Feeds and feeding for hot, fizzy, excitable horses and ponies

Feeds and feeding for hot, fizzy, excitable horses and ponies

Horses that are stressed, excitable or nervous can be difficult and even dangerous to ride and handle.  But what causes a horse to be ?'fizzy" or hot' and are calmative products really the answer for excitable equines?

Various factors can contribute to excitability in horses.  Diets high in sugar and starch (NSC) - found in some pastures, feeds and cereal grains - have been linked with excitability in horses.  Overfeeding and under working is one of the main causes of hot behaviour.

Housing conditions and level of exercise also affect temperament and behaviour of horses.  When confined to stables, yards and paddocks, exercise and mental stimulation are limited, horses become bored, sometimes causing excitable and even aggressive behaviour.  Exposure to stressful situations and inappropriate training techniques can further exacerbate the problem.

Numerous supplements claiming to have calmative actions are commercially available.  They frequently contain Tryptophan (an amino acid).  However, little published, peer-reviewed scientific data has explored the efficacy and safety of tryptophan specifically in horses.  Rather the claims to calmative efficacy are applied from research conducted in non-equine species.   Some studies with horses given tryptophan have actually reported increased excitability and reduced endurance capacity - which are obviously undesirable outcomes for both horse and rider.

Better dietary design is a practical way of managing equine excitability. Feed to the exercise level of the horse, and don't overfeed. Due to the association between high grain (high NSC) diets and hot behaviour, feeding low grain diets is one of the secrets to success.  If the diet simply contains too much energy, it should be modified

Feeding alternate low  NSC, high energy feeds, which provide energy from oil and fibre - such as CoolStance - may help prevent excitability.

Better husbandry can also help to minimise excitable behaviour.  Horses should be provided with ample paddock time, low-stress training methods and be thoroughly acclimatised to potentially stressful situations wherever possible.

Commonsense dictates that the causes underlying excitable behaviour should be addressed before the aid of purportedly calmative products is sought. Diet manipulation by replacing grain with oil and fibre rich feeds, improved husbandry and better management provide practical options for preventing excessive equine excitability.

Feeding tips

If your horse is in moderate work, select a low NSC (<12%)  with an oil content 10% or more.  Avoid poly unsaturated oils (PUFA) as these are high in omega 6 and may cause inflammation.  Take all the grain out of the diet, and feed only medium quality hay. If you can see seed heads, the hay will contain NSC. Feed a mineral supplement, and ensure the water is clean at all times.