We all know about stress in people, but what about our horses? Horses were meant to be herd animals, wandering around the land, and grazing over 20 hours a day. They are a “flight or fight” animal meaning fear or threat causes physiological changes (adrenaline, cortisone, increased heart rate, and increased blood to muscles) causing them to run away or fight by biting, kicking, rearing, and striking. Yet we “break” them to behave how we want which conflicts with their natural instinct.
We confine them to stalls and paddocks, oftentimes with horses as stablemates they may not choose if given the choice. Many show and race horses only get to exercise an hour a day and even then we control them during that time.
We feed meals of hay and high concentrated grains giving them lots of energy while only keeping them busy a few hours a day. We expect them to walk onto trailers, which are moving, confining, noisy, and unnatural objects to be feared. All these factors contribute to their stress.
Each horse may exhibit stress or suffer from the physical results of stress differently. Behavioral issues such as aggression or cribbing and stall weaving may occur. GI tract disorders, including ulcers and diarrhea may result. Inflamed muscles and joints can cause lameness and sore backs all as a result of stress.
To help reduce your horse’s stresses consider the following:
- Patiently teach him what you want him to do (avoid fear/fighting)
- Put hay in a feeder or net to slow down eating and feed smaller meals frequently
- Increase turn out and/or exercise (not focused work)
- More personal attention (quality time-grooming, playing, going for walks)
- Put toys they like in their stall or paddock
- Keep a friend nearby, even a goat can help if a horse friend isn’t available
- Physical therapies (massage, chiropractic, essential oils)
- Nutritional supplements for balancing (KAM Stress Buster cookies)
This tip was brought to you by KAM Animal Services, home of KAM’s “Equine Learning Circle” (KELC) FREE webinars, which will take place twice a month from January through June of 2011. Go to www.kamanimalservices.com to sign up for these webinars. The KELC FREE webinar will conclude with a question and answer session, so be ready with your nutrition questions.