
Taurine exerts these effects by interacting with GABA receptors in the brain in an area of the thalamus that coordinates communication between the primitive, emotional brain and the thinking brain. Taurine may also be of benefit because of its antioxidant properties.
Research has found that anxiety is associated with increased production of nitric oxide in the brain, which leads to oxidative stress. Experimentally blocking this nitric oxide production alleviates the anxiety. This means there is a role for antioxidants in easing anxiety and stress reactions. Citrus bioflavanoids and vitamin C are good choices. These are water soluble antioxidants with activity both within the neurons and in the fluid surrounding them.
The amino acid glycine plays interesting functions in the nervous system. In the spinal cord and the primitive brain areas it has a calming action. In higher brain areas the role is reversed and it promotes attention, focus and organized thought.
Inositol has many functions but the one of interest here is as a second messenger in the nervous system. When important neurotransmitters like serotonin attach to a cell membrane, the second messenger compounds transmit this information to structures within the cell, including the nucleus. Supplemental inositol has been suggested to help with a variety of psychiatric disorders, including panic.
Gamma oryzanol is a polyphenolic found primarily in rice bran oil. Although formal research and details on how it may help are sparse, use as an agent to combat anxiety was the first application proposed by Japanese researchers. Gamma oryzanol is also an anabolic, muscle building compound, especially in geldings, and could contribute to well being in this way.
Dealing with highstrung horses can be exasperating, but they often also have an abundance of talent and desire to perform. Keeping their routine predictable and remaining calm in the face of any overreaction goes a long way but if that's not enough there are nutritional solutions that can help.