What is Horse Stress?
Horses, like humans and pets, tend to have a variety of behavioral problems. These behavioral issues may arise suddenly, after a traumatic experience, or may be deeply rooted in the horse’s psyche from past experiences. Horse anxiety and stress are common conditions that may affect every aspect of a horse’s performance, as well as affecting a horse’s appearance.
What Causes Horse Stress?
Stress in horses will almost always have a root cause. The cause may be physical (caused by a physical factor – such as a snake or banging barn door) or psychological (past abuse or fear and anxiety). It may also be hereditary – so it is important to determine the cause of the problem. All horses that exhibit prolonged or sudden stressed behavior should undergo a full check up at the vet.
Remember that horses are fight or flight animals, so when they are put into stressful situations they have a tendency to become anxious and want to ‘flee’. Some horses will be less stressed than others because of how they are able to handle stress. Also, always check for physical things that may be causing the stress – such as a banging barn door, fire-crackers on a neighboring field, a saddle pinching a nerve, etc.
Other Causes of Stress
Other causes of stress may include:
- A horse in a new or unfamiliar environment
- Fear of other horses sharing stables
- Lack of a close relationship at ‘ground-level’
- Lack of training
- Past abuse or traumatic experience
- Traveling – changing habitat
- Feeding at irregular times
- Insufficient nutrients
- Toxins in water, hay, air-radiation, heavy metal, herbicides, etc.
Diagnosing Horse Stress
Because degrees of stress vary, it is important to know your horse well and watch out for both physical and behavioral changes.
Behavioral Signs to Watch For
- Backing into the corner of the stable
- Peeling back of the lids (widening of the eyes)
- Shaking or trembling
- Restlessness (a horse may pace back and forth)
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of appetite
- Head tossing
- Tight lips
Physical Signs to Watch For
- Eczema or skin disturbances and hair loss
- Sore muscles
- Heat in joints
- Dull dry coat
- A cold back
Help for Horse Stress
There are many medications to assist horses that are nervous, stressed or overly anxious. Unfortunately, these medications are not without side effects, and while they may help to relax the horse in the short term, their long-term effects are not known.
Furthermore, sedatives and calming drugs can leave a horse’s senses dulled – that can make competitive events as well as training difficult, as concentration and alertness is required. Speak to your vet about other alternatives.
There are many herbal and homeopathic remedies that can help to lessen equine anxiety while still keeping your horse alert. Homeopathic ingredients such as Chamomilla, Kali phos and Cina have been used traditionally for centuries to treat underlying root causes of fear and promote calmness.
Homeopathic remedies get to work on a cellular level, addressing the horse’s imbalances and promoting adequate levels of cell salts in the living cells needed for physical and mental health. Phosphorus and Asarum can also help to strengthen the nervous system in the animal body – promoting sound mental health and addressing nervous disorders and stress or worry.