A study has found evidence to support the widely held belief that magnesium supplementation helps to keep horses calm.
The findings of the research, conducted in Australia, will be presented at the Equine Science Society when it meets in Florida this month.
The horse is a prey animal and as such is a creature of flight.
Horse owners who feel the flight response in their horses is too great may opt to use calming supplements, usually containing magnesium.
However, to date there has been no published evidence to show that magnesium can have a calming effect in horses.
The fresh research was conducted at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales by Jessica Dodd as part of her doctoral programme. It was done in collaboration with the British-based Waltham Equine Studies Group.
It investigated the effects of magnesium aspartate supplementation on the reaction speeds of six Standardbred geldings.
It found that the addition of 10 grams of magnesium to a roughage diet of clover and ryegrass hay, which already provided the recommended daily intake of magnesium, reduced the average reaction speed response in the horses by more than a third.
Without the supplement, the mean response time was 5.3 metres per second. With supplementation, it slowed to 3.1 metres per second.
The research was supervised by Dr Glenys Noble in collaboration with Waltham’s Professor Pat Harris.
Nutritionist Clare Barfoot, with equine nutrition firm MARS Horsecare UK, said that although the benefits of magnesium had been well documented anecdotally, the study provided the first scientific evidence that magnesium aspartate, found in some behaviour supplements, may influence behaviour.