Like all living beings, horses have the capacity to become stressed. Just as stress can be detrimental to humans, it can affect horses’ ability, health and performance. Stress is a natural part of life that is difficult to eliminate completely. The key is to identify and practice ways to manage and reduce stress for your horses.
So, how can you calm a stressed horse? The first step is to understand how stress manifests in horses. Then, you can take appropriate measures to reduce stress.
How to Determine if Your Horse Is Experiencing Stress
Horses can experience various levels of stress, and they can express this emotion in different ways. There are two prominent types of stress in horses: acute and chronic. Acute stress is short-term stress, which may not be as obvious. However, it’s important to understand when your horse is showing signs of acute stress since, if left untreated, acute stress can lead to chronic stress. Chronic stress leads to long-term problems that are more serious and can be much harder to deal with successfully.
Horses all have their own personality, so each one will express stress differently. What’s important is to understand how your horse reacts to stress and keep an eye out for those particular symptoms. Some of the symptoms of acute stress can include:
- An increased heart rate
- Tense muscles
- Shying away, especially if the horse is usually not shy
- Flaring of the nostrils
- Carrying the head or neck higher than usual
- Showing a worried expression
- Tightly pricked ears
- Swishing tail
- Refusing to eat feed
Some of the common signs that your horse may be suffering from chronic stress include:
- Notable changes in attitude
- Stomach ulcers
- Grinding of the teeth
- Sudden skin infections
- Duller coat than normal
- Eating feed too fast
- Not eating any feed
- Deficiencies in the immune system
- Lackluster performance
While each type of stress has a broad range of symptoms, it’s important to remember that sometimes horses will only express a few of them at a time. Some may never express certain symptoms, which is why it’s crucial to understand your horse and how it communicates with you.
It’s especially important to understand how your horse shows signs of acute stress since sometimes horses internalize their emotions and may not make it easy to identify that they’re stressed. Untreated acute stress can fester and become more serious, so early detection and treatment is the best course of action.
6 Simple Ways to Reduce Stress Before, During and After Your Horse’s Performance
One of the best ways to keep your horse stress-free is to identify what stresses it out and eliminate that stressor. However, that’s not always possible. That’s why it can be helpful to understand the best methods to reduce horse show stress. Some good ways to reduce stress in horse performances include:
1. Keeping a Consistent Routine
Horses are creatures of habit and love consistency, so maintaining a standard daily routine is incredibly important in reducing their stress. Once in a while, you may have to stray from the routine, which your horse may not find stressful. But generally, it’s a good idea to stick as close to the horse’s daily routine as possible.
2. Ensure Proper Hydration
Horses become dehydrated quickly and need to have water around constantly. This is especially relevant in hot weather, when you’re on the road with your horse or any time the horse is likely to sweat. Ideally, your horse should be getting between 5 gallons and 10 gallons of water each day. While you can’t force your horse to drink water, there are several other ways to ensure they are properly hydrated, including soaking their hay in water before feeding them or supplementing their water with electrolytes.
3. Prioritize Regular Exercise
Exercising regularly can reduce your horse’s cortisol levels, thus reducing their stress. Just as humans need to keep active for physical and mental well-being, so do horses. Remember to be reasonable and not push your horses too hard, especially around competition time.
4. Provide Hay and Water During Travel
Traveling for competitions can be extremely stressful for horses, partially because they are going to an unfamiliar location and because it means a massive break from their routine. To reduce the amount of stress your horse faces during traveling, it’s a good idea to bring water and hay with you and offer it to your horse regularly.
5. Keep Them Exposed to a Consistent Temperature
Horses are sensitive creatures, and some of them find the weather to be a stressor. While you cannot control when a storm is approaching or when there will be changes in the weather pattern, you can make life easier for your horse by maintaining as consistent a temperature as possible. Horses have trouble adjusting if the temperature changes too much in a short period, so you may also want to plan ahead by checking out the weather forecast and prepping yourself and your horse for any possible stress.
6. Remember the Importance of Digestive Health
One of the symptoms of chronic stress for horses is the presence of gastric ulcers. These painful sores on the stomach can only be diagnosed accurately via an endoscopy.
Preventing the formation of ulcers is typically a more effective solution than addressing them afterward, and ensuring your horse’s digestive system is working properly is crucial. Make sure your horse’s diet isn’t encouraging the creation of harmful stomach acid that can destroy the stomach’s lining. If your horse has a history of ulcers, you might want to confer with your vet about preventative measures to reduce their likelihood of recurring.
Get Help Managing Your Horse’s Stress With Pro Earth Animal Health
Your horse is a part of your family and deserves the same health care attention as any other member. We understand this at Pro Earth Animal Health, which is why our passionate team is dedicated to bringing you high-quality, all-natural supplements to help your animals’ health.
Our goal is to help you keep your horse healthy, happy and stress-free for a long time. Zesterra® is made with a special formula designed to help horses who are prone to stress. This equine product is veterinarian-approved. We know how debilitating stress can be for a horse, especially during competition time, which is why we strive to help you find the best ways to support your horse.