Posted by: calinnova | September 22, 2011

Lethargy – The Great Evasion?

Lethargy – The Great Evasion?

By Malcolm Green – Research Director at EquiFeast

It is quite common for us to get horse riders commenting to us that their horse lacks energy. On the face of it this is a very sound reason not to consider a calmer. But you would probably be wrong if you thought that!

As with many things, a little serendipity opened our eyes to the fact that many horses actually use lethargy as an evasion. In my case, the lucky break was with my wife’s horse Joker. He had spent a number of years as a riding school horse – in fact he is the horse I had most of my early lessons on. He hated it and during that time he perfected two things. The first was an incredible ability to buck even the best riders off if he didn’t want to go on the cross country course and the second was a wonderful but unenthusiastic plod round the school. When Sally bought him he continued in his well-practiced ways.

Even when we started to develop our horse calmers, Joker was not a horse we regarded as a candidate. However, he was available and easy to experiment on so various different formulations were given to him. We noticed that he started to become far more co-operative! Both his energy levels and his enthusiasm improved. He started to learn better, move better and even win the odd unaffiliated dressage and show jumping competitions. Interestingly the bucking has also stopped.

Is it all in the head?

As you can imagine, riders with lethargic horses are not the most common people to knock on our door unless they also have other significant behavioural issues. However, one such springs to mind and that is Brooke Gardener- Wollen who came to us with exactly this problem and she was struggling to make the times cross country at BE 100 events. Within a couple of weeks loading with WINNINGEDGE Silver she found Bonmahon Bouncer was more energetic and they have ridden three double clears and picked up foundation points at every event since. Now they have reduced the amount of starchy feed they give as this was not helping and now it is not needed.

So let’s consider how this may be working. My first thought is that we have simply helped Joker’s brain to function better. This enables him to concentrate and be more co-operative. The calcium and magnesium in our core Cool, Calm & Collected nutrients are all designed to help brain function. It is also possible that we are helping the muscles too. The bio-chemistry of muscles and nerves is basically the same involving all four of the major cations (calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium). So correcting deficiencies in any of these has the potential to optimise muscle function.

Which of these is it? Well it is probably a bit of both.

Starch or fibre?

WINNINGEDGE worked for Brooke even when her horse was getting plenty of starch in its diet so starch appears not to have been an issue, although it can be. Soon after a horse eats starchy foods, the blood glucose level goes up. The automatic response to that is to produce insulin which pumps the excess sugar away to be stored as fat. This lowers the blood glucose levels. Dr Kathleen Crandell of Kentucky Equine Research tells us that if your horse is burning glucose, as it will when working, at the same time as insulin is pulling glucose out of the bloodstream this double whammy can cause abnormally low energy levels. Hardly what you want in the middle of competition. This is most likely to occur a couple of hours after a starchy meal.

High fibre and oily diets don’t cause this sharp peak in blood glucose levels, don’t produce a significant insulin response and so don’t pull energy out of the bloodstream. So riding soon after a high fibre diet is not going to result in low energy level and it is absolutely safe. This is particularly useful during the loading period with any of our brain food supplements as any short term early improvements are likely to show about 45 minutes after consuming the supplement.

There are many other bonuses to high fibre diets including far less risk of ulcers, colic, equine metabolic syndrome or laminitis.


One other cause of lethargy is overtraining. Type it into Google and you will find loads of human references to this condition and a few of our customers have reported this problem and corrected it by changing their horse fitness training regimes. It’s worth considering if you have a problem.

We welcome your questions and comments on this article.


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