Few of us haven’t encountered an anxious horse, and you know the type the minute you see them.
They dance around, they wheel, they spin, and they bolt for the safety of their stall or a group of buddies.
Some of it is to be expected –horses are herd animals with an instinct to run away from danger. But when your racehorse spends more time anxious than calm, it’s hard for him to focus on training. Give him a calm boost by using the benefits of CBD to your advantage.
What are Cannabinoids?
First, let’s talk about the basics: what are cannabinoids?
Cannabis plants contain a variety of chemical compounds. Cannabinoids are what give the plants its medicinal properties. In fact, the marijuana plant has 113 different cannabinoids. Each has a variety of properties from anxiety relief to the psychoactive high. Another cannabis plant, hemp, has similar cannabinoids and little to no THC.
Low THC, High CBD
For a horse, you want a product with little or no THC, preferably one with hemp or CBD.
THC and CBD are both cannabinoids. In fact, CBD is usually the second most prevalent cannabinoid in most marijuana plants. However, THC and CBD produce decidedly different effects.
THC is responsible for the psychoactive, euphoric high that you usually find pot smokers pursuing, which is why most recreational strains carry a higher level of THC.
CBD, on the other hand, has no “high” like THC, and instead delivers clear-headed, functional effects with markedly decreased anxiety and tension. It’s often preferred by people who are sensitive to THC and often experience its negative side effects (paranoia, anxiety, dizziness, etc.)
You can also give a horse hemp-based products, as these have a very low THC content.
How They Work
CBD, like all cannabinoids, works by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain.
Neurotransmitters are designed to accept certain chemical compounds in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine, in order to send chemical messages that affect everything from your mood to your experience of pain. Neurotransmitters can also interpret chemical messages from cannabinoids that they bind with.
Unlike most cannabinoids, CBD does not interact with the two main cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). Instead, it works by signaling these two receptors indirectly, which is part of why CBD lacks the intoxicating effect of many other cannabinoids.
In addition, CBD increases levels of the body’s naturally-produced cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, by inhibiting the enzymes that break them down.
It also influences many non-cannabinoid receptors. This includes opioid receptors, which are known for their role in pain regulation, and dopamine receptors, which regulate many facets of behavior and cognition like motivation.
Their Effect on Horses
Since horses cannot see behind them and are prey animals, their natural instinct is flight and they have an instinctive fear of falling or tripping. As such, horses are often subject to a variety of issues related to this anxiety.
You might not think anxiety could have a major physiological effect, but anxiety in horses can actually have a major impact on their overall performance over time.
Current and former racehorses, in particular, can suffer from a variety of physical problems related to their athletic career. The prevalence, type, and severity of these issues depend on:
- The methods of training
- The speed with which training was stepped up
- The athletic qualities of the horse in question
- The length of time spent racing
- The demand placed on the horse in terms of training time and the number of races run
- The treatment and recovery time allowed for injuries
- The horse’s mental and physical ability to cope with all of this
This can show up in anything from sacroiliac damage to equine oxidative stress to major anxiety issues.
Benefits of CBD for Your Racehorse
With all of that in mind, let’s talk about how CBD can have a serious benefit for your current or former racehorse.
1. Easing Anxiety
We don’t normally think of anxiety as helpful, especially when we’re trying to train a racehorse and get them to focus. However, anxiety is actually a critical adaptive response to cope with threats to our safety, welfare, and overall mental well-being.
According to the mythology of the most famous racehorse ever, Secretariat, he wouldn’t run at full capacity unless he knew he had a race to win–he didn’t need to worry about pouring on speed because he didn’t have anyone to beat!
However, chronic anxiety can have a serious impact on your horse’s focus, performance, and overall well-being. A horse that’s always afraid will have a hard time operating at peak performance if they’re always waiting for a lion to eat them.
CBD has powerful anti-anxiety properties. Among other things, it affects serotonin levels (faster than some SSRI antidepressants) by targeting the 5-HT1A agonist (a subtype of the serotonin receptor).
In addition, studies using mice found that repeated administration of CBD could help regenerate neurons in the hippocampus, which plays a huge role in cognition and regulation of anxiety and depression.
2. Lessening Swelling and Pain
Horses can get swollen legs from a variety of causes, though the most common is fluid buildup. Since the legs are lower in the body, fluid buildup from blood vessels can be worsened by gravity.
This can be uncomfortable or highly painful for your horse, depending on the severity of the condition.
Racehorses are at especially high risk because they are very active and put a great deal of stress on their joints and connective tissues due to race training.
CBD can be a great help by reducing the tension in joints and helping ease blood flow throughout the body, lowering the risk of swelling.
3. Reducing the Effects of Arthritis
Similarly, CBD has been shown to help lessen the effects of arthritis.
Racehorses are more susceptible to arthritis than many of their counterparts, as equine arthritis often arises from long-term wearing down of the joints through many years of work.
In studies, CBD has been shown to be effective in treating chronic, difficult-to-treat pain. It helps to relax muscles to alleviate the stiffness often seen in arthritic horses, making it easier for them to move comfortably.
4. Treat Indigestion
Young, athletic horses (i.e. racehorses) frequently suffer from arytenoid chondritis, a disorder of the larynx characterized by inflamed arytenoid cartilage.
The arytenoid is an important part of the larynx and has a serious effect on respiration–most horsemen can hear a problem when they hear their racehorse roaring. New studies suggest that the problem might actually be gastroesophageal reflux, more commonly known as heartburn.
It’s a long-known fact that horses can’t vomit due to their tight muscular sphincter at the junction of the esophagus and stomach, which means their digestive health has to be carefully maintained.
As we’ve already shown, CBD is good for treating inflammation, which is what makes it handy in treating heartburn (and thus indigestion) in horses.
5. Treat Inflammation from Sprains and Other Injuries
On a related note, CBD can be used to manage inflammation in other areas of the body, particularly in relation to injuries.
Cannabinoids have been studied as anti-inflammatory drugs, which makes sense when you realize that CB1 and CB2 are both found in the immune system, suggesting that the endocannabinoid system is involved in immunoregulation.
This is important considering how susceptible racehorses are to muscle sprains and strains, as these injuries are typically the result of overworked muscles.
6. Reduce Muscle Soreness
We’ve talked a lot about how CBD can help alleviate major muscle pain. But it can also be used to manage more everyday symptoms of muscle soreness.
A bit of soreness is common, especially after your horse does a good workout, and it can usually be managed with a proper cool down and rest. However, chronic, untreated soreness can create other problems for your horse as time goes on and can lead to other problems like a change in their gait.
CBD is helpful here because it helps with pain regulation, alleviating muscle soreness which is especially prevalent in racehorses after a hard race.
7. Help Treat the Effects of Chronic Laminitis
Chronic laminitis is a brutal problem for racehorses to experience and it can have a major detrimental impact on their health and well-being.
Chronic laminitis means that there has been a loss of proper alignment between the hoof capsule and the coffin bone in the hoof. This can result in a variety of problems ranging from a rotation of the bone to distal descent (sinking) or both.
Divergent hoof rings (a hoof that’s wider at the heels than the toe) and a stretched or separated white line are commonly accepted signs of chronic laminitis. In severe untreated cases, it can result in abnormal hoof growth that limits the horse’s ability to walk.
This is often the result of disrupted blood flow to the sensitive and insensitive laminae which bind the bone to the hoof wall.
One of your major concerns here is to restore proper blood flow to the hoof as much as possible in order to prevent the effects of chronic laminitis or keep them from recurring. CBD can help to reduce blood pressure, making it easier for blood to flow, and can help in pain management while you get things under control.
8. Making Stall Rest Easier
It’s not what anyone wants to hear, but when the vet recommends stall rest, you have to listen.
However, stall rest can be a difficult, stressful time, especially for racehorses who are accustomed to working hard and playing harder. All horses react differently to stall rest, but some react much worse than others and can show signs of aggression, anxiety, and restlessness that can interfere with their healing.
The biggest issue is the shift in routine. Horses tend to be anxious by nature, especially high-energy racehorses, and you can’t explain to a horse why their routine has suddenly changed. They just know that something is different and they get nervous because they don’t know what to expect day-to-day.
CBD can help make stall rest a bit more restful by helping your horse let go of their stress.
Even in the transition from total stall rest to hand-walking and light exercise, CBD can be useful in keeping your racehorse from getting too wound up and injuring themselves all over again.
9. Helping Herd-Bound Horses
As we’ve noted before, horses are herd-bound animals. Historically, horses were safer from predators in large herds.
And while we’ve domesticated and trained horses to do amazing things for us, we haven’t been able to breed or train out the reactive, prey animal side of their brains.
For some horses, this herd-bound instinct can create major separation anxiety anytime you separate them from their herd, even if their herd is one other horse they’re close friends with. This can make it difficult for them to train properly, or cooperate with training at all.
CBD can help lessen this anxiety when your horse is separated from their social circle, making it easier for you to focus on training (and giving your horse a healthier state of mind overall).
10. Trailering Stress
If you want a horse to race, chances are you have to trailer them to an event at some point.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most unnatural things humans demand from horses on a regular basis.
Some horses handle this gracefully and walk onto a trailer no problem. Some get antsy in the trailer but are calmed down by the presence of other horses or their trainer. Some horses start shaking as soon as they see a trailer in the yard.
If your horse falls into the latter category, it may take them a long time to unwind from that stress. That can result in anything from stall walking to bad behavior on the track to tooth grinding to high pulse to sweating to biting.
If you know that your horse gets extremely stressed out by the trailer, CBD can be a good way to calm them down and get them back in the game for race day.
Choosing the Best CBD for Your Horse
As you can see, CBD has a variety of potential benefits for your racehorse. If you think your horse could benefit, why not give it a try?
The key to giving your horse a good experience with CBD is to find products produced with high-quality CBD, which is why we use only registered medicinal hemp in our products.
If you’re looking for something to try, click here to check out our available products.