Spooking on the Trail

I have a 17-year-old Arabian mare. When trail riding, she looks for every opportunity to jump, spook, or take off, especially now that my other horse, her companion, no longer accompanies her. Is there a safe daily supplement just to take the edge off while riding?
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Q. I have a 17-year-old Arabian mare. When trail riding, she looks for every opportunity to jump, spook, or take off, especially now that my other horse, her companion, no longer accompanies her. The companion is 30 years old, and due to a recent bout with EPM can no longer be ridden.

Is there a safe daily supplement just to take the edge off while riding? It is not always convenient or possible to ride her with other horses in the area. Hence, I ride her most of the time without a companion horse. I thank you for any information you might give me.—Catherine


A. Some horses just seem to depend on horse companionship when out on the trail, and many don’t improve much, no matter what you attempt. But I can offer some things to try.

For some horses, we have had fairly good results using supplementation with l-tryptophan. This is an amino acid that has long been used as a dietary supplement for calming horses. At the recommended doses on the label, it’s been safe. Horses treated with l-tryptophan are not sedate, but seem to have a longer fuse for spooking or for panic than they do without the treatment. We get a variety of feedback, mostly that it helped a bit. In research we have done here, you could measure mild calming effects for most horses tested

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Written by:

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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