Should we be drugging our horses?

PLEASE NOTE: Due to a request to not use the trademarked name, we have changed the name of the product in the post.
 
I’ve recently learned about ‘Relaxing Cookies’. These are made by a UK no.1 performance company and are sold with the following benefits: “Helps your horse stay calm, confident and focused without affecting the ability to perform”
However, some product descriptions on vendor websites are careful not to actually make any real claims, just state that they are designed for nervous or excitable horses and can be fed 30-45mins before a hack. They then go on to explain the benefits of the ingredients and how those may help in certain situations.
 
 

So what is inside them?

I looked into the Relaxing Cookies to see what the main active ingredients were and what they did, I also researched the ingredients on a number of reputable websites (references at the bottom).
 
Note: Although these are referred to by the makers as ‘Relaxing’ Cookies, an excellent marketing stunt *CLAP*, I am referring to them as drugs, as they are “a substance other than food intended to affect the structure or function of the body”.
 
 

Active Ingredient 1) L-Tyrosine

“L-tyrosine is one form of the amino acid tyrosine. It is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that you don’t have to get it from food. The body manufactures it, using another amino acid, phenylalanine. You may see tyrosine sold in supplement form with or without the “L.”
Sounds okay, it apparently helps with coping with stress, sleep deprivation and depression through its job helping the body to produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine – the feel-good factor.
 
On the flip side, it can cause migraines and is not recommended for those who suffer from headaches. Just like people, horses may experience headaches of varying severity. Since horses can’t talk and we don’t know if they suffer from headaches, should we be medicating our horses without professional advice?
 
 

Active Ingredient 2) L-Arginine

L-Arginine is the biological precursor of nitric oxide (NO), which serves as an important signal and effector molecule in animals. Nitric Oxide is a powerful neurotransmitter that helps blood vessels relax and also improves circulation. Some evidence suggests that arginine may help improve blood flow in the arteries of the heart. Not all studies on Arginine have been positive. A 2006 study showed that arginine was not helpful — and may have been harmful when treating heart conditions alongside standard treatment. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is harmful when used as a drug where treatment is not ongoing.
 
 

Dosage

I’m a little confused about the dosage of “Feed as a treat on a daily basis or as and when required. Up to 6 Relaxing Cookies can be fed in a day”. Is this intended as a daily supplement or medication? The name cookie suggests it’s just a treat as does that wording but as it contains active ingredients should there be more dosage information?
One of my biggest issues with the product mentioned is that it doesn’t refer to any amounts of the active ingredients nor dosage in relation to the horse’s size.
 
Other products such as Audevard Zzen state “Tryptophan : 1650 mg”
per 50ml and offer clear instructions “Daily allowance: 50 ml per day for 2 to 4 weeks, preferably at the beginning of the day”
 
Another product called Animalife Vetrocalm states “Tryptophan 50,000mg/kg” and gives the intake as “Horse Size Loading daily feed rate Maintenance daily feed rate Small : Less than 300 Kg 3 Scoops 1/2 Scoop / Medium 300 – 600 Kg 6 Scoops 1 Scoop* / Large > Over 600 Kg 9 Scoops 1 1/2 Scoops.
 
Note Tryptophan isn’t the exact same as L-Tyrosine. hey’re both amino acids but they have different functions. L-Tryptophan can be used by the body in the process of making serotonin and melatonin while L-Tyrosine is used to produce noradrenaline and dopamine.
 
 

Contraindications

They state they are not suitable for equines with EMS or Laminitis.
 
 

The Question: Should we be drugging our horses?

Personally, my first question is, why is the horse nervous or overexcited?
  • Is there something about the management that is leading to lack of sleep or causing stress?
  • Is the diet too high in sugar?
  • Is the training or situation too much too soon?
What I’m getting at is that these “cookies” are a short term solution to a symptom, not treating a cause. This gives the industry the opportunity to reinforce anthropomorphic beliefs that it’s the horses fault just as a personality trait, rather than seeking the underlying cause.
Where the underlying cause could be aided with a relaxant during treatment/training/changes to remove the cause and help the horse transition to a situation where they no longer needed the “cookies” then yes I could see a benefit there.
 
However, it’s still on my mind that the ingredients and lack of study of the cookies with the horses raise concerns in regards to the dosage they are recommending and there is no information anywhere on the website about heart conditions or headaches.
 
So for me, it has to be a NO, at the very least until an independent study publishes non-bias results of the effects on horses including those with underlying health conditions.
 
References

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phillippa christie

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