You know you’ve been irreversibly sucked into the ninth circle of horse-owning hell when you find yourself perusing an equine supplement catalogue. If you ask me, these tomes should have a disclaimer on the front saying, ‘Abandon all hope, ye pony-lovers who enter here.’ The equine supplement industry is a vast money-burning pit into which you shall surely fall unless you hold fast and stolidly remain the sort of owner who says ‘stuff and nonsense’ whenever anyone tries to tell you that horses have complementary medicinal needs.
I used to be extremely stolid. I once overheard a horse-owner in a stable yard telling a fellow livery: ‘My boy is loving his turmeric!’ And I decided there and then that I would never, ever — come colic, tie-up, busted tendons or knackered suspensory ligaments — entertain the notion of trying alternative equine remedies. As I listened to this nice lady describing how she was treating her nag’s lameness with a spice used in curry dishes, I made a mental note: ‘That way madness lies.’
But the other day, in an idle hour, I picked up the horse health magazine that had come through the post in one of those direct mailshots, no doubt because I buy horse feed from a country store and they’ve sold my information. The beautiful warmblood on the front cover gleamed with vitality. Inside, there were more pictures of shiny dressage horses in tip-top condition. And after all the numnahs and girths, tail bandages and fleece rugs, the shock absorbing tendon boots and the little tassely hats that sit on top of their ears to keep the flies off, I found myself on the supplement pages.
‘Go on,’ I heard a voice inside my head say. ‘Go on, just have a quick look.’
My goodness, it was a swamp in there. Strangely, the vast bulk of the potions on sale appeared to be aimed at making horses go slower. Or at least be less excitable. Super So-Kalm Plus, RelaxMe Now, Vetrocalm Intense Instant, AnxiKalm Triple Strength — ‘not legal but very effective’ (I assume they mean for competitions), Magic Calmer, Equine Oxyshot — the number one instant calmer! EquiCalm, V-Calm, Keep Calm, Liquid Magic.
If you’ve a mare that’s a bit flighty you can try Oestress or something called Slut Mix. I kid you not. Some of them work by finely adjusting magnesium levels, some ‘assist oxygen levels’, because even a small decrease in oxygen can cause a change in behaviour. But I’m sure you knew that. Almost all of them use ‘natural ingredients’. Some contain a probiotic ‘to settle the stomach as well as the nerves’.
Reading the blurb, I was almost tempted to order some for myself. I don’t see why such advanced technology should be wasted on animals. Maybe a bit of Oestress and some V-Calm would take the edge off my nervous energy. Or maybe I should just breathe more, because it might be lack of oxygen that’s stressing me out. Who knows? I counted almost 30 products in the calming category, but that is only one section of the market. There’s the whole mint, garlic, seaweed, soya, linseed, apple cider vinegar, cod liver oil, omega oil, Himalayan crystal salt lick thing as well.
If you thought some humans were neurotic about their vitamins and minerals, then take a look at the horse supplement world. You’ve got tonics for the liver and tonics for the kidneys and tonics for the red blood cells and stomach and muscles. Then there’s Devil’s Claw, a natural anti-inflammatory, and powders and pastes that purport to give your horse more stamina. And that’s before you even start with the Citronella fly sprays, summer itch-stop vitamin E formulas, and lavender ‘revitalising’ shampoos.
But my favourite of the healing herbs has to be a pure, organic aloe vera supplement called Aloeride. You see what they’ve done there? This supports the immune system, helps digestive problems and produces a stunning coat — but in a high-tech delivery system specially formulated for horses. You see, you need a non-latex form of aloe vera for horses, with an ‘exemplary quality of polysaccharide profile’. In any case, it costs £149 for a three-month supply.
‘But what if,’ I found myself thinking, ‘what if this stuff actually works?’
I confess, I weakened. I went for some garlic, mint, linseed oil, and a tonic with ginseng and ginkgo. It makes mixing the feeds a ludicrous rigmarole. Scoop of garlic, half scoop of ginseng, splash of linseed, minted chaff…
‘Your dinner smells better than mine,’ I told Gracie the other night as I put her bowl down.
She looked up at me, as she smacked her lips around a huge mouthful of mint-flavoured pony mix. I expect she will be requesting the revitalising Himalayan salt scrub next.