Is Your Horse Stressed? Recognizing The Signs And How You Can Help

Posted in: Horse Care

As spring settles in we may be making some changes in our horse’s lifestyle.  Adjustments such as, more frequent riding, travel, and feed changes take place.  Let’s assume you are taking all the right steps with smooth transitions in diet and exercise, and that you know your horse’s personality and quirks. They all have them, but are they internal worriers, or very transparent with their feelings? Here are a few signs I look for to give clues about how my horses are feeling:

  • Heading to the opposite side of the pasture when they see you coming
  • Swishing their tail or kicking their belly when you saddle
  • Biting when you cinch them up
  • Lips pierced and jaw clamped shut (sometimes grinding their teeth)
  • Worried eyes
  • A sudden onset of bucking
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loose Manure
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Poor coat quality

Here are some suggestions about what might be causing these stresses and how we can help keep our horses more comfortable.

Diet:  As horses age, their nutritional needs may change.  We are demanding more from them, and therefore their bodies are requiring more nutrients for energy and stamina. Visit  your veterinarian and trusted feed supplier to make a plan based on your horse’s lifestyle.  Get your hay tested; because this should be the main feed, we need to make sure of its quality.  And remember to make any changes gradually. Be sure you are on a good worming schedule as well.

Physical Changes. There is bound to be wear and tear on all athletes, human and equine. Pain causes stress and reluctance, and a horse’s body is constantly changing with growth and use.  Are you up to date on your horse’s dental care?  Sharp edges and poor alignment can make any horse cranky, and even give them a constant headache. Chiropractics are proven to make major differences in horses and their attitudes and performance abilities.  Find and visit a good equine veterinarian.  Cultivate that relationship so you can run your concerns for changes in attitude by them. Maybe your horse is suffering from something major; just because they don’t limp off when you ride doesn’t mean they aren’t fighting major aches and pains.  It’s a good idea to have your vet give you a lameness exam when any performance or attitude changes occur.

Change In Environment. Have you moved your horse into a stall or pen? If your horse hates being by himself, give him a buddy or neighbor. You aren’t creating a herd-bound monster if you’ve done the training right, and your horse knows when it’s time to focus on you and get to work.  Be sure he’s getting plenty of exercise and turn out time. Keeping him happy and keeping hay in front of him is a good way to avoid the onset of ulcers, which are very painful and costly.

Hauling And Competition.  Make that trailer ride as comfortable as possible. Be sure they aren’t too warm in your enclosed trailer or too cold in your open trailer.  Give them shavings to stand on and hay to eat.  Drive cautiously, taking extra care around corners and making gradual stops.  On long trips be sure to stop and let them out in a safe place. Offer water whenever possible. Once you get to your destination, constantly keep hay and water in front of them.  Be sure their stall is kept comfortable with lots of shavings so they can rest. Keep this stall very clean, which means you are also spending lots of time with them.  If your horse isn’t used to being stalled, you may need to take them out and walk them a few times a day.  If you have a choice try to pick a stall where they can see out, and they aren’t next to an extremely agitated neighbor. Allow plenty of time for warm up and cool down around your competition, so your horse doesn’t feel rushed. Keep them safe and away from other nervous horses.

Have you seen additional signs that your horse is stressed? Tell us how you keep them at ease.

Posted in: Horse Care

About Jessie Salter

Horses have been a part of my life since I can remember. Riding with my Dad as a youngster was what I lived for. There was nothing better than working cows, or racing my dad across an alfalfa field. It seems I never grew out...

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