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How Horses Show Stress
 By Winniefield Park   •   1st Oct 2016   •   1,349 views   •   0 comments
How Horses Show Stress

All of us feel stress and itís normal to feel over-stressed sometimes. School exams, job demands and family obligations can leave us feeling stressed out. Our horses can feel stressed to, and while a bit of stress is normal, a lot of stress isnít good for your horse. Is your stressed? Hereís a look at how horses show that they're stressed.

Now it might seem like wild horses live an idyllic life of freedom. But thatís not true. The search for food, water, shelter, companions and avoiding predators are normal stresses wild horses face. For the most part, theyíve evolved to deal with these stresses. Their digestive system is able to digest small amount of food as they search for bits of fodder. They can grow warm coats to keep them warm, and have some natural waterproofing. They live in small bands and form close bonds with other horses, much like we might have a few good friends amongst a wider social circle. And of course, horses have evolved to be fast runners so they can outrun predators.

But domestic horses have to deal with other stressful situations, ones they're not really equipped to. We keep horses in small paddocks or stalls, where their natural inclination to travel and browse is frustrated. We take them to competitions that expose them to all sorts of unnatural situations such as riding in a trailer, noisy crowds, and other strange sights, sounds and smells. We keep them separated from other horses, depriving them of companionship. There are horses that take it all in stride, but there are others, that just like an overly sensitive person, are more affected to these types of stress. How can you tell your horse is stressed?

There are lots of reasons your horse might lose weight. Some are driven crazy by biting bugs and spend so much time swishing, pacing and twitching they donít eat enough to replace the burnt energy. Internal parasites can steal nutrition and cause weight loss. Illness and poor quality feed can cause a horse to be underweight. But, if youíve ruled at all the other reasons, you might consider stress as a cause of weight loss.

Does your horse yawn a lot? My horse yawns when I saddle up, anticipating being ridden, an activity sheíd rather avoid, even though I donít ride hard or long. Some of this might be from past bad experiences - she also habitually shies away from the saddle, a response to having a heavy saddle slapped on her back by former owners. Yawning is a stress response. One study by the University of Guelph suggests that yawning, rather than indicating fatigue as it does in humans, is a way to release stress by producing endorphins. Licking and chewing are also seen as indicators of stress relief or self-soothing.

Stress can cause a horse to bolt their food. This can put them in danger of choke. Some horses will chronically overeat, similar to some of us who are emotional eaters.

Those activities that were traditionally called stable vices are ways horses express stress. Cribbing, wood chewing, stall walking, pawing, wall kicking, biting things or people and weaving are habits born of stress. Often, they happen because a horse is cooped up in a stall and has no way to more naturally burn energy. Or, they may be reacting to being isolated.

Just like people, some horses are tooth grinders. They do this either in their stall, or while being ridden. Horses might grind their teeth because of tooth problems or stomach ulcers. But, it can also indicate stress.

Ulcers or EGUS can be caused by stress, and because of the discomfort, it can cause a vicious pain/stress circle. In fact, pain of any sort can cause a horse to express stress, so saddle fit, body or hoof pain, the comfort of the bit and how the horse is ridden can be a cause.

Poor behavior while ridden can be an indication of stress. When physical pain is ruled out, itís a good idea to take a look at the pace of training or even if the horse is really suitable for what itís being trained for.

Many horses, when they're stressed urinate and produce manure. My horse is nervous with the farrier and we have to keep a fork and wheelbarrow handy. Many horses do this at shows and on the trailer and can develop diarrhea easily. When a horse is really scared, they may shiver. You might see this when the vet visits - which can be very stressful for some horses.

Lots of things can cause colic and stress is one of them. If a horse becomes very stressed, they can become colicky. A change in routine, or environment can make some horses feel sick to their stomachs. Something as simple as a new horse in the stable can set some horses off.

So how do you alleviate stress for your horse. First look for any health related problems such as EGUS, soreness, and dental problems. Trailer stress can be lessened by giving the horse a comfortable ride; steady accelerations and decelerations, easy turns and a bright, comfortable trailer. Keep your horse's environment and natural to its needs as possible, with lots of turnout, exercise, friends and healthy feed. Itís not possible to avoid all stress, but letting your horse be a horse as much as possible will help avoid habits and health problems caused by stress.
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