Magnesium – Myths and Science

Magnesium is responsible for a number of vital functions in the horse’s body. In particular, it is essential in maintaining the balance of electrolytes – and therefore also for maintaining a healthy balance between tension and relaxation of the muscular system.

When asked “What is magnesium good for?” most of us will immediately think about muscle tension. And that’s a correct answer. And whilst this is an important function of magnesium, it’s not the only one. We all know how important it is that the horse does not suffer from chronic tension, as this will lead to pain, and pain will always lead to unwillingness and more and more unpleasant experiences for both horse and rider/handler. A magnesium deficiency will result in too much calcium flowing into the muscles, which causes tension and cramping.

Magnesium is absolutely essential for a normal, healthy, metabolism in the muscle. Magnesium activates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is “fuel” for the cells, so to speak. Ergo: without magnesium, there is no ATP, and without ATP there is no fuel for the cells, and performance horses need lots and lots of fuel for their muscle cells. On top of this, magnesium activates approximately 300 other important enzymes. That’s why magnesium is often nicknamed the “spark plug” in sports medicine. Increased exercise creates an increased need for muscle fuel (i.e. an increased need for magnesium), which cannot be covered through the horse’s basic, daily diet. A magnesium deficiency increases the permeability of the cell membrane for potassium, sodium, and calcium, which leads to increased irritability of the nervous cells. The result: the horse is “looky”, spooky, nervous, sweat excessively, are unusually strong, etc…

Only about 25% of magnesium is actually stored in the body. Of that, about 60% is stored in the skeletal system, and only about 39% in the muscles and organs, and the remaining 1% in the blood. This highlights that magnesium is also vital for a stable, healthy skeletal system. The mineral stabilises the skeletal matrix, and is involved in the entire mineralisation, as well as the growth, and in this way helps support a healthy skeletal system, capable of supporting the tasks required of the modern performance horse. In this way, ample magnesium supply also helps prevent arthritis, cracks, chips, and generally a number of degenerative skeletal conditions.

Furthermore, a magnesium deficiency will lead to a calcium deficiency in the blood. So this means there is now a deficiency of two of the most important minerals. More magnesium will help the body retain more calcium. It’s also vital for a healthy heart. A deficiency can lead to a variety of cardiovascular disturbances and even heart failure.

The performance horse has a particularly high need for magnesium, because it’s being constantly used up – especially under added stress (e.g. competitions, a harder than usual training session, learning new tasks, etc.). Studies show that young horses, in the early stages of their education, also have an increased need for magnesium. This is in part because they are still growing, and in part because of the added mental and physical strain of starting this new phase of their life. An ample supply of magnesium is essential to keep our four-legged partners from entering into a vicious cycle of stress, muscle tension, and pain. This cycle inevitably leads to increasingly tense nerves, and the combination of these factors will lead to more and more undesirable and even dangerous behaviours, which leave both horse and rider increasingly miserable.

Magnesium, just like calcium, sodium, and potassium, is a vital electrolyte. It is not a sedative. A sedative is a medication, which seeks to influence (generally diminish) one or more functions of the central nervous system to some degree. Magnesium is not a drug, and does not have the ability to influence the nervous system in such a way.

When supplementing magnesium it’s important to consider what you’re actually feeding. Ensure you are choosing a supplement that uses magnesium in a way that maximises bioavailability (i.e. the body’s ability to actually absorb and utilise the supplement).


Sources: Veterinary University of Hannover, H-J Wintzer, Harvard University, Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt

On a personal note: A lot of humbug and bold statements that are completely contrary to scientific evidence have been published lately – but do you really believe some of the world’s leading equestrians and trainers would use NervoMag for their performance horses if it was a drug, sedative or would in any way, shape or form have negative impact on their horses’ alertness and performance? We have been working with NervoMag for almost 20 years by now. In this time we have looked after horses competing at the Olympics, we’ve looked after Pony Clubbers, we’ve looked after trail riders, and everything in between. NervoMag will always be our supplement of choice when it comes to worried or anxious horses.

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