Equine Stress Management

Equine stress management article Written by: Expert Naturopath Dr. Jeanne-Marie Lambrechts

Written by: Expert Naturopath Dr. Jeanne-Marie Lambrechts

A stressed horse is a horse that is exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety, or fear due to environmental triggers (such as stabling, pests, travelling, and level of activity), physiological triggers (like injuries, surgery, pain, inflammation, competition, and depression), or social triggers (such as breeding, weaning, and separation).

It will be easier to reduce or get rid of the stress your horse is experiencing if you have a basic understanding of equine stress management.

Equine Stress Response

The equine stress response is a vital homeostatic protection mechanism that is initiated when the body senses challenging changes or threats. During this response, intricate neural and hormonal networks are activated to enhance the physiological function of multiple body systems implicated in the fight or flight mode. This is the initial stage or alarm phase of the stress response.

This phase is associated with a sudden release of catecholamines and stress hormones like adrenaline, dopamine and cortisol, which serve to increase metabolism to ensure an adequate supply of energy, enhance cardiovascular performance, activate the musculoskeletal system, and augment immune system vigilance. These orchestrated reactions empower the horse to effectively defend itself by fighting or escaping.

This is a natural and fundamental equine stress response ingrained for the preservation of both individual survival and species continuation. Should the inciting stressor persist, more physiological systems are engaged to provide further protection and help the animal adapt to the stressful condition with as little risk as possible to overall survival.

Should the stressful situation be resolved, physiological recovery and restoration can follow. However, if the stressor persists as a chronic challenge, the horse may encounter a state of exhaustion. Prolonged stress activates pathophysiological changes and may predispose the horse to various chronic health conditions.

The Effects of Stress in Horses

Excessive acute or long-term stress encompasses an array of adverse health outcomes, including weight loss, depression, gastric ulcers, colic, pneumonia, weakened immunity, poor reproduction capacity, and an increased risk for injuries.

Signs that a horse is stressed

Some common signs that your horse is stressed include:

  1. weaving or stall-walking,
  2. shaking or trembling,
  3. eye-rolling,
  4. backing into a corner,
  5. rearing, spooking, or bolting,
  6. yawning,
  7. tooth grinding,
  8. poor behaviour, and
  9. excessive sweating.

It’s imperative for horse owners to understand and recognise the signs of stress in their horses so they can take steps to reduce their stress levels.

Take care of your horse’s mental and physical health, especially if they are dealing with acute or long-term

  • depression
  • stress and anxiety,
  • behaviour issues,
  • hyperactivity,
  • impaired focus and poor performance
  • delayed post-injury or post-surgery rest and recovery

These signs may signify emotional or mental strain or point to an underlying health issue. By attentively observing and proactively responding to the signs your horse may be giving you, you are safeguarding their overall well-being and preventing the potential development of stress-induced health disorders. Remember, a balanced approach to stress management, incorporating both physical and emotional well-being, is vital for a thriving equine companion.

What is causing my horse’s stressful behaviour?

Diagnosing stress in horses requires a comprehensive valuation of behavioural, environmental, and physical factors that could contribute to stress. If you are unsure about the underlying cause behind your horse’s altered behaviour, seeking guidance from professional equine trainers, equine behaviour specialists, or a veterinarian is recommended. A veterinarian can perform a comprehensive physical examination and screening to eliminate medical issues that may be the cause of stressful behaviour in your horse.

Managing horse stress

Calming an anxious horse requires that you nurture your horse’s nervous system and reduce their stress levels so they can stay healthy, happy, and perform at their best. This might involve improving the horse’s health, making changes to their environment, such as reducing noise levels or providing more space, or changing their daily routine and level of activity. You may need to work with a veterinarian or equine behaviourist to develop a plan that is tailored to the horse’s specific needs and triggers. With patience and care, it’s possible to help a stressed horse feel more comfortable and secure in their environment.

calming-an-anxious-horse image

Let’s have a look at several methods by which you can help improve your horse’s emotional well-being, enabling them to flourish at their optimal level.

Tips on how to help your horse stay calm and connected:

1. Establish Trust:

Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and this is especially true when it comes to horses. Spend time with your horse, build a bond, and earn their trust. This will help your horse feel more comfortable and secure in your presence.

2. Quality Equine Nutrition and Nervous System Support:

In addition to a healthy and balanced diet, natural health support can be fundamental for promoting a healthy nervous system. Supporting and safeguarding your horse’s nervous system is crucial for their overall health and emotional well-being. A vital aspect of this is offering them high-quality nervous system nutrition combined with natural calmatives, such as Untamed Calm Equine Health Supplements. These measures can have a significant impact on how your horse emotionally perceives, physiologically processes, and physically responds to different stimuli.

Calm Horse Health Supplements

3. Consistent Equestrian Training and Appropriate Exercise:

Consistent routine training and resting are key to helping your horse stay fit, calm, and connected. Develop a routine that works for you and your horse, and stick to it. This will help promote a positive mindset, foster a sense of security, and reduce anxiety. Engage in activities suitable for their health, age, and level of skill.

4. Clear Communication:

Horses are sensitive creatures, and they rely on clear communication to understand what you’re asking of them. Use clear body language and cues, and be consistent in your approach. This will help your horse feel more confident in their responses and encourage a stronger bond between you and your equine companion.

5. Positive Reinforcement Training and Patience:

Patience is vital. Give your horse time to process and respond to your cues, and be patient if they don’t get it right away. Praise them for their efforts and progress. This will encourage them to associate learning with positive experiences and strengthen their confidence and cooperation.

6. Enrichment:

Provide your horse with various forms of mental enrichment to stimulate them mentally. This could involve interactive toys, different training sessions, and introducing new and fun obstacles in their environment.

7. Listen to Your Horse:

Your horse will give you cues if they’re uncomfortable or anxious. Learn to read their body language and listen to what they’re telling you. If your horse is showing signs of stress or discomfort, thoroughly evaluate the situation.

8. Social Interaction:

Horses are social beings. Therefore, it is fundamental to provide them with ample opportunities to socially interact with other compatible horses through turnouts, shared pastures, and like-minded companionship with other horses.

9. Create a Safe and Calm Environment:

Create a calm and peaceful environment for your horse. Provide them with a safe and comfortable space, free from distractions or stressors. This will help your horse feel more relaxed and connected with you.

 

Remember that every horse is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Dedicate the time to getting to know your horse and developing a strategy that works for both of you. With optimal nutritional support, patience, consistency, clear communication, and seeking expert guidance, you can effectively help your horse achieve a state of calmness and focus, enabling them to thrive and reach their full potential.

 

You can also read our article about Equine Arthritis: Risks and Non-invasive Treatments in South Africa.

 

Contact us to receive guidance from Dr. Jeanne-Marie Lambrechts, our expert Naturopath, who will respond directly to your inquiries.

 

 

References

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