SmartCalm actually works, who knew?
My 13 year old QH gelding has always been a super nervous horse. He’s spooky, used to be a big spin and bolter, react first, think later type. He’s the horse that will run into traffic (a semi no less) to get away from a parked lawn mower. That is a true and completely terrifying story, he was not that far from death, I say him because I was getting ready to launch. He is obscenely barn and herd sour, explosively so without a ton of work. When I take my pony out on a solo 20-30 minute ride I am invariably greeted by a completely dripping wet, foaming, wide eyed, and trembling horse. Usually he is covered in mud too, either from running or rolling in between his fits. At one point he lived alone and he spent the entire two weeks either running the fence line constantly or cowering in the lean to at night and refusing to come out of it. Needless to say, my horse shopping was moved up much faster than I had originally planned in order to get him a companion before he injured himself.
With a ton of work, he *generally* spooks in place now, although all bets are off in the spring or when faced with anything truly terrifying. He is also better in the fall/late summer after a summer of riding, but only in his “safe” zones. The safe zones are the house, the ten acre property, and about 2 blocks up either side of our little feeder road. The herd/barn sour thing is the same, with a ton of work he has “safe” areas where he doesn’t act like a lunatic and is actually an absolute dream to ride. He gives pony rides like a champ in the paddock or pasture, stopping the second a child feels off balance, and for an experienced rider he is a ton of fun. Light, forward, and super responsive. All of this changes when we go on a trail ride and he sees/hears something that is, to him, utterly terrifying.
Quick example, a friend and I went on a trail ride last summer, the first in quite some time. The first hour and a half was great, he was a little nervous, but by this point I am used to it and have learned that it’s best to just ignore his nerves. Then… he saw a deer and got really scared. Then… there were some gunshots, which he is generally fine with at home, but apparently were too much to handle. At this point I was riding a jigging, spooking mess of a horse, he was soaking wet, trembling, and ready to blow up. And then, as icing on a cake, we came upon a home that had a car sitting in the driveway playing music with some people coming in and out of the car/house. He tried to run away. I forced him past and we got through it. He continued on the same vein for the rest of the trail ride, probably a good hour and a half or so.
I’ve owned him for almost 7 years (on Labor Day it’ll be 7 years) and we’ve come a very looonnnggg way. I’ve tried just about every possible method to get him to not be randomly insane. Hand walks, ground work, “bonding”, taking him away from the barn and allowing him to graze so it’s “fun”, working him hard around the barn/herd mates while letting him rest away from them, being “scarier” than the scary things, making him work so he cannot think, etc, etc, etc. You name it and more than likely I have tried it. By far the most effective thing I’ve done is learn how to “ignore” his nerves, making him work or being “scary” myself only ramps him up further. Hand walks work to a point, but I cannot hand walk him all over the place. The work around, rest away thing didn’t work at all, probably because he won’t rest away, no matter how exhausted he may be.
We’ve had some success, I mean, I can and do trail ride him during the summer. I just pony the pony along. After the spring stupids, I regularly ride him all over the property and in his “safe” areas with nary a twitch on his part. He even manages to spook in place. Which for him is quite the accomplishment! I’m sure nothing is helped that he usually ends up having most of the winter off and part of the spring due to the availability of my riding space and the winter in MN. But that is what it is and isn’t likely to change any time soon.
Anyways, the point of this long rambling description is to tell you how awesome SmartCalm is! A friend recommended it after a particularly harrowing ride I had this spring. After doing some research I decided to try it, not really expecting it work, I’ve tried other random supplements for other issues before and haven’t noticed real changes. At most I figured it would maybe take the edge off the spooking, at least a little bit. So I ordered it, just the plain SmartCalm, and started to feed it a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, due to the weather and work obligations, I’d only been able to ride him once since starting it and that was in the paddock. Of course, on the other hand, it made the testing of the product more valid as there was no possibility of work settling his nerves.
The product is supposed to take about two weeks to take effect and this last weekend was the two week mark, so I made an elaborate plan to ride him. First, I was going to take the pony on a nice long trailride. We’d be gone about an hour and half, plenty of time for him to wear himself out. THEN I would take him out alone. The last time I had taken him out alone, a couple of weeks back, he had behaved true to form and it had been a terrible ride. The only difference this time would be the SmartCalm and the long run around.
Imagine my surprise when I came home to a horse that wasn’t a mess. In fact, his coat was completely dry and he didn’t look terrified. I could see that he had run a little bit, he had some dried sweat on his chest, but it obviously wasn’t much. According to my father, he had been calling on and off, but other than a little bit of running right away hadn’t done anything. So, I untacked the pony, put her away, and with some trepidation grabbed him out to go on a ride. It was like riding a different horse or more like, the best version of himself. He trotted happily away from the property and was completely calm the entire ride. Yes, he was a little barn sour, as in he called a couple times and once tried to trot off towards home, but he immediately slowed down when I asked. He even spooked once, BUT it was a normal horse spook, a spook in place! I ended the ride speechless at the difference in my horse and really hoping that this was not some cruel joke or a fluke.
Yesterday, I decided to take him out again solo, this time not taking the pony first and going out into a “scary” area that we generally avoid unless we have the pony with us. Even then it’s usually a mess. He was awesome. Even though we came upon a van being loaded and unloaded (he has a weird thing about cars and people) and across the street from that a tractor idling while some more people chatted next to it. In front of us was the bridge that is always a trial to cross. Yes, he did look around and was a little worried, he even tried to turn around, but when I asked him to keep going he did. When we walked across the bridge of death, it was with some looks, but nothing else. Then on the way home we enjoyed loose reins and relaxing interspersed with some trotting and other work. Considering how little he has been ridden since October, I’d say he did exceptionally well. I was also very happy to see that he had not become dull or unresponsive at all, in fact he was almost more responsive and attentive. Perhaps because he wasn’t being distracted by the looming possibility of death?
Anyways, I’m sending this to SmartPak, but I wanted to share this here as well. For the first time in quite awhile I am excited about the possibilities for my horse and I.