Are calming supplements cheating?

I crack a lot of jokes about how much Perfect Prep I sell at hunter/jumper shows; the quantity is usually measured by the case, not by the tube. It’s one of those things we can all laugh about, in a sort of, “Oh, those silly hunters!” way- even the hunters laugh in self-deprecation.

At the last h/j show, someone asked me if the store carried Total Calm & Focus. The store doesn’t, and I’d never heard of the product, so I Googled it. And then I Googled “total calm focus vs perfect prep” in an effort to learn more about which product people prefer. That search led me down a Chronicle of the Horse forum rabbit hole.

I think we can all agree that CotH forums don’t always facilitate rational discussion; rather, they attract users with strong opinions and firm convictions. In this particular case, my search eventually led me to a thread where someone asked advice about using calming supplements like Perfect Prep and Total Calm & Focus for their young horse at a show. The comments on the thread were equally split between people defending the use of such supplements and people railing against their use, citing the USEF drugs and medication rule which bans any medication given to enhance performance.

The pro-supplement side’s arguments were:

  • Horse will have a more positive experience because it is calmer
  • Horse will be safer for handlers and riders
  • Supplements are not drugs
  • Supplements do not contain prohibited substances

The anti-supplement side’s arguments were:

  • Horse will never learn to be calm at shows because it is always sedated
  • Supplements violate the spirit of the drugs and medication rule even if they do not contain prohibited substances

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this issue. Are calming supplements cheating? Is it okay to use them at a schooling show but not a rated show? Where do you draw the line?



Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

14 thoughts on “Are calming supplements cheating?”

  1. If you can buy it over the counter, then can it actually work the same as a sedative? I wouldn’t think so. I think if your vet doesn’t have to prescribe it, then what you’re giving your horse isn’t too serious.

    1. I think in many cases, this is logical reasoning. I know there are some herbal supplement ingredients than can cause a horse to test positive (or can cause horses to have very strong reactions), but it seems like most supplements (calming or not) are basically harmless.

  2. I have a complicated view of this–imo, if you want to drug a horse (like, for clipping), then use real drugs. I’m a fan of dorm. Other stuff is good too. I hate ace. I feel like it’s more likely to take the edge off the owner than the horse.

    I think calming supplements are kinda dumb. If your horse is jittery, the answer is probably management changes and re-evaluating a stressful lifestyle vs slightly increasing their intake of a random mineral.

    Except in cases of long term physical rehab, I am VERY opposed to drugging a horse to ride it. If the horse is trying that hard to tell you something, maybe you should listen instead of trying to shut them up. Obviously, if you’re dealing with an athletic horse and injury/surgery recovery, that changes, but in that case you aren’t showing or looking for peak performance.

    And with all that said, my horse is on a magnesium supplement. 😉 I don’t think it does a single thing to calm him, but my vet recommended it along with vitamin E to try and help with muscle relaxation/recovery.

    1. I agree that if you need to sedate a horse for a procedure (whether that’s clipping or a medical procedure), you should use actual drugs. I rode a horse several years ago who was sedated for the farrier; we can discuss the training (or lack thereof) that led to this protocol another time, but at the end of the day, the handler and the farrier were safer when this horse was sedated with Dormosedan.

      I’m also opposed to drugging a horse to ride it. I know a couple of people who give their horses a little bit of Ace before heading out to the hunt field. That’s their call- there are certainly no drug rules in foxhunting- but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. I would not feel confident heading out across the countryside on a sedated animal.

  3. I’m OK with competing against people who are using whatever supplements are ‘legal’, because I’m betting the results are negligible. Personally, though, the one time I used a calming supplement for a show, we just went to the show and didn’t actually compete – I just wanted him to have a positive first experience and felt weird competing when I’d given him something, OTC or not. If I felt I needed calming supplements to ride my horse on a daily basis I’d probably reevaluate how suited the horse is to me and/or the job. I’m all for supplementing something missing in their diet, but personally wouldn’t give supplements just for the sake of making them calmer. Just my opinion, though, and no judgements on those who do…you know your horse best.

    1. I gave Gina a tube of Perfect Prep at a dressage schooling show once because I wanted to see if it would help reduce the tension she seems to feel at shows (and throughout life in general, she is not a relaxed horse, haha). I didn’t notice a difference. So based on my single, anecdotal experience, I think you’re probably right that the results of legal supplements are negligible when given as directed by the manufacturer’s instructions.

      However, I’m not sure if that’s the case when horses are given additional doses of these supplements. I’m specifically thinking of the case of the Colvin v USEF case from a couple of years ago- the horse in that case was given “significant doses” of Perfect Prep. What constitutes a “significant dose” and what effect that had on the horse is debatable, as the horse apparently received other supplements.

  4. I agree on using whatever appropriate drug is needed to perform procedures. At the end of the day the safety of the handlers, horses and bystanders is the priority.

    However, if you can’t ride your horse without a regular calming supplement you either need to be investing more time or money into training. Or you need to be reevaluating that horses job.

    As a temporary measure while not showing I think the calming supplements have their place though. It should not be used as a permanent solution however.

    1. I can certainly see the argument for using a calming supplement in certain situations- say a nervous young horse’s first time off the property. I agree that if you’re using it as a permanent solution then you probably need to reevaluate something about that horse’s life (or your own life).

  5. To be honest I tend to think that these supplements are a placebo effect. I tried a tube on Carmen once and she was so good it was amazing. The next time she was a nut bar. Funnily enough investing in training has really helped me more.

    I wish that there was actually scientific studies on these.

    All that said, using an OTC supplement is not cheating in my book. And if you think it helps then go for it.

  6. I think calming supplements have their place, for example giving a green horse a more relaxed experience their first time out at a show, trail ride, whatever, but I have a big problem with the NEED for them in the hunter ring. If your horse can’t go around and give you a good performance without some kind of calming agent, you have bigger things to reevaluate. I also doubt their efficacy, so wouldn’t necessarily call it cheating to use Perfect Prep. Real drugs? Hell yes that’s cheating. And no way on earth would I ever, ever ride and jump a horse that was sedated. That just seems like a disaster waiting to happen!

  7. Chiming in late here, but I have no issue with Perfect Prep. Granted, AQHA doesn’t have the same rules as USEF, but it’s legal (and big time) there. It was actually developed in the breed show world originally. We had a mare who got it at big shows because she was pissy in warm up rings – a combination of rider stress, small rings, and being a mare. Not bad enough behavior for Regumate, not trainable (didn’t care at home), ridden by an amateur (my mom) who was going to have nerves no matter what. I think it was partially placebo, partially effective? The placebo of mom knowing the horse got it, along with just enough to take the edge off of the mare. If it’s legal and OTC… I guess I just don’t have an issue. The same way I don’t have an issue using a heavy fake tail on my mare, using a stiff lead shank in showmanship to help with turns, or raising poles in trail warm-up to get them picking up their feet.

  8. I’m not opposed in the least. I don’t think they do much of anything for some animals at all, and others respond quite well. Jamp responds very well to it. He’s not a wild, hard to handle horse. What he is though, is an anxious horse at the horse show. He’s a trier. He tries so hard, he works himself into a nervous wreck. The perfect prep helps him take a deep breath. For him, it seems to stop the butterflies and he can concentrate on his job rather than those bright yellow flowers next to the jump. I don’t think it acts as a sedative.
    I read someone above say something about learning to manage your horse if you need to use these things. But I don’t entirely agree. No amount of lunging helps Jamp take a breath and relax. He’s 18 years old and has shown his whole life. It’s not a question of changing his training techniques or working him harder. Or changing his tack or his job. He just needs to take a breath and relax. Perfect Prep helps him with that.
    Lots of people take meds to help with anxiety. I’m not sure it’s right that horses can’t. If these supplements can help them manage that chemical imbalance, I think it’s doing the horse a favor.

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