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Unwanted behaviour in horses can be associated with diet, management routine, environment, and breeding/genetics. Dietary supplements can be used to help manage these behaviours, acting as a competition-safe method for supporting calm behaviour.

Life for the modern horse, is very different to that of a wild horse. Factors such as stabling, lack of company, lack of exercise, competition demands, and the intake of high starch and sugar feeds can all adversely impact behaviour. A high starch and sugar intake may be the direct cause of the over-excitable behaviour, or it could exacerbate “stressy” behaviour in an already nervous horse. All adverse behaviours have the potential to negatively impact performance, handler safety, and the overall quality of life for these horses.

What are the signs of stress and anxiety in horses?

Interpreting equine behaviour is difficult even for the professionals and only time will allow you to get to know what is “normal” for your horse.  Behaviours that seem out of character or present a threat to handlers should be investigated and managed appropriately.

There are many behaviours that could be signs of stress and/or over-excitability in horses, including:

  1. Over-reaction to external stimuli and inclination to flinch/spook at minor things
  2. Lack of focus (particularly when competing)
  3. Resistance to training/handling/riding
  4. Frequent urination and defaecation
  5. General unsettlement e.g. pawing the ground, kicking stable doors, whinnying
  6. Stereotypic behaviours e.g. box walking
  7. Aggression

What can trigger stress and anxiety in horses?

There are many different causes of anxiety in horses, but some common predisposing factors include:

  1. High carbohydrate/sugar diets (excessive intake = excessive energy to burn, plus exacerbation of adverse behaviour in anxious horses)
  2. Low pasture turnout
  3. Inadequate exercise
  4. Temperament (which can be related to genetics)
  5. Exposure to new or unnatural situations (for example clipping, shoeing or travelling)
  6. Competition/training demands
  7. Pain e.g gastric ulcers or arthritis (if you suspect your horses adverse behaviour may be related to discomfort/pain then you should contact your vet immediately).
  8. Hormones

How can I help?

Investigating unwanted behaviours may lead you to a cause that you can reduce or even remove, e.g. reducing pain levels in an arthritic horse can help them work with less resistance; getting hormonal therapy for a stroppy mare could alleviate her negative behaviour; and increasing your horses exercise levels may make him more content.

Diet may directly or indirectly be the cause of your horses unwanted behaviours and maintaining a low starch and sugar diet either way, will reduce over-excitability and the exacerbation of other stress/anxiety related behaviours.

Often there may be multiple factors at play when dealing with these horses and one quick fix is not always easy to find, the following are ways that you can take direct action to help alleviate your horses unwanted behaviours:

Feed a low starch and sugar diet

– When a horse is taking in excess energy, they can often show nervous and over-excitable behaviours
– Where necessary, a high starch concentrate feed should be avoided three to four hours before exercise
Read ‘A nutritional approach to behaviour management’ for more information

Match energy input with workload

– Horses, when appropriate, should have a consistent daily exercise routine
– Increase turnout to allow for exercise and interaction with other horses
– Avoid providing excess energy and feed what is required for work and to maintain condition


– Supplements such as Nutri-Calm can help to promote calm behaviour and restore focus

Get a buddy horse

– Some naturally anxious horses settle well once they have a buddy. A buddy works particularly well for young horses, such as weaned foals, as it can help them to feel calm and safe

Give them time to familiarise themselves with new environments or experiences

– This helps them build confidence in a time frame suitable for them and in turn can help reduce their anxiety

Get help from your vet

– Sedation
If your horse exhibits unsafe behaviour during specific experiences e.g. shoeing or dental examinations, your vet may decide sedatives are appropriate. Sedation can have complications in rare cases, so decisions to sedate are normally based on the need to ensure horse welfare and handler safety, are optimised.
– Hormone therapy in mares
When anxious or over-excitable behaviour in fillies or mares is thought to be associated with their reproductive cycle, a veterinary surgeon may prescribe progesterone treatment e.g. Regumate, to prevent the mare from coming in to season
If you think your horse could benefit from sedation for essential events or hormonal therapy, the ALWAYS get in touch with your vet. Progesterone treatment is not suitable for competition horses.

How can Nutri-Calm help stressed, nervous or anxious horses?

Nutri-Calm is a dietary supplement that may help to alleviate stress and anxiety related behaviours by providing optimised levels of specific nutritional factors know to promote calmer behaviour, allowing horses to better maintain focus and concentration. It is available as both a liquid calming supplement, to be mixed once daily with feed, and as an easy-to-use calming gel which can be given to horses one to two hours before an event that may trigger stressful or anxious behaviour.


– An essential amino acid required to form the neurotransmitter serotonin within the brain. Serotonin is associated with a reduction in feelings of stress of anxiety, and the overall promotion of feeling settled and calm.   

B-complex vitamins:

– B1 or thiamine is included as it has been demonstrated in humans to reduce anxiety and improve concentration and the same may be true in horses. B1 also has a direct role in the transmission of nerve impulses.

– B6 is an important co-enzyme acting as a catalyst in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.

– Niacin (B3) has a tryptophan “sparing” effect ensuring a plentiful supply is available for the production of serotonin.

– B12 inclusion helps to support appetite which is commonly reduced in nervous horses


– A common ingredient in calmers based on its involvement in normal nerve transmission.


If you are looking for more advice on calming supplement products, why not get in touch with one of our equine nutrition experts?


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