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Managing the Anxious Horses
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Managing the Anxious Horses

Most of us are aware that horses are prey animals, and their first response to any threat is fight or flight. It is normal for your horse to become nervous in any trivial or strange situation. However, there are some horses that remain anxious all the time. There are various causes that can trigger anxious or reactive behavior in a horse. Here are some of the possibilities:

1. Your horse is suffering from visual impairment.

For a horse, sight is one of the most important survival mechanism. A horse suffering from visual impairment may experience episodes of spooking, neighing, bolting, bucking, freezing in place, refusing to jump, and rapid circling. If you observe such behavioral problems, then it is necessary to get your horse’s eyesight examined. Most of the times, veterinarians can easily detect the causes of vision loss. However, in some cases, advance testing is required, and so you may need to refer a veterinarian ophthalmologist.

Solution: To help your horse, you have to become a source of comfort and security for him. Guide and motivate your horse to use other senses. Talk to him in a soothing voice, pat him on his neck and shoulders, and make him aware of the surrounding environment. Restrain him to help him and yourself to adapt to this new lifestyle. Train your horse using a consistent approach and proceed with the training process slowly. Teach your horse to trust you and do not force him if he appears too anxious.

2. Your horse is in pain.

Many humans become anxious when they suffer from pain disorders such as arthritis, migraine or back pain. Similarly, horses experiencing chronic pain may display anxious behavior. A horse may suffer from gastric ulcer syndrome, arthritis, lameness, body or back soreness, which can disrupt their whole behavior repertoire. Chronic pain can raise the levels of cortisol in the blood, which can exacerbate anxious behavior in a horse.

Solution: If you feel that your horse is in pain, seek advice from a veterinarian for a detailed physical examination. A veterinarian will identify and treat any pain issues that trigger anxious behavior. 

3. Your horse saddle doesn’t fit properly.

Many times your horse may experience pain-associated anxiety due to a poor saddle fit. The saddle might be pinching or bothering him, which might make him feel uneasy and anxious. You can look out for lumps, skin lesions, bruises where the saddle lies to confirm that the anxious behavior is due to poor saddle fit. If saddle-induced pain continues for a long period, then the horse may exhibit learned disobedience behavior.

Solution: If your horse performs poorly and appears cranky with no signs of other problems, then your horse may be experiencing saddle-induced pain. In such a case, hire a professional saddle fitter to evaluate your horse’s saddle. A saddle fitter will help you understand how your saddle might be troubling your horse.

4. Your horse may need more training.

Frustration, confusion and inexperience are some of the factors that can make a horse nervous. When your horse doesn’t understand what he is supposed to do or when he faces a novel situation, he becomes chronically suspicious and fearful.

Solution: Anxious horses can benefit a lot from ground exercises and discipline training. These techniques will teach discipline and self-control to your horse, which will help him to face new and fearful situations rather than fleeing away. Moreover, these techniques should be accompanied by praise, reward and relaxation techniques, which will help him to build his confidence. However, if you are unable to handle your anxious horse, you can always seek guidance from a professional trainer.

5. His diet is out of whack.

Diet plays a significant role in equine behavior. Sugar in a carbohydrate-rich diet can give your horse a lot of energy. Sugar takes less time to metabolize and quickly releases energy. If a horse does not get an opportunity to use this extra energy, then behaviour problems may occur.

Solution: You can seek advice from an equine nutritionist who will assess and alter your horse’s diet. He may recommend a low sugar, high-fat diet for your horse. Compared to sugar, fat takes an ample amount of time to digest, and its energy release is slow and nourishing. Thus, a nervous horse should be given high-fat, low-carb diet to help balance the overall release of energy from the diet.

6. Your horse may need more exercise.

Horses are naturally programmed to move and roam freely. So, if they are kept confined in a stall for a prolonged period of time, they may get over excited while leaving their prison-stall. Stabled horses do not get an opportunity to roam freely and exercise, and so they may get bored. They may find ways to entertain themselves, which causes them to engage in unwanted and animated behaviours.  

Solution: It is important to keep your horse active. So, schedule an hour-long ride for at least four days a week, which will improve his physical as well as mental health. Allow them to roam and graze freely out on pasture with other horses. Grazing is an ideal form of basic exercise for a horse. While grazing horses may perform several slow and steady movements, which helps them to get rid of their excess energy.

7. He’s not getting to “live like a horse.”

Horses are natural grazers. They love to walk in the grassy pasture and graze in the sunshine and fresh air. However, many owners have taken this away from their horses. Instead, they provide them with concentrated feeds that are high in calories and carbohydrates. Moreover, horses are herd animals. If they are not given an opportunity to socialize, they will feel lost, isolated and anxious.

Solution: It is important to allow them to roam and graze freely. It will give your horse a lot of chewing time, which has a calming effect on equines. Moreover, they can socialize with other horses, which can activate and develop their brain functioning.


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