Jacqueline Helme 2009
Jaqueline’s post grad study was entitled “The effect of feeding domestic horses a magnesium based calmer: a double blind placebo controlled trial.”
In this research Jacqueline looked at the changes in behaviour over a seven day period when the same horses were fed either a magnesium calmer or a placebo. She looked at seven desirable traits and seven undesirable traits. When the results of all of those tests were added together neither the placebo nor the calmer had any statistically significant effect. Some horses got better and some deteriorated but the calmer had no impact.
When specific traits were looked at the placebo group improved performance in three undesirable traits - “Nervousness”, “Skittishness” and “Timidity”. Sadly the magnesium test product made no improvement to any of the undesirable traits. Which means that the horses on the placebo became more confident over the 7 day period whilst the horses on the magnesium product did not. This is evidence that magnesium doesn’t calm indeed it possibly hinders the development of calmness – which is in line with our beliefs.
When looking at the 7 desirable traits the placebo had no effect but the test product did apparently improve “Concentration”. In my opinion this is the only positive result from this study.
Jaqueline also conducted a “novel object test”. This is an evaluation of how horses respond when introduced to a strange object. Again the statistical analysis of all the combined features recorded showed no statistical differences between the product group and the placebo.
However some individually tested behaviours did show significant changes after 7 days. The placebo group spent significantly more time investigating the novel object on day 7 than they had on day 0 suggesting an increased level of confidence (NB the novel object used was different on day 7 but the arena conditions were the same.
In contrast the horses on the magnesium calmer showed no increase in willingness to investigate the novel object suggesting that they had not gained in confidence.
The flip side of this also shows up in these tests as well. Another feature looked at was alertness. According to the paper referenced by Jacqueline alert behaviours are also linked to higher heart rates so alertness, as anyone trying to get their horse to concentrate on a hack or in a dressage test will assert, is a sign of agitation not calmness. The placebo group showed no change in alertness but the magnesium calmed horses were more alert (more distracted) after 7 days on the calmer than they had been without the product. This is evidence that supports reports given to us day in and day out that magnesium increases anxiety rather than decreases it.
It is very clear from reading the complete paper that Jacqueline was VERY surprised at her results. However at EquiFeast we find her results almost completely in line with our experience. Far from calming horses magnesium actually impairs brain function and increases anxiety. Jacqueline would have been exposed to pro magnesium propaganda from the feed and supplements industry and she quotes human and other animal references where magnesium has apparently calmed. But her whole thesis is based on the notion that the horses are magnesium deficient and that deficiency causes bad behaviour. Unfortunately Jacqueline doesn’t describe the horse’s diet. The animals were selected by the Yard Manager at Hartpury College and it is inconceivable that at a professional institution like that they would have been fed a magnesium deficient diet.
It is very interesting that the supplements company that supported Jacqueline’s work make a quite a big deal on their web site that there is no evidence that magnesium works as a calmer suggesting that they have learned from this research. Sadly though that hasn’t stopped them using Jacqueline’s dissertation that their “herb extract and amino acid based calmer” actually works – yes they changed the title of the paper before quoting carefully selected bits on their web site. Our industry is its own worst enemy at times.
Jacqueline’s dissertation has never been peer-reviewed or published. We obtained a copy from the University library. Anyone who would like to see Jaqueline’s work in full can email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will email them a protected pdf copy exactly as we received it.