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Is My Horse Stressed? How to Identify and Reduce Equine Stress

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With the number of daily challenges and surprise encounters our horses experience (we see you, flying plastic bag blowing down the side of the arena), it is very beneficial as a rider or owner to know the signs of stress. While some horses may show every one of these, some may only show one or two. Knowing what signs of equine stress look like can help you know what to do next in a stressful situation!

Signs of Stress To Watch For

Horses are put through a lot during their time with us and what happens to them isn’t always their idea. When they are used to their day going the same way every day of the week and suddenly things change, it can cause them to stress out .  The top stress causing signs can be found in the list below!

  • Sweating when it is otherwise not a warm day outside (especially if the sweating comes on suddenly)
  • Frequent tail swishing (not to be confused with fly swatting)
  • Vocalizing frequently when the horse is usually very quiet
  • Pawing while in the stall or outside while standing. Note: pawing before rolling is not a sign of stress
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Flightiness or spookiness
  • Repeatedly moving head in an abnormal way
  • Kicking out
  • Cribbing – this is when a horse bites a solid object like a door or stall board with it’s incisor teeth, arches  its neck, and contracts the lower neck muscles to retract the larynx. This goes along with a rush of air into the esophagus producing the characteristic cribbing grunt.
  • Flaring nostrils
  • Elevated heart rate

If you suspect your horse may be stressed, try to identify the cause and have a plan in place to help your horse feel more relaxed and safe.

Common Stressful Situations

Being transported – While it is always a blast to take your horse on a road trip, keep in mind that traveling can be very stressful for any animal. Make sure your trailer is safely secured and not overly crowded with horses or equipment. It is especially stressful on horses that may not have much trailering experience or have had past trailering trauma.

A Farrier Visit – Horses that have a fear of getting their feet messed with may get nervous when the farrier pulls into the driveway.

A Veterinarian Visit – While veterinary care is one of the most important things you can provide your horse, some horses see it as a very scary situation. With the noises that come from the dental float and the routine vaccines they require, it is understandable that some horses may get uneasy at the sight of the veterinarian arriving. Note: If you know that your horse is stressed by veterinary appointments, let your doctor know. They may have some advice for helping keep your horse comfortable and relaxed during his appointment.

Beginning training – Horses that are put into a training program may get nervous adjusting to their new routine, location, and work schedule.

Being separated from a buddy– If your horses are always together and they are suddenly separated, one or both of them may become stressed.

New Barns – Switching boarding facilities can cause even the more relaxed horse to get a bit nervous. Leaving his friends behind to make new ones at his new home might upset him. So, make sure to monitor him for the first few days.

Weaning – After being with their dam their entire life, foals can get stressed when they are weaned and separated from their mother. Vocalizing and running around to find her is normal, but if your foal is looking unusually stressed out, give your vet a call!

Seeing that plastic grocery bag that is stuck in the tree near the arena – enough said.

While it is impossible to predict every scary thing that may happen to your horse in any given day, knowing the signs of stress can help you come up with a plan to help everyone feel better.

Carolina Equine Hospital

Is your horse behaving abnormally or showing an increased amount of stress? Give us a call at the office to discuss the signs of stress your horse is experiencing.  Our office is open Monday through Friday, from 8-5 and we have an emergency vet on call 24/7.

*Photo Credit to Taryn Spore*