Common emotional causes for horse stress tend to arise due to being kept in captivity. Many horses experience stress due to: fear, frustration, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. By understanding the typical reasons for horse stress, you can begin to treat the negative emotion at the root of the problem behaviour. The typical reasons for horse stress are outlined below.
Horses have evolved an ability to spot distant threats. This has enabled them to run away fast from approaching predators. The horse’s responds to danger instinctively, so the animal is unable to stop and think before acting. Flight responses in horses tend to create nervousness in unfamiliar settings or strange situations. This is why many horses get nervous if there is anything that would stop them running away from danger. Horses don’t like:
Sudden movements or loud noises
People holding their legs (while being shod)
Anything that interferes with their vision
Being forced into small spaces
Tethering for any length of time
Being alone for long periods
Sudden or overexposure to any of the above can cause a horse to experience stress, anxiety, panic, or fear. A horse needs time to adjust to new situations and experiences, just like humans do. And just like us humans, horses need the company of others to stay emotionally healthy.
Many horses will spend the majority of their lives in stables. Instinctively, the horse is not a solitary animal. From an evolutionary perspective, horses form and maintain social groups. Therefore, a horse will suffer from stress and anxiety, due to loneliness, when forced to spend time in a stable alone. As horses feel secure in a larger group, behaviourists suggest that placing mirrors in the stall can help a horse suffering from stress due to anxiety and loneliness.
Past abuse, neglect or maltreatment:
Horses still suffering from the effects of trauma can exhibit repetitive behaviours due to stress. Many animals face challenges with small stalls, abuse, neglect, punishment, and maltreatment. Repetitive behaviours typically include head tossing, and pacing. If your horse is exhibiting repetitive behaviours due to horse stress, moving the animal to a larger stall can help. Many vets are also animal behaviour experts, so it’s always worth asking for advice about horse stress and repetitive behaviours.
Natural equine behaviour involves spending time in groups. A horse’s evolutionary schedule typically involves days spent grazing, grooming other horses while reinforcing social bonds, and being groomed. Horse stress grows out of frustration when the animal is unable to realise it’s natural goals in life. To avoid horse stress due to frustration and loneliness, your horse’s schedule needs to mimic the natural equine daily rhythm. This includes:
12-14 hours spent grazing each day
Having time to socialise with other horses
If you are having difficulty managing a stressed horse, and the vet is unable to identify a physical cause, you can use Bach Flowers to help rebalance, calm, and soothe. You can either ask your Bach Flowers consultant about the 38 different Bach Flower remedies or alternatively, you could try using Rescue Remedy for the calming effects. Equestrians find that this helps to reduce horse stress, once any environmental issues have been solved.
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