Challenging Behaviour – Excitability and Laziness

by Verity Beaton BSc (Hons), Product Manager, T.E.N. Supplements

We ask our horses to do many things they wouldn’t normally do in the wild such as carrying a saddle and rider, walking into a dark stable, travelling in a confined horsebox, jumping coloured obstacles, riding along busy roads, the list goes on. However all horses are individuals and will not react to these situations in the same way.

In the extreme you can have some horses which are so nervous or excitable that every situation is a challenge yet there are others that are so laid back you can barely get them to trot. Pain can be associated with a change in behaviour so it is always a good idea to contact your vet and have your horse checked over. Badly fitting tack can also affect a horse’s way of going, so having your saddle and bridle checked by a qualified fitter on a regular basis is important. In some cases excitable or laid back behaviour can be modified with correct training so it might also be worth discussing your issues with a suitable instructor. It’s also worth considering your horse’s diet as, for example, high starch diets can increase excitable behaviour in some individuals. Furthermore, some horses can become lazy if they become overweight and so it’s best to keep them slim and fit.

If you are having behavioural problems with your horse it is worth addressing all these issues before taking a look at the role of calming supplements.  There are many calming supplements on the market and even some to increase energy, but why and how do they work?

Supplements for Excitable

Horses Having a nervous or excitable horse can ruin your enjoyment and interfere with training, schooling and competing. However there may be some ingredients, found in supplements that may help.


Magnesium is very much talked about in the equine world where it is believed to help alleviate nervousness. In fact it is now the most common ingredient found in calming supplements and in piglets it has been shown to have a beneficial effect. While there are no relevant scientific studies to support a calming effect in the horse, there are numerous case studies from horse owners who believe that feeding magnesium has helped to support calmer behaviour in their horse. Magnesium oxide, which is often used as a source of magnesium in supplements, may also act as a buffer in the hind gut by helping to neutralise excess acid, which can sometimes lead to behavioural issues in some horses.


Thiamine, a common ingredient in horse calming supplements, is important for the correct functioning of the nervous system. Deficiency in humans can lead to serious alterations in brain function. As yet there are no studies to confirm that thiamine supplementation in the horse can result in calming behaviour but there are case studies of owners who believe it has helped improve their horse’s behaviour.

Pyridoxine is important in the production of the neurotransmitters of the central nervous system such as dopamine and serotonin. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers of the brain, which are important in modulating behaviour.

Folic acid is another important B-vitamin which is involved in many functions within the body but of particular interest is its role in the production of neurotransmitters.

Lysine and Arginine

Lysine and arginine are amino acids that have been successfully used in combination in a couple of human studies to reduce anxiety and therefore may have a role in equine calming.

Live yeast

Live yeast can have positive effects on the horse’s digestive system, by increasing the population of beneficial bacteria in the hind gut. Horses with digestive challenges can be irritable and show signs of unsettled behaviour so keeping the digestive system healthy could have a positive effect.


Chamomile has been traditionally used in herbal remedies for thousands of years and there are some studies showing it has possible calming effects, as seen in humans and also in calves.

Passiflora incarnate

Passiflora incarnate is commonly used in humans along with other herbs to help counter difficulty in sleeping, nervousness, and unrest. It is also known to be used by people all over the world to treat anxiety and is a common herbal ingredient in calming supplements.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is another commonly used herb in human supplements, taken for its calming effect and to help with sleep disturbances.


Hops are again used in humans for sleep disturbances and there is some clinical evidence that they have calming properties in humans.

Supplements for laid-back Horses

Coming back from a hack a lot more worn out and sweaty than your horse is not ideal, there are a few supplements on the market for energy but how do they work?

Ginseng and Gingko

Ginseng and gingko are often taken by students studying for exams with the aim of supporting brain function and focus. They have been shown in human studies to improve blood flow to the brain and hence result in increased brain performance and the feeling of being full of energy.

Warning: Iron

In humans it is known that being deficient in iron can lead to tiredness and a lack of energy due to anaemia. On this basis iron supplements for horses are popular; yet they are very unlikely to have any effect as horses are rarely iron deficient. In fact over-supplying iron can lead to toxicity. Challenging behaviour, whether over-excitability or laziness can be very frustrating for us as horse owners and riders but it seems there are supplements out there that might help. However, before you reach for a supplement first make sure you check for sources of pain and look at your horse’s fitness and training. Also remember that all horses are individuals and you may have to try a few different approaches before you find one that works for your horse.

For more information on the T.E.N. behaviour supplements check out our website – or contact us on or call 01908 311010 (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, excluding bank holidays).


Author: The Editor

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