Horse Anxiety and How to Treat It Naturally
Are you wondering how to calm your anxious horse?
Horse anxiety can cause difficulties for training and riding, and this can sometimes lead to making it challenging to find them a good home, if they are on the market either now or at some point in the future.
Most importantly, however, an anxious horse is susceptible to a wide range of health problems. Just like stress is hard on a human’s health, anxiety can result in many different health challenges: whether it is that they become underweight because they burn more calories and sometimes have difficulty eating, or their joints undergo more stress because of the pacing and stall walking.
What causes horse anxiety?
There are many circumstances that may lead to horse anxiety. The way that a horse’s brain works is much different from that of a human, or even a household pet—like a cat or a dog, and the same goes for their anxiety as well. When horses were in the wild, they were prey to predators who would creep behind them to attack, which means that horses have been hard-wired to react quickly to subtle signals; this personality trait can make them quite jumpy in general.
Most commonly, horses are known to experience separation anxiety and performance anxiety and watching your horse closely to understand the signs and symptoms of different types of anxiety can help you get to the root of the problem. Because horses are herd animals, isolation can be very difficult for them as it instinctively makes them feel unsafe. Similarly, horses are historically used to being outdoors for long stretches of time, so if your horse is in his stall for extended periods of time, or turned out alone, it might affect his well-being. If your horse is fed in the morning and at night, only being fed hay during the day, this can sometimes cause stress on a horse’s sensitive digestive track, which is better suited to grazing steadily the entire day.
When it comes to performance anxiety, the long history of training horses for competitions involves the natural desire for a horse to please their owner. Giving clear directions and avoiding mixed signals are essential for reducing a horse’s anxiety, so that they know exactly what sort of behaviour can be expected of them.
Horses that have been traumatized in the past can have an especially challenging time with anxiety, as horses are susceptible to responding to chronic stress by having their adrenaline and cortisol levels elevated for prolonged period of time. Without proper care and restoration, these horses can stay at a heightened level of stress even after the source of the trauma is no longer in their life.
What are the symptoms of horse anxiety?
- Getting Spooked: Horses that are anxious will be more prone to getting spooked and bolting, which is when a horse’s flight instinct will kick in quickly, and the horse will run away from whatever caused him to get spooked. If your horse does this frequently, it is a sign that either the horse’s environment is not ideal for your horse or that your horse is more anxious than average.
- Backup Up In A Stall: Horses have such a strong “flight instinct” that they will physically try to move away from situations that make them uncomfortable. That means that if they are in a stall, they could be exhibiting symptoms of anxiety by baking up into a corner of the stall.
- Rolling His Eyes: If your horse is rolling his eyes, where you can see the whites of your horse’s eyes, that’s a common sign that your horse may be frightened. Watch the rest of your horse’s body language for more clues. Is he standing stiffly? Is he trembling? Typically, there will be more signs to confirm that the rolling of the eyes is a symptom of anxiety.
- Rearing Up: If scared, a horse may rear up. Rearing up is a fearful reaction and can either occur because they feel held back, trapped, or cornered. Rearing up is a natural reaction and, if it happens while being ridden, it could simply mean that the rider needs to work on gaining the horse’s trust and confidence. If it occurs frequently, and with more than one rider, regular rearing up could be a sign of deep-seated anxiety.
- Stall Walking: While stall walking, weaving from side to side or swaying may simply be a sign of boredom, if this is an activity that your horse engaging in regularly, it might also mean that your horse is stressed or anxious. Horses are easily prone to boredom, and if they are too bored, it can cause them to feel panicky. In addition to being a sign that efforts need to be made to reduce boredom, stall walking and weaving is also hard on the horse’s joints and ligaments and can lead to a horse being overweight because of all the calories that are burned during this prolonged activity.
If your horse is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, it’s quite possibly a sign that he is experiencing some form of stress. Take a close look at their behaviour and the instances where their stress appears to be worse—or better—to begin understanding the nature of his anxiety and how it can be alleviated.
What is the best way to begin addressing horse anxiety?
It’s understandable that many horse owners turn to prescription medications to reduce their horse’s stress. An anxious horse can be quite disconcerting and heart-breaking to witness, and yet, if your horse is not showing extreme signs of distress, it is usually worthwhile to first look for the root of the anxiety to see if your horse’s well-being can be improved simply by having more human and equine interactions, or more time in the pasture, or by hiring a trainer to work with your horse’s behaviour and find practical ways to restructure your horse’s routine and care in order to alleviate any situational stress.
In addition to looking at the big picture, there are also a number of natural options that horse owners can try if they would like to relieve the problem of horse anxiety without turning to medication.
The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing natural solutions is the safety of the product. Ensure that the product you try has been vigorously tested in clinics and be sure to check with your veterinarian that the product will not interfere with any medication that your horse may be taking.
There are a number of popular choices for reducing a horse’s stress naturally. Valerian Root has long been a preferred, natural herb for calming horse anxiety. Pet Remedy uses Valerian Root as one of its critical ingredients in an expertly chosen formula that has been tested and proven for efficiency with reducing stress and anxiety for horses. With Pet Remedy, however, it’s an even safer Valerian Root-based product to use because it is not taken internally, which is how Valerian Root is sometimes administered to horses.
One of the main benefits of Pet Remedy is that, when administered inside the boarding facilities, it addressed one of the primary sources of stress for many horses: being confined to a stall. It is also highly effective during travel, which can sometimes cause stress for horses. A number of our clients will spray Pet Remedy on the horse’s blankets prior to being transported. Especially when used in conjunction with regular use of Pet Remedy in the stall, this provides a consistent, calming scent, giving both a sense of familiarity as well as a proven way to reduce your horse’s stress.
If you have a horse who has behavioural problems related to stress, using Pet Remedy in combination with behavioural training can be especially effective. If your horse is calm, he can be in a much better state to respond positively to the training.
Pet Remedy is excellent on its own or as a supplement to other stress-reducing methods. It causes no known interference with medication and has been used with fantastic success for alleviating horse anxiety.