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- What is Horse Anxiety?
- What Causes Horse Anxiety?
- Diagnosing Horse Anxiety
- Help for Horse Anxiety
- More Information on Horse Anxiety
What is Horse Anxiety?
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. Anxiety in horses is a common condition that may affect every aspect of a horse’s performance, as well as affecting a horse’s appearance.
What Causes Horse Anxiety?
Anxiety 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 stress and separation anxiety). It may also be hereditary – so it is important to determine the cause of the problem. All horses that exhibit prolonged or sudden anxiety should undergo a full check up at the vet. Other causes of anxiety may include:
- A horse in a new environment or stressful environment
- Fear of other horses sharing stables
- Lack of a close relationship at ‘ground-level’
- Lack of training
- Past abuse or traumatic experience
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 nervous than others because of how they are able to handle stress. Also, always check for physical things that may be causing the anxiety – such as a banging barn door, fire-crackers on a neighboring field etc.
Diagnosing Horse Anxiety
Because degrees of anxiety vary, it is important to know your horse well and watch out for both physical and behavioral changes. These may include:
- 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
Related physical conditions include:
- Constipation or upset stomach
- Eczema or skin disturbances and hair loss
Help for Horse Anxiety
There are many medications to assist nervousness, excessive anxiousness, or stress in horses. 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.
More Information on Horse Anxiety
Tips related to Horse Anxiety
- With every horse, reward is very important, but with an overly anxious horse, a rewarding "yes" to the proper response and softening of your body and hands is crucial to gaining its trust.
- Don’t make the mistake of "tip toeing" around a nervous horse, rather work on gradually desensitizing a horse to the thing that he or she is anxious about.
- Increase the amount of turn-out time. This will allow your horse to expend extra nervous energy and be in its natural setting. This alone can work as a huge calming factor, as a tired horse will sleep better and be less nervous.
- Ensure adequate nutrition for your horse. Speak to your feed supplier about food that will not contribute to hyperactive behavior, anxiety or aggression. Look into supplements that have a natural calming effect on a horse.
- Introduce your horse to a toy! There are many different types of toys on the market that can redirect your horse’s mind from stress to play – try to interact with your horse and the toy – even better to relieve anxiety and stress for the two of you!