Posted by: calinnova | August 10, 2011

Safety – Food for thought


Food for thought

There is no getting away from it, riding horses is not the safest occupation or hobby. Most of us pay attention to safety gear like hats, body protectors, hi-viz clothing, safety stirrups and the like. All of these have very important roles but this article is going to focus on the effect diet can have on the safety of your horse and you the rider. You may be surprised how much impact it can have.

There are two ways we can manipulate diet to improve safety. We can avoid things that make horses less safe or we can ensure the diet contains things that make them safer. In this latter group you probably immediately think of calmers that will ‘take the edge off the horse’ or sedate it in some way. But we are going to look at positive nutrition that actually helps the horse work as nature intended – perhaps surprisingly this makes them far safer.


At some time or other almost all horses are hacked. For some it is their main occupation while for advanced competition horses it is a combination of exercise and mental stimulation.

Some horses get really excited by being out in the open countryside with our without their mates. They get strong and enthusiastic and seem to have a hundred times more energy than you can get out of them in the school. These problems are likely to get worse at certain times of year when the pasture is full of sugars and starches. Over the years the feed industry has encouraged us to feed all sorts of cereal based products but we are now beginning to realise that horses are not designed to eat high starch foods at all. These starches make many (though not all) horses quite fizzy.

The same nutrients that can cause a horse to be strong or fizzy are also bad in other ways so reducing them in the diet will also lower the risks of ulcers, colic, laminitis and other quite common diseases. Of course a horse suffering from the chronic pain of an ulcer will also be less safe to ride!

Most hacking problems come about because of nervous or spooky horses is frightened by a variety of objects from tiny butterflies to large tractors. Many horses are constantly frightened even by objects they pass every single day. In fact some are so frightened of the big wide world – even in their own yard or field – they struggle to feed themselves enough. They put avoidance of predation above starvation in their hierarchy of needs. The traditional explanation for this is that, as horses are prey animals, they should be scared of all sorts of threatening things. But really this explanation doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. It makes no sense for a prey animal to waste energy and feeding time spooking at completely non threatening objects. It makes far more sense for it to have a quick and efficient way of assessing risk. So if our modern horses can’t do this effectively, we must either have bred it out of them or they have lost their natural abilities for some other reason. Malcolm Green of EquiFeast is convinced that it is mostly the latter.

“Our experience is that the pastures we graze our horses on and the fields we grow their fodder have, over many years of intensive farming, become deficient in all sorts of important nutrients. As Jamie Oliver demonstrated recently, poor food is a major contributor to poor behaviour in school children and so it is no surprise if we find exactly the same in horses.”

Undoubtedly the best know deficiency that affects behaviour in horses is magnesium. Magnesium is found in every chlorophyll molecule in green plants so our horses are designed to gets lots of it. Because it is so common in their ‘wild’ diets, they are not very good at storing it – they don’t need to. When we feed ripe cereals and wilted fodder such as hay, haylage or silage, much of the magnesium in the plant has already been returned to the soil in the retreating sap, so that the next generation of plants can suck it up through their roots, so such feeds can be quite deficient in magnesium. As magnesium is involved in nerve and brain function it is no surprise that behaviour is affected when it runs short.

However, many horses don’t change behaviour at all with magnesium supplements and we really shouldn’t be surprised about that either. After all, if one nutrient is in short supply in the feed the chances are that lots of others are too.

“Any diet is only as good as its weakest link” says Malcolm Green “which is why at EquiFeast we believe that comprehensive supplementation is far better than the single nutrient approach. And often the deficient nutrients are ones that traditionally nutritionists have regarded as quite plentiful.”

Unfortunately most of our nutritional research is based on farm animal production and general animal health. Getting the best of brain function isn’t really important in these circumstances, so, there is very little solid data in this area and thinking outside the box is needed to get the brain performance that riders need for safety.

Flat work

To be fair, dressage and schooling are relatively safe equestrian pastimes. But this is the environment when many people build a relationship with their horse that has a dramatic impact at other times. If your horse won’t listen to you in the school it certainly won’t when fired up by the excitement of a canter out hacking, in a show jumping ring or on a cross country course. So proper brain function is required to reduce distractibility and improve training.

Sarah Cheetham was trained at the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna but still found her dressage horse Provender Gallant too scary to hack out. She described dressage as “eight minutes of damage limitation”. Developing a supplements plan that suits the horse now means the pair can compete at Intermediary 1 level at championships and International events.

Having your horse concentrating on you at all times means that getting the best out of your horse needs good brain food 24/7 not just before some sort of exciting occasion. The training and performance benefits for competition horses are huge – even for the sensible ones!


From a safety point of view, your horse’s brain function becomes far more important when jumping. Whilst you may be able to help put the horse in the right position in front of a fence (and that will be easier if he is listening to you properly) the horse still has an enormous responsibility to judge the height and width of the fence, get to the right take off point and physically clear the obstacle. You will have planned this in advance when walking the course but your horse has to make split second decisions and adjustments – this requires excellent brain, nerve and muscle function.

When just at eight years old, Jessica Hewitt found out the hard way how brain food affected her ponies. Having won almost all the competitions she entered on Jungle Bunny she ran out of supplement. Two weeks later the talented pony was almost un-rideable and they had to retire from an important qualifier! Team Hewitt hasn’t made that mistake again. All their important ponies get a “brain food

In show jumping the penalty for poor horse judgement is normally four faults and a bruised ego but cross country, hunting, team chasing or point-to-point it may be a rotational fall.

This fall, which did not injure either the horse or the rider, was most likely caused by a horse that was unable to make all the right decisions and judgements approaching the fence. Improved nutrition may well have prevented it.

Horses with better brain function are better at listening to their riders, co-operate more and are more responsive. Getting the “Brain food” package fine-tuned enabled Laura Shears to switch from a strong bit to a snaffle when riding King’s Fancy cross country. As a result, Laura was less tired, had more control and finished with faster times.

Horses with better brain function are better at listening to their riders, co-operate

Harry Meade, 4* event rider said  “Midnight Dazzler used to suffer from two forms of nerves. Firstly he got very wound up at an event or wherever there were numerous other horses, flags, music, etc. His new supplement, WINNINGEDGE Gold, has helped him to stay calmer when in the spotlight.   The second way he reacted under pressure was that his perception seemed to suffer and he made irrational decisions when stressed – i.e. working out a problem in front of a fence. I had worried that his eyesight was deteriorating but EquiFeast claims to be able to equip horses with the tools to process information in a more rational way. I thought that this seemed rather a bold claim but it does, amazingly, seem to work.”

Horses that are running out of ‘brain food’ get stronger, faster and flatter as they go round a show jumping course. Riders fight for control, rhythm is lost and planned pacing between fences goes by the board. Ninety percent of competitors knocked down the last show jumping fence at Burghley in 2007. And these were the world’s best riders!

Judgement and control are not the only factors that affect the safety of jumping horses. Whether you compete at local shows or Badminton your horse’s stamina and endurance will be tested. The horse’s mind may be willing but can its body actually perform the job properly. Three factors are crucial here, just like any athlete, the horse’s training must develop both muscle strength and muscle function. And the very best of nutrition won’t help a horse whose aerobic capacity has not been developed by appropriate work.

If the work has been done they need the fuel to burn in their muscles (and their brains). More and more people are abandoning cereal based feeds for fibre and oil sources of energy.

The body stores energy in two forms. Glycogen is the stored form of the sugar glucose and is readily used in muscles but fats are also an important energy source. In an ideal world, the fats are burned first and then the glycogen reserves are tapped. However, it is common for the body to run out of crucial nutrients involved in fat metabolism before all the fats are used up. This forces the glycogen to be used earlier than would otherwise be necessary. The effect is reduced stamina. A tired horse will be more likely to hit a fence, stop or run out and energy deficiency will also impact on brain function and make decision making slower.

Another important problem that affects muscle function and hence safety is the loss of electrolytes in sweat and urine. Hot days, high workloads and the stress and excitement of a big day out can increase the risks of this. Lack of electrolytes will cause muscle cramps and nervous system failure with consequent risks of a jumping disaster.

Switching to modern supplements mid-season helped 17 year old Midnight Dazzler to spectacular jumping performances. Perfect rhythm, excellent judgment and the stamina of a much younger horse enabled him to be the only horse at Burghley in 2007 not to add anything to his dressage score. As a nineteen year old he became the oldest horse ever to complete Badminton and finished with his best ever result at this prestigious event – 10th.

Modern electrolyte products are both comprehensive in their mineral content and provide electrolytes in chelated forms, which dramatically improves the horse’s ability to absorb them. Beware of electrolyte products that claim to counteract the effects of lactate build up. Horses, even eventers and endurance horses, never operate fully anaerobically so they don’t produce much lactic acid. In fact, the reverse problem is more likely as potassium loss in the sweat and urine leads to alkalosis which will also prevent muscles from functioning properly.

As oxygen is burned in the muscles with the fats or glucose, toxic by-products are produced called free radicals. A build up of these will impair muscle function and recovery. Anti-oxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E deal with these but in the process become toxic chemicals themselves. Modern anti-oxidants, using a whole host of natural plant extracts actually recycle the vitamins and help remove the free radicals from the muscles. This improves stamina and reduces the risk of fatigue induced accidents.

Modern comprehensive nutrition is far more than just adding a few vitamins and minerals to a horse’s diet. These days, products are available that have been designed to suit every budget and the needs of horses at all levels of work to make them safer and more fun to ride as well as improve athletic performance.

If you have any problems with your horse, we recommend that you contact a member of the EquiFeast team who will provide you with help and information on how to improve your animal’s behaviour. EquiFeast offer a free advice helpline on 0845 2301086

Posted by: calinnova | August 4, 2011

ADHD or simply a lack of calcium?

New treatment for attention deficit disorder – no drugs – just calcium and other simple nutrients

Malcolm Green, animal behavioural and nutritional expert from Calinnova Ltd has spent over 17 years analysing and understanding what make an animal’s brain and body function “normally” and how deficiencies in certain minerals can lead to behaviour and health problems.  His unique approach to animal supplementation has allowed him to test scientific boundaries in the animal supplement industry and gained him global recognition amongst veterinary surgeons and fellow nutritionists.

Malcolm is particularly interested in analysing what makes the brain function normally and has stumbled across some very exciting and interesting finds.  Through the analysis of certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies, he has discovered, if an animal is deficient in vital minerals, mainly calcium, brain function and performance rapidly deteriorate, causing a dramatic increase in irrational and bad behaviour including nervousness, anxiousness, spooking, restlessness, an inability to focus, poor judgment and even aggression.

Interestingly, the symptoms displayed were incredibly similar to the common symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), in fact, almost identical.  This discovery led Malcolm to believe that animals are also victims to this distressing disorder and it made him question whether calcium deficiencies in humans could be the major contributing factor to ADHD as well.  Perhaps, highly absorbable calcium could be the answer to solving this behavioural epidemic.

Behavioural difficulties in horses are commonly dealt with the introduction of a “calmer” supplement, which are predominantly (like in human calmers) made up of magnesium.  Mr Green believes that any nutritional deficiency that impairs brain function can cause nervous or difficult behaviour, so he set out to identify other nutrients that could help improve animals’ brain function more effectively than magnesium alone.  What came out on top was chelated calcium.  In fact, Calinnova Ltd found, in a recent study on horses, that chelated calcium seems to help more than three times as many difficult horses than magnesium does.

In 2008, Calinnova Ltd conducted a trial on a number of ‘difficult’ horses and found astonishing results when a small, controlled amount of chelated calcium (more easily absorbed into the body) was added as a supplement to the animal’s diet.  As approximately 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bone and the other 1% in the blood and other fluids, further analysis suggested that in many cases, the natural calcium balance within the animal’s blood had depleted to an unnatural level resulting in calcium being taken from the bones in order to top up levels.  This meant that when a calcium supplement was initially ingested, the mineral would go straight back into the bones to restore “normal” levels and the animals bad behaviour contained because blood levels were still low.  This indicated that a “loading period” would be required to boost the whole body’s calcium levels to a natural level.  Once this had been done it would simply be a matter of maintaining that healthy level with a lower maintenance dose.  They found that between 90-100% of horses in the trial responded positively to calcium supplementation but only if the calcium was supplied as a highly bio-available chelated source.

Malcolm Green believes that his studies on birds and horses indicate a clear connection between insufficient (not necessarily technically deficient) calcium and behavioural difficulties.

Malcolm explains:

“Magnesium has a number of roles in the brain but by far the most important one is the production of energy.  The brain is the most energy hungry organ in the body and a lack of energy impairs brain function.  However, in excess magnesium can actually sedate the animal and thus having a negative effect. This sedation is caused by the blocking of calcium receptors in the nerve cells and this effectively switches the cell off.

In contrast calcium is the molecule responsible for switching the nerve cells on. It controls the absorption of neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers that stimulate the nerve cell); it then initiates the nerve impulse which transmits the message along the nerve cell. And finally it initiates the release of neurotransmitters enabling the nerve cell to pass its message on to its target cells and organs, helping the brain function normally.  While magnesium in excess can block this process, calcium itself only has positive effects on nerve and brain function. Put simply calcium controls many of the important functions in the cells that make up the brain so without the controlling hand of calcium, the brain stops functioning properly. 

But that’s not all, insufficient calcium in the brain leads to the spontaneous initiation of nerve impulses and short circuits between cells, which mean that messages are created for no reason and other important messages go to the wrong destinations.  If these affects are not going to confuse the horse I can’t imagine what will!”

A study by Thiel, Ph.D. (ANMA Monitor 1997:1(9): 5-8) of children and adults suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) showed that 52% of those tested were calcium deficient and the remaining were deficient in other vitamins and minerals such B6 and magnesium.

In America alone, approximately six million children suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or hyperactivity. Unfortunately, this disorder is commonly treated by doctors through the prescription of Ritalin, a Class II drug that belongs to the same pharmacological family as cocaine and other amphetamines.  This is not a nice drug and has some disturbing side effects.  Despite this, it is commonly used as a quick fix for hyperactive and inattentive symptoms in children; in fact, the majority of children diagnosed with ADHD take Ritalin or similar ADHD medications but Malcolm questions whether there was something better and natural that could improve behaviour.

Doctors explain the necessity for medication by pointing out that children with ADHD have a biochemical imbalance in their brain – meaning there is a deficiency in neurotransmitters, the chemicals responsible for relaying messages between brain cells.  Ritalin stimulates the production of neurotransmitters and temporarily restores the proper balance.  But what if there was a natural substance that can have the same effect, with no side effects, only benefits and extremely low cost?

According to Dr. D. Pauli, an expert at the World Health Organisation, many contributing factors to ADD or ADHD is as a result of poor nutrition.

He explains:

“One of the most frequent triggers of ADHD has to do with the child’s nutritional status.  When children suffer from deficiencies in important vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes, their brain’s biochemistry is thrown out of balance and they develop symptoms that are then labelled as ADHD. Calcium, chromium, and selenium deficiencies are among the common mineral deficiencies detected in children with ADHD”.

This thought is shared by Malcolm as he also recognises the importance of other minerals and a balance diet.  It is also Malcolm’s belief that nutrition plays a big role in brain and body function.  According to, world experts on ADHD, the emphasise that there must be a critical balance in nutrition when looking at treating ADHD in children. Our body needs complete nutrition in order to be healthy, both physically and mentally.   Many schools no longer provide milk for the children and we are told to avoid dairy products because they are fattening, thus reducing our intake of naturally available calcium.  Some may argue that there is plenty of calcium available in vegetables but is that really the case?  With increasing mineral deficient soils due to over farming and the introduction of pesticides, calcium and other vital minerals are found in smaller and smaller quantities or absorption is blocked within the body by other minerals such as phosphorous (that are found within pesticides). Even horses grazing calcium rich soils frequently show bad behaviour that corrects when given a chelated calcium supplement. This is explained by the fact that calcium rich soils are alkaline and this actually locks the calcium away, which makes it very difficult for plants to access.

A new study reported in The Lancet, found that with a restricted diet alone, many children experienced a significant reduction in symptoms.  The study’s lead author, Dr. Lidy Pelsser of the ADHD Research Centre in the Netherlands, said in a recent interview, “Food is the main cause of ADHD,” she said adding, “After the diet, they were just normal children with normal behaviour. They were no longer more easily distracted, they were no more forgetful, there were no more temper-tantrums.”

If behavioural problems, ADD & ADHD could be controlled simply by providing a good, healthy, balanced diet and the supplementation of commonly deficient minerals, perhaps the answer is not to turn to a “quick fix” drug such as Ritalin.  Increasingly, studies are indicating that the natural approach makes sense, is just as effective and by far a healthier option.  Calinnova Ltd.’s success in developing a calcium calmer may quickly enhance existing magnesium based calmers and supplements.

As a result of extensive studies, Calinnova Ltd and Malcolm Green believe that nutrients are a number one priority for “normal” brain function.  With depleted natural supply, it is important not to overlook obvious symptoms of deficiency such as behavioural problems.  Diet can be the main cause of deficiencies but can be easily controlled with a little education and supplementation when needed.  Chelated calcium is almost certainly the most common deficiency and simply treating this problem will dramatically change behaviour for the better.

Posted by: calinnova | July 8, 2011

Sick Birds Solved

At Calinnova Ltd, we are also known as The Birdcare Company and specialize in birdcare.  Just like humans, birds can become sick for a wide variety of reasons. Common problems are infections by bacteria, fungi, yeast or viruses, or attack by parasites such as gut worms or mites and lice, or poor diet. In addition, injury can cause illness in birds. This article concentrates on the nutritional support we can give to all sick birds.

Two symptoms are present in most sick birds. The first is diarrhoea and the second is a loss of appetite. These two either together, or on their own, are more likely to kill the sick bird than the initial cause of the disease.


Birds suffer from digestive system upsets quite frequently. They can be caused by infection, stress or just a sudden change in diet. When birds get diarrhoea they lose large quantities of water in the droppings and as a result they dehydrate. The water lost this way also takes with it many soluble mineral salts known as electrolytes. These include potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulphate and chloride. The loss of these electrolytes is life threatening and they must be replaced urgently.

Loss of appetite

Birds have a huge requirement for regular energy intake. As a result they eat about ten times as much food, compared to their body weight, as we do. Also they don’t have significant fat reserves. So a bird that loses its appetite soon finds itself using more energy than it is replacing through the little it is eating. To keep its temperature up it starts to metabolise (burn up) its own tissues so it rapidly loses weight. In only a few days a bird can drop to just half of its normal body weight.

Many birds in actual fact die, not of the effects of the bug that is attacking them, but due to dehydration or starvation!

The Birdcare Company sick bird management programmes are designed to counter these two killers and will not interfere with any medication that you or your vet may administer.

Treatment of minor ailments

Both energy and mineral salts can be provided by adding Guardian Angel to the drinking water at a dose of 1 gram per 50 mls of water. Guardian Angel contains the mineral salts essential to prevent dehydration and unique “long chain glucose polymers” (quite different to ordinary sugar or glucose) to provide long lasting energy.

These unique polymers enable the bird to benefit from a prolonged energy source, even if it only drinks twice per day. Other sugar-like energy sources (glucose, dextrose, etc.) can be dangerous for sick birds as they cause “osmotic diarrhoea” and worsen the dehydration that the bird is already suffering.

Equally importantly Guardian Angel will help your bird to fight infections throughout the body by supplying its immune system with extra special nutrients for the job.

Guardian Angel contains the beneficial bacteria and garlic extract from our BioPlus technology. This mixture will often more quickly re-establish a healthy gut flora and so speed the recovery process. Potent Brew could also be added as this unique “live” probiotic is even more powerful.

For more help and advice, call us NOW on 0845 1308600

Posted by: calinnova | July 7, 2011

Horse & Hound look at Calcium Horse Calmers

Have you seen the latest calmer feature in Horse & Hound this week?  It’s great to see that the media are sitting up and listening to the debate and even taking part!

Here’s a snippet if you missed it followed by some comments from our Technical Director Malcolm Green:

Calcium-based Calmers

A new trend in the supplement market is for calcium-based calmers.  But according to vet Karen Coumbe, there are potential side effects if taken in large doses and limited evidence to support its use.

“There are far more complex chemical mediators in the brain than just magnesium and calcium”, say Karen.  “Excess calcium may interfere with absorption of other minerals and cause excessive bone deposition.  Claims for behaviour modification for calcium and magnesium are not scientifically proven, but some people find they do help some horses.”

But event rider Laura Shears says after trying magnesium without success – even at high doses – with other horses, a chelated calcium supplement with additional tryptophan proved to be the one for her horse, Kings Fancy.

“She is a quirky mare and can get uptight and strong across country, as well as stressing in her box,” says Laura.  “We found calcium, along with tryptophan, made a huge difference to her.  We gave extra tryptophan two hours before dressage and cross country.  She is significantly more settled and her changes are more fluent in the dressage, plus I’m now able to ride her cross-country in a snaffle”.

In the end, it very much comes down to finding what works for each horse, says horse behavioural and nutritional adviser Malcolm Green from EquiFeast, which makes calmers.  “They are individuals, just like us, and respond differently to varying levels of supplementation,” he says.  “It’s down to owners and riders to look at what nutrition, supplementation and training works most effectively as a package.”

Horse & Hound 07/07/11

Malcolm Green says:

It is great that chelated calcium based calmers have hit the H&H radar. In the interests of balance an article like this always has to quote the opinion of people who actually seem to have little or no experience of modern calmers. I’m sure the vet quoted above would not have made the comments she did if she had been given enough time to research the subject. Since the calcium we supply is generally less than 5% of the calcium naturally occurring in a forage based diet it is clear that there is no risk of the overdosing she alluded to.

The implication that there is no science about the effect of calcium and magnesium on the brain is not quite right either. Consider the title of a book written by Wilkins and Wilkins and published by the Royal Society of Chemistry – “The role of calcium and comparable cations in animal behaviour”. I think it says it all.  By the way “comparable cations” means sodium, potassium and magnesium.

It is well documented that calcium deficient nerves will short circuit and fire spontaneously. Clearly effects that will affect brain function quite dramatically. Calcium also is the “secondary messenger” that controls three fundamental functions in nerve cells. These are the absorption of neurotransmitters into the cell, the initiation of the nerve impulse and the release of neurotransmitters to the target cell. Until we came up with the idea nobody had made the link between these important functions and horse behaviour (though others had made the link to ADHD in children and you could easily describe many horses as suffering attention deficit).

It seems to me that the testimonials from happy riders are what really counts. These are the people who are best placed to judge whether calmers help or not and whether they represent good enough value for money. Of course not all calmers work on all horses. In fact our estimate is that magnesium calmers work in about 20-30% of cases – even that is enough to get a drug approved for efficacy and is clearly enough for this class of supplements to have achieved a significant role in modern equestrianism!

We are proud of our 79% success rate using the comprehensive, calcium based approach that we have pioneered. Although that still leaves 21% of our customers unconvinced I am confident that it will secure a major role for chelated calcium in the future of equestrian sport and recreation.

If you would like us to help with your horse please contact us on 01453 836974 or 08453 230 1086 or email  Why not visit and find out even more about calcium horse calmers.

Stress is incredibly damaging. In humans it causes ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease and impaired work capacity. In horses it is much the same. Yet there are people who tell you that stress is a natural condition for prey animals like horses. This is rubbish.

The argument goes that, because they are prey animals, horse should be naturally nervous and spooky. Many of our horses are almost constantly in a state of unease. They spook at butterflies, flapping leaves and other horses. So we have accepted the myth that this is a normal condition for our horses. But actually prey animals need to be good at assessing risk.

These antelope are not running away from the lions. They have ascertained that the lions are not in hunting mode. They need watching not panicking about. Our horses should be the same.

So the first part of the “fight or flight” response is risk assessment.

Let’s remind ourselves what the “fight or flight” response is.  Primarily it is nature’s way of giving a prey animal the best possible chance of survival. When the animal firsts detects a possible threat it pumps blood to the “survival organs”. These are the brain, muscles, heart and lungs. The brain is crucial as it is the organ that is responsible for risk assessment. After that the other organs on the list come into play only if the decision is made to flee or confront.

It is important to understand where the blood for the survival organs comes from. I have studied a little bit of economics and economics can also be described as the science of limiting resources. The “fight or flight” response is a classic case of limited resources. No animal can afford to have so much blood and cell nutrients lying around idle that it can simply run away at any time. Instead, at times of crisis, it takes blood from the organs that don’t matter in the short term. Since it is clearly less important to be digesting lunch than to run away from a predator the organ that supplies this blood is the gut. We have all felt this effect. Imagine you are driving your car and a child runs out in front of you. You get an immediate tightening feeling in the stomach. This is the blood vessels of the gut constricting as your “fight or flight” response kicks in.

The “fight or flight” response is designed to last for a few minutes. Horses, for example, run about a quarter of a mile then turn and reassess the situation. They know that the laws of economics apply to predators too and they cannot afford to run that far without building up a crippling oxygen debt.  But if anything impairs the process the stress can continue for hours, days or months. So the gut is starved of blood and nutrients for prolonged periods. This upsets the gut bio-chemistry and leads to a host of digestive disorders from diarrhoea to ulcers and probably worse. It is no coincidence that humans suffering from ulcers are normally in highly stressful jobs or circumstances.

Anything that impairs the “fight or flight” response is itself a stressor. An injured animal will be far more stressed than one with the confidence in its ability to run away. After all there is no need to outrun the lion. You just have to outrun the weaker prey.

Common nutritional deficiencies impair brain function and that alone is enough to cause stress. This sort of problem may exhibit as mild symptoms like a little tension through an inability to concentrate properly, to being easily distracted (constantly trying to assess the risk in the environment but unable to do it properly). More extreme examples are stereotypical  behaviours like weaving, door kicking, windsucking and crib biting. Other common problems are separation anxiety, difficulty catching and leading and extreme responses to noises and other scary objects.

Our experience tells us that the most common deficiency that causes these problems is calcium and quite a way behind (but still important) are magnesium, tryptophan and B group vitamins.

The “fight or flight” response is designed to work for a few minutes at a time yet it is quite clear that a huge number of our horses show varying degrees of these “brain deficiency” symptoms a huge amount of the time. At this level it becomes an animal welfare issue. An example of this was a pony being treated for ulcers by Hampshire equine vet Gemma Rouse. Her patient had persistent ulcers that although it responded to drug therapy the ulcers simply kept coming back. Supporting the drugs with a chelated calcium based supplement enabled the pony to remain ulcer free.

The implication of all this is that a huge proportion of horses are getting diets that, despite claiming to be scientifically formulated, are simply not providing some of the basic nutrients required for normal brain function and this leads on to a whole host of negative consequences for both the horse and the rider. Increasing the levels of certain bio-available nutrients in the diet can have huge animal welfare benefits.

Malcolm Green

Posted by: calinnova | June 7, 2011

Chelated calcium is a better horse calmer.

Is Magnesium an effective horse calmer?    

Magnesium explained: by Malcolm Green, BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences Research Director, Calinnova Ltd.

Considering that magnesium calmers are a multi-million pound segment of the horse supplements industry it is remarkable that there is absolutely no academic studies on their use in horses. So do they work and if so how?

How does magnesium work in the horse’s body and why is it considered an effective horse calmer?

Magnesium is a vital mineral in animals as it is known to have over 300 crucial functions including regulating blood sugar levels, the production of muscle tissue, conversion of glucose to energy, the formation of hormones and enzymes, the maintenance of a healthy nervous system and the formation of bone and red blood cells.

Almost 60% of the Magnesium in your horse’s body is in his skeleton, while another 30% is found in their muscles, the other 10% is found in areas including the blood, liver and nervous system.   Magnesium is often called the ‘nerve mineral’ because it is important in the structure of the outer layer of nerve fibres, the myelin sheath. Deficiencies severe enough for this to be affected are likely to cause physical problems that would require veterinary intervention and these would overwhelm any behaviour issues.

Most importantly magnesium is vital for energy production. It is involved in using nutrient energy such as glucose to produce ATP, the energy chemical used at cellular level. The brain is incredibly energy hungry so anything that causes energy deficits will impact on its effectiveness and can lead to difficult behaviour.  Magnesium has been used to treat some children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and it is probably this energy role of magnesium that is most important when it is used as a horse calmer.  After all many ‘difficult’ horses are suffering from attention deficit problems.

Magnesium is the smallest member of a family of chemicals called cations. The others that are important for biological functions are sodium, potassium and calcium. The size matters because in order to get hold of a cation the proteins in a cell membrane have to bend much like our fingers do when picking up any object. It is proposed by chemists that protein molecules struggle to bend enough to hold the tiny magnesium ions and as a result nature has not developed the same sort of systems to manage magnesium as it has for the other cations. The other three cations are moved across cell membranes by organelles called ‘voltage-gated channels’. This enables concentration gradients between the inside and the outside of the cell to be created and these concentration gradients are used to create the nerve impulses and control the absorption and release of neurotransmitters.

Because there are no magnesium channels the concentration gradient across the cell walls is minimal and magnesium’s role is relatively passive.  The implication of this is that excessive magnesium in the diet can lead to a build-up of magnesium inside the cell as the animal does not have the mechanisms to control it very well.  And this magnesium is capable of blocking calcium receptors. Calcium receptors are the switches that turn on and off the primary functions of a nerve cell so excessive magnesium prevents calcium from locking onto the receptors so prevent the cell from being turned on. In this way magnesium can effectively sedate the horse.

Experience tells us that the levels of magnesium required to achieve this result vary enormously from horse to horse but it does explain why many competition riders have tried but stopped using magnesium calmers.

Seasonal magnesium deficiency

Horses have evolved to eat high fibre, low energy grasses. Many of the pastures we graze our horses on contain species that have been selected for their high energy content. Great for dairy cows but not too good for horses. Any conditions that increase grass growth (rain after a dry spell, warmth in spring etc.) boosts the sugar level of the feed. But the magnesium level doesn’t change much (most of the magnesium in the grass is bound up in the chlorophyll molecules).

The high sugar levels mean that more magnesium is used by the horse in its role of converting sugar energy into ATP. More than that, magnesium is lost in the urine especially if the horse is insulin resistant. So magnesium deficiency at these times is far more likely and it will show as a deterioration in behaviour as well as an increased risk of laminitis. So for some horses this is a time to temporarily increase magnesium supplementation.

The farmers that grow the crops we turn into horse feed are not rewarded for producing high magnesium feeds. So they use fertilisers that boost production but not ones that affect the nutrient value of the crop.  It is quite possible that many soils are becoming more and more magnesium deficient and this may explain an increase in magnesium related problems in our horses.

Magnesium as a horse calmer

Magnesium is probably the most popular “horse calming” supplement on the market today; however there is really very little, if any, science to support claims that magnesium is an effective calmer for horses.  But this does not mean that it doesn’t work.  It just means the academics haven’t looked at it!  We know that when a horse gets stressed it uses what little magnesium reserves it has to dampen down the stress response. The less magnesium in the system, the more stressed the horse becomes and the more magnesium is needed to dampen down the stress.

Magnesium deficiencies and benefits can also be observed in other species such as birds. In particular we see physical symptoms like wing flipping and toe tapping in some exotic parrot species when magnesium levels are insufficient. Interestingly these occur almost exclusively in birds kept and fed on pelleted American diets.

Of course any nutritional approach will only work if the nutrient given is inadequately supplied in the core diet.  Because magnesium works well in about 20-30% of “difficult” horses this suggest either that magnesium deficiency is not that common or that multiple deficiencies are common and magnesium alone doesn’t plug all the gaps in a lot of horses.  Studies suggest that in fact calcium is more commonly found to be at inadequate levels in horse diets.  So far, at Calinnova Ltd, we have found that about three times as many horses displaying behavioural problems respond positively to combined chelated calcium and magnesium supplements compared to just magnesium on its own.

We know that the body requires magnesium to function normally and we also know that, due to human interference, natural magnesium levels in soil have been significantly depleted.  But magnesium only works effectively in conjunction with other vital minerals and if these minerals (such as calcium) are deficient, the animal’s symptoms will be exaggerated.  It is therefore evident that the combination of chelated calcium and magnesium should be used as the foundation of any good horse calmer.

The future of the horse calmer

Posted by: calinnova | June 3, 2011

What we’ve been blogging about…

We completely understand that there are sceptics out there and we appreciate science from all angles.  Here are just a few of our responses to what you’ve been saying and we hope it helps.

We were asked:

Personally I have my doubts about this approach – not denying you’ve seen some positive results, but if a horse needs a calmer there’s a lot more wrong than can be solved with products like this – esp out of context with the rest of the diet and environment- which is sadly how most folks will buy it off the shelf and use it.

I’ve seen horses sedated and pumped full of calmers for routine loading, and all that has been required is a combination of retraining the horse and sometimes retraining or sedating the owner. Smile  Likewise I have seen massive temperament changes in my own horses from adjusted diets and from removal of long term low grade foot discomfort.

I think it’s dangerous when people rely on a “calmer technology” like this without understanding the underlying causes behind the horse’s behaviour in the first place.

Malcolm Says:

You are of course entitled to be sceptical. Calcium is not a calmer as such. Unfortunately the industry uses the term so we are rather stuck with it. In fact everything that calcium does in the nervous system is positive it cannot sedate! Magnesium is different. It can sedate by blocking calcium receptors and turning the nerve cell off. So magnesium does need to be used with much more care.

You will read the argument that horses are naturally nervous because they are prey animals. This is rubbish. prey animals should be good at assessing risk. So if a horse is nervous, spooky, easily distracted etc something must be wrong. Whilst historical experiences may complicate things a bit our experience is that if you feed a horse correctly and its brain works correctly it will assess its environment correctly and cease to be spooky. More importantly it becomes far more trainable so, with the correct techniques, even well entrenched behaviours can be improved substantially.

I am certain that by far the most common causes of impaired brain function are nutritional with inadequate supplies of chelated calcium being by far the most common just as it is in all the other animal species we have ever dealt with in our 17 years of experience. Magnesium and tryptophan come lower down but still a significant minority of both difficult and sane horses benefit from more calcium than is found in typical modern diets.

If a horse responds positively to a simple nutritional supplement then, by definition, it must have been getting too little of that nutrient before. So there is no ‘pumping it full’ of anything. We are just feeding it it important nutrients better than before.

I agree wholeheartedly that training is important. But just as most children with ADHD are calcium and/or magnesium deficient (not Ritilin deficient) so our horses getting this sort of supplementation are far easier to train. Which is why we have customers from all the natural horsemanship methods as well as classical dressage and jump fields. We even have racehorses, endurance horses and carriage drivers. A horse is a horse whatever you are trying to train it to do.

Look at to see just what calcium does in the nervous system. You will be amazed what an incredible amount the body invests in managing calcium in the brain. Sadly we rarely give our horses the calcium resources to do what nature intended.
Malcolm Green

We were asked:

It may be true that plants as such don’t have a calcium “requirement” and that different species favour high/low Ca soils, or store more/less calcium, but that doesn’t relate in any way to the question whether plants can supply sufficient amounts of calcium to cover a horse’s requirement. In fact, for the large majority of forage analyses that I have personally seen, the forage easily supplied at least 150% of the NRC recommended calcium requirement. On top of that, there are plant sources (namely alfalfa) readily available that are well known to supply extra calcium when necessary.
MTA: Maybe the NRC recommendations are off on the minimum required calcium levels, but at least their recommendations are based on proper science.

Yes, calcium is a crucial nutrient. Which is why the horse’s metabolism is able to regulate  calcium levels to keep them in a narrow range by liberating extra calcium from bone when necessary, or excreting extra via kidneys and urine.

If a horse were showing signs of calcium deficiency, I’d first check whether the diet contains plenty of calcium. If so, check for things that might inhibit absorption (such as high phosphorus or oxalates). If you need more calcium in the diet, try alfalfa as a natural source with excellent calcium availability.

Malcolm Said:

The magnesium calmer market has been in existence for about ten years and sales in the UK alone are about £2 million a year. Yet no equine scientist has done any research on the topic. So, if you wait for the scientists before trying something new you will wait for a very long time. You are of course perfectly entitled to do that.

The NRC RDA’s are entirely based on non-chelated calcium. So they give you no information about calcium chelates. Yet the horse naturally only eats calcium chelates. My horses have rocks of limestone all over their pasture yet they never eat it. Owls (commonly calcium deficient – ask any wildlife or avian vet) eat their prey whole yet spit the calcium rich bones out in a pellet so they know that non-chelated calcium is a very poor source of this precious mineral. So the scientists that did that equine work decades ago (it hasn’t been repeated or updated) haven’t considered the forms of calcium that horses have evolved to eat.

All the science on calcium in horses is done on its requirement for teeth, bones and milk. None is done on the requirements of nerves or muscles. So I believe the NRC figures are all but useless for indicating how much and what form of calcium you need for good brain function. In fact, if all the calcium we put in horse feeds was chelated the RDA’s would inevitably drop. In the past we have dealt with ostriches with severe physical symptoms (leg rotations) using about 10% of the RDA for calcium but in a chelated form when the birds were suffering these problems with diets of 3% calcium from inorganic sources (ie 3-6 times the RDA).

Nutritional science is desperately misleading. For example it tells us just how potentially dangerous vitamin D is. But again the work was done on vitamin D2 (an unnatural synthetic that is more toxic than the natural version D3). Yet now we are being told to take far more vitamin D3 than previously we were told was toxic and we won’t get many cancers, auto-immune diseases etc etc. In fact I have a friend in Australia whose PRESCRIPTION for vitamin D3 is over the previously considered toxic dose!

My sample of customers (currently over 700) is of a magnitude that any scientist would die for – especially with big animals like horses that make very expensive laboratory animals.

You are of course right that if horses were fed more alfalfa there would be less need for chelated calcium supplements. My own horses get both.

Over the past 17 years we have completely changed the attitude of bird vets in the UK to calcium. They now use a lot more chelated calcium supplements and even do a different blood test. But not based on science. Just based on their own clinical experience. Over the next 10-15 years horse vets will find the same things.

I have a scientific training but my university lecturers taught me to question everything and there is a lot of bad science out there – especially in nutrition – as the current epidemic of obesity demonstrates.

The ability to control the blood calcium in a narrow range is dependent on there being enough calcium available in the stores. The vast majority of calcium in bone is not readily available to top up the blood. Our experience is that during the first few weeks of using a chelated calcium supplement some horses really struggle to control their blood calcium levels. This settles down quite quickly once the reserves are topped up. You are already beginning to see that if you want science to prove anything meaningful more and more questions crop up and the Universities resources simply can’t cope. And the equine feed industry doesn’t have the finances available to fund such research.

Innovation doesn’t come from ivory towers. It comes from people who earn a living solving real problems with real horses and riders. The science follows many years later. Dengie were telling you to feed high fibre diets years before the equine nutritionists. The scientists are on board now though!

Malcolm Green

Posted by: calinnova | May 31, 2011

Calcium/Magnesium horse calmers continued…

Hi folks,
I’m really interested in many of the emails I have recieved from our last post and the thought processes many of you out there have gone down with this issue.  I am delighted our newsletter and blog post has prompted such an interesting discussion.
There are two key points here ragarding many of your comments:
1. Calcium as an antacid or calcium as brain food
2. Are horses grazing calcium rich soils likely to be calcium deficient?

Lets start with the first one. The prime argument in the article is that calcium is a crucial nutrient in brain function. In fact calcium controls the absorption of neurotransmitters, the initiation and magnitude of the nerve impulse and the release of neurotransmitters. It is absolutely vital to nerve cell and hence brain function.

In calcium deficient horses nerve impulses are spontaneously generated for no purpose and others short circuit and end up going to the wrong target organ – a recipe for a confused horse!

Calcium carbonate or limestone used as an antacid will certainly achieve some benefits for horses with ulcers and acidic stomachs and calcium like that is sold by a few firms as a calmer. Our trials tell us that this sort of calcium really has no effect on brain function. It is a totally unnatural way for horses to get calcium yet it is the only form of calcium supplementation used by the vast majority of feed companies. So forget that sort of calcium and consider how a horse actually gets calcium naturally. The answer is it gets calcium from the calcium chelates naturally occurring in grass leaves. Chelated calcium is not only absorbed more efficiently but it is delivered to the brain (and other organs) more efficiently and does have a profound effect on the behaviour of a huge number of horses.

2. This also brings us on to the calcium rich soil question. Animals use calcium for bones, nerve and muscle function. You will note that plants don’t have any of these organs. Calcium is not at all important for plants. The only time we use calcium for pasture is to neutralise really acid soils. You don’t need calcium compounds for that but they are the cheapest option in the UK. In some parts of the world you would use magnesium compounds for this job because they are cheaper.

So plants on calcium rich soils have no need to store calcium in their leaves (so they are not particularly available for our horses to eat). Any tiny amounts they need are in the soil. So calcium calmers are sold just as much to horses on chalk downs, Pennine limestone etc. In fact the technology was developed on horses grazing Cotswold limestone.

We conducted trials back in 2008 and all the ‘difficult horses’ in the trial responded to chelated calcium supplements. None responded to calcium carbonate. About 22% responded to chelated magnesium and a similar number to Magnesium oxide (though a much weaker response than to the Mg chelates). But one of the messages in the full article is that if the horse is magnesium deficient that will make it spooky so ALL the deficiencies that impair brain function need to be addressed in a good calmer supplement.

I have no doubt that the majority of our horses will benefit from calcium chelate supplements as it not only helps nervous and spooky horses but it also helps slightly tense animals and improves the judgement and decision making of jumpers. Which is why calcium calmers are now used by every discipline from Natural Horsemanship practitioners to international event, show jumping and dressage riders.

Thanks for showing an interest in this article. If you have a ‘difficult horse’ contact me at
Malcolm Green

Posted by: calinnova | May 5, 2011

Is Calcum the new Magnesium? Horse calmers in focus

Is Calcium the new Magnesium?

Calcium set to take the equine industry by storm:


Over the past ten years, magnesium has become the most popular ingredient in horse calming supplements.   As magnesium is so widely recognised as being an effective horse calmer, it is surprising that there have been no scientific studies into the use of magnesium on horses and there is no evidence to suggest that this supplement has any effect on the animal, however, as many horse owners regularly use and rely on this supplement it clearly has an effect.

I am Malcolm Green, horse behavioural & nutritional specialist from Calinnova Ltd and I believe that, although magnesium is clearly an effective mood stabiliser for some horses, this is only true if the horse is actually getting insufficient magnesium in its regular diet.  Chelated calcium is actually a more important nutrient for efficient brain function and inadequacies in horse diets seem to be far more common than with magnesium.   The supplement industry has begun to recognise the documented benefits of chelated calcium and how it improves brain function and more recently chelated calcium calmer supplements have made an appearance, which raises the question whether calcium will replace magnesium as the preferred nutrient for calmers.

Magnesium has a number of roles in the brain.  It improves nerve function, removes toxic ammonia from the brain and it is crucial for cell energy management.   As the brain is the most energy hungry organ in the body any lack of energy impairs brain function.  However, in excess, magnesium can actually sedate the animal and thus have a negative effect. It does this by blocking calcium receptors and effectively preventing the controlling effects of calcium.

Calcium controls many of the important functions in the cells that make up the brain. In fact it switches most of these functions on and off. So without the controlling hand of calcium, the brain stops functioning properly.  But that’s not all.  Insufficient calcium around the nerve cells in the brain leads to spontaneous initiation of nerve impulses and short circuits between cells, which mean that messages go to the wrong destinations.  If these affects are not going to confuse the horse I can’t imagine what will!  Therefore, replacing the depleted supplies within the animal’s body will help maintain a healthy balance allowing for a more natural performance without sedation.

At Calinnova Ltd, we are specialists in calcium supplement development and conducted trials in 2008 and found that 20-30% of “difficult horses” responded positively to magnesium supplementation. The response was much stronger with chelated magnesium sources but large enough levels of magnesium oxide did produce a positive effect.  In the same trial between 90-100% responded to calcium supplementation but only if the calcium was supplied as a highly bio-available chelated source.  Calcium carbonate had virtually no effect.

The calcium reserves of horses very often seem to be depleted and this impairs their ability to provide enough calcium for effective brain function. This in turn results in “spooky” and “skittish” behaviour; therefore, decreasing this deficiency with chelated calcium supplements, enables the horse to remain calm and collected and more positively, it improves concentration, judgement, safety and performance.  Because the impacts of calcium on the brain are all positive, chelated calcium horse calmers will not sedate but it could give you that Winning Edge!

So is calcium going to replace magnesium as the calmer of choice for many riders? Over the next few years it will almost certainly become the calmer of choice for many but, if horses are magnesium deficient these two important nutrients will almost certainly be used in combination.

Malcolm Green – Technical Director for Clainnova Ltd and Horse Behavioural & Nutritional Specialist.

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