Among his many other charming personality quirks, Murray used to be flat-out terrified of baling twine. I discovered this when I needed to attach some to my girth so I could use a neck-stretcher and we didn’t even get past having the baling twine tied on. At first I could hardly get close enough to slip it onto his girth, and then when I finally did Murray spent 15 minutes on the lunge kicking at his belly trying to remove the demonic, white thing. I spent about a week curing him of this, using a combination of flooding (I tied his bucket up with baling twine and tied baling twine all over it, so in order to eat he had to put his head in it – just for grain, mind you) and positive reinforcement (touch the twine, get a cookie! let me put the twine on you, get a cookie).
Central to this, I think, was the magnesium I started Murray on at the end of November 2013. I’ve left many hints in my various blogs, and have plans to write a more detailed post about Murray’s difficultness in the future, but for the moment let’s just say that Murray was a highly irritating combination of spooky, suspicious, and down-right distrustful on the ground. Add to that his inability to control his body sometimes (I mean, he was four after all) and a strange sensory-overload-like behavior (I really, really want to be reasonable but NOPE NOPE NOPE RUN AWAY) and we had some serious challenges.
My barn manager, Lisa, had told me the moment I started leasing Murray that I should probably put him on magnesium. He had all the hallmarks of a horse that would benefit from magnesium: spookiness, trembling, and the face twitch (jerking/twitching when you move around his face, like when you are putting the reins over his head). I resisted heartily for a while, insisting that a better horse-human relationship and some training would get him through it, but once I tried the stuff, I was hooked.
For a horse like Murray, magnesium really smoothes out the edges of his world. How does it do this? Good question. My minimal research on the topic hasn’t revealed a ton of information about the use of magnesium as a behavioral aid in horses, though some manufacturers have put together quite a bit on the topic. Humans have been using magnesium for its calming effects for ages: magnesium salts (Epsom salts) are the main ingredient in bath salts, that soothing thing people who like to take care of their bodies sometimes do for themselves, and a few hundred milligrams of magnesium a day can help people recover from depression faster and overcome anxiety. Regardless: for Murray, it is clear within a day when I’ve not given him his magnesium. It is completely legal to show on, and you run very little risk of overdosing on it (though apparently, it is possible).
I use Med-Vet Pharmaceuticals Magnesium 3000 or 5000 for Murray, and saw an effect within two days of starting it. I’m also a big fan of Foxden Equine’s Quiessence, and many of the horses on magnesium at my barn are on Quiessence and love it. Unfortunately, I tried it on Murray recently and it just didn’t have the same effect on him; he was nervous and twitchy even though the dose of Quiessence I was giving him was more magnesium than he had previously been on. Possibly, something else in Quiessence was causing Murray to react that way, but Lisa and I noticed within a day when I put him back on the regular magnesium. This doesn’t diminish my love of Quiessence in any way, and the fact that mg for mg it’s cheaper than MVP certainly helps!
In my opinion, trying out magnesium is really a no-lose situation – to try it super cheaply, go to the store and buy human magnesium, then give your horse enough pills (they dissolve nicely in a bucket of grain) for a horse-sized dose (around 3000 mg is a good starting point). If your horse responds well to it, you’ve found something cheap and easy that will help! Imagine how frustrating it must feel to be nervous or spooky all the time simply because of a mineral deficiency. If it doesn’t help, you’ve wasted very little money and surely someone you know will benefit from it. If you’re on the fence, check out this questionnaire by Performance Equine (though keep in mind they are probably trying to get you to buy their product). Finally, if you think magnesium might help but one supplement or the other isn’t, definitely try other products. Quiessence has a couple of additional ingredients not included in MVP’s magnesium, and Performance Equine also has a different formulation. Finding something that can help decrease spookiness and increase muscle healing is always a win in my book.