Stress in Horses and How You Can Help

March 20, 2019
If stress in horses becomes excessive, it can cause different types of physical and mental issues. We'll tell you more about it in today's article.

Human beings aren’t the only ones that can be affected by stress and its negative consequences. Horses also suffer from stress, and their symptoms can severely impair their quality of life and health. In today’s article, we’ll tell you about stress in horses, how to identify it and what you can do to help relieve it.

What is stress?

In biological terms, stress is defined as a set of physical and mental alterations that occur in response to repeated stimuli, such as fear, cold, and joy, etc.

In general, we tend to associate stress with negative contexts and feelings, similar to a dangerous situation. However, there’s also positive stress, which is defined as the tension that’s caused by certain situations that may overexcite an animal. 

This type of stress is very common in dogs. For example, when they realize they’re going out for a walk or when their owner gets home from work. But it can also affect humans and other animals, including horses.

Stress isn’t always bad

A certain degree of stress is a good thing and is necessary for individuals to be attentive and to be able to react. Remember, an animal’s survival mostly depends on his ability to detect danger and react in time to escape or defend himself.

Stress in horses is a real problem.

However, it becomes an issue when the stress is excessive or constant. If this is the case, it will prevent the body from staying balanced as a result of the over-excitement. A stressed person or animal is always alert, overexcited, stressed and cannot relax. 

In this way, the animal’s body and mind slowly begin to change, and not in a good way. As a result, his health is affected. You may notice changes in his sleep, appetite, concentration abilities, work performance or he may become more irritable, weak, etc. All of this can then lead to illnesses. 

Why are horses stressed?

Stress in horses can have a lot of different causes. Thanks to their great intelligence and sensitivity, horses can easily detect changes in their environment. As a result, they’re more vulnerable to stress, especially when they don’t grow up in a positive environment.

Next, we’ll tell you some of the main causes of stress in horses:

  • Abrupt changes in their environment. Many animals cling to routine to protect themselves and to avoid exposing themselves to unnecessary risks. Therefore, sudden changes in their environment, or any changes at all, can make them stressed.
  • Poor physical activity. Horses are very active and intelligent animals. Because of this, they need to have their bodies and minds well stimulated to maintain a correct balance. A sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity are common causes of stress in horses.
  • Problems sleeping. Horses also need to rest to replenish their energy and to maintain a balanced state of mind. Problems sleeping or lack of an appropriate place to sleep can also lead to stress in horses.
  • Aging. As they get older, horses’ bodies become weaker and the animal may start to feel vulnerable. This may cause him to feel stressed more easily when he’s faced with any strange or excessive stimuli around him.
  • Negative environment or upbringing. Horses can really suffer as a result of negative surroundings. They may feel threatened, or they might not be receiving the best care for their well-being. Additionally, loneliness and lack of interaction with other beings can also cause stress.
  • Health problems. Diseases that cause them intense pain or that their senses in some way can cause behavioral problems and stress symptoms.
A horse in a field.

Stress symptoms in horses

You can easily detect stress symptoms in horses if you observe their behavior and body language. To help you recognize them, we’ve made a list with the characteristic signs of stress in horses:

  • Scratching the floor frequently or intensely
  • Constantly having their tail raised
  • Muscular stiffness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Yawning
  • Kicking
  • Repetitive head movements
  • Swallowing the air or snorting
  • Being elusive
  • Exaggerated reactions
  • Opening up their nostrils a lot

In cases of chronic or prolonged stress, the horse may develop some other symptoms. For example, he may perform certain actions or movements repetitively or permanently, and these may even involve self-mutilation.

How to relieve stress in horses?

Use these tips to help you reduce stress in horses:

  • Make sure your horse is getting enough physical activity, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle and over-stimulation.
  • Give him a balanced diet and make sure he’s properly hydrated.
  • Make sure he’s in a positive environment. He needs to be able to express himself freely so that he can be healthy and happy.
  • He needs to have comfortable facilities, especially when it comes to his rest areas.
  • Give him the necessary preventative medicines throughout his life. Make sure he’s up-to-date on his vaccines and deworming so that he stays healthy.