Susan Thornley from S A, riding her beautiful Thoroughbred Stylemaster, a study in relaxation and harmony. All Susan’s horses are maintained on VF Natural Feeding Programs and herbal remedies when required.

“Horses have been enveloped in human dreams, myths, ambitions, and sentiment for so long that the story we have to think of as theirs is often but a distorted reflection of our own desires, and then not always our most noble desires.”  (Budiansky)

No matter whether you ride horses just for the love of them or whether you are trying to win an Olympic Gold Medal, our horses are always to a certain extent a reflection of ourselves.

As riders and handlers of horses we influence their behaviour more than we realise. This is especially true in relation to their nervous system. The first thing we need to understand is that horses do not think, see, smell, hear or perceive things the way we do. To understand the genetic hardwired behaviour of horses, Stephen Budiansky’s book “The Nature of Horses” is highly recommended.  Once the true facts about equine behaviour have been grasped, especially their nervous reactions, a harmonious partnership is possible.

Using calming supplements, herbal or otherwise, is not the answer. 

There is no one size fits all formulation that will rehabilitate the nervous horse into a permanently relaxed and happy character.  To achieve this they must be assessed and treated as the unique individuals they are.

Horses, like people, show nervous discontent with reactions in various body areas – gut, skin, heart, lungs, kidneys and sensory areas. They may react in two or even three different areas.

The Chamomile type manifests nervousness in the gut with loose manure possibly coupled with extra numbers of droppings. This internalising of stress into the gut if not balanced can worsen into ulceration and/or scouring.

The Vervain type is a skin reactor which shows up as itchiness and sensitivity to biting insects, rashes or lumps.  They may also sweat excessively when nervous, tremble or even shake or just be impatient or fiddly.

Horses who react in the heart and muscles are producing excess adrenaline, often taking a long time for the elevated heart rate to return to normal and tight, hard muscles to relax. Often this tightness may extend to the gut with the effect that the manure is small and hard. This is the Valerian type.

Some heart reactors respond better to Lime Flowers.  Either way they both need Hawthorn and Oats as well to regulate heart rate and strengthen heart muscle.

Horses who over reactive to sight, sound, touch and possibly even smell, wind or barometric pressure are the Mugwort type.  They are often redheads!

The high energy group will pace yards and stables and walk fence lines.   This is the Passiflora type – often mares.

The low energy group may be naturally laid back or they may need help in recovering from illness or injury. Either way Oats is called for.


Just throwing a tablespoon of one or more of these herbs in dried form into the feed is not the answer.  Liquid pure plant extracts are needed for therapeutic effects.  Professionally qualified equine herbal practitioners prescribe, blend and dispense these human medicinal quality herbs after collecting all the information they need about the individual horse in a consultation. Individual dosages and treatment periods are also significantly important.   This is classical herbal medicine.

Nervine herbs work best when given in a mixture with a selection of appropriate flower essences as well as a selection of other herbs to treat the whole horse. All aspects of the horse, physical and emotional, must be brought into balance for horses prone to nervous behaviour to remain calm and relaxed.

If a horse’s nervous system is not balanced, this impairs performance in the sport horse and inhibits enjoyment of the pleasure horse. Obviously the causes of the imbalance need to be discovered and rectified as part of any treatment.

Causes of nervous system imbalances range from breed traits, inherited behaviour to intolerance of feeds, training methods, riders, handlers, occupation, environment and imbalances in other body systems such as pain from gut ulcers or musculo-skeletal problems.

Differentiating soundness and behavioural problems is usually one of the first steps in deciding how to treat apparent nervousness. The main reason humans are able, or in some cases unable, to train horses is the phenomenal memory of the equine species. All good horsemen know how to use this fact to their advantage. So depending upon each horse’s individual degree of sensitivity and temperament, they are a product of what has happened to them in their handling, or mishandling, by people. So whilst actual pain in varying degrees is often the cause of behavioural problems, often it is only the memory of pain and the apprehensiveness that it might happen again, associated with rough handling and insensitive “training” that produces an ongoing nervousness.

Treating the memory of pain is where the Bach and Australian bush flower essences often produce astounding results.

Girthiness is a very good example of a problem which can be from the memory of pain but can also be from a physical cause. These include pain in the wither, spine and ribs or discomfort coming from the liver, spleen or gut.

Over stimulation of nerve fibres can produce acid wastes in the body and many nervous horses who appear cranky as well as being generally sore are a victim of this problem, usually worsened by inappropriate feeding.

The VF Natural Diet is an essential part of creating and maintaining a relaxed horse, and is part of a full consultation.

The influence of the rider on the nervous behaviour of a horse should always be considered as part of the equation. Most thinking riders are aware of the sensitivity of the horse in this regard. For nervous riders, a mixture of Bach flower essences can be used to help them. These benefits flow through to the horse and improve the quality and harmony of the horse and rider partnership.

© Victoria Ferguson 26 April 2019