Any experienced horseman or woman has encountered an anxious horse before. In fact, at one time or another, all horses show small signs of anxiety or spookiness. It is literally in their nature.
When you think about horses in the overall context of the animal kingdom, horses fall into the category of a “prey” animal. In the wild, they are hunted by predators, which makes them prone to startling – it was necessary for survival (not so necessary, or helpful, as domesticated animals!)
However, truly problematic anxiety is so much more than the occasional startle or spook. It is something that affects your horse’s quality of life (and likely yours as well to some extent!)
Symptoms of Anxiety in Horses
So what does true, debilitating stress and anxiety look like in horses? Some symptoms are:
- Vices like weaving, rocking or walking in their stall, cribbing, chewing, kicking their stall, and generally being destructive.
- Shaking and trembling
- Rolling their eyes up into their head
- Bad behavior like rearing, bucking, or pawing continuously
- Spooking or bolting
Unchecked stress and anxiety can lead to injury, equine ulcers, colic, digestive issues, low weight, and more.
Identify the Source
Horses can be anxious for all sorts of reasons. Some common forms of anxiety are separation, performance, and situational. Understanding the source of your horse’s anxiety can help you develop a course of treatment.
So, without further ado, here are five ways you can help your horse with anxiety.
1. Start Small, Go Slow
For situational and performance anxiety, patient training may be the fix. Most horses are uncomfortable to some degree in unfamiliar situations. Anxiety is increased when they don’t know, or don’t understand what is expected of them. In both cases, additional training is the answer.
2. Consider Their Diet
According to TheHorse.com, “Sugar in a carbohydrate-rich diet can also play a role in anxious equine behavior.” We know that carbohydrates are a fast-burning fuel. An abundance of carbohydrate in the absence of enough exercise can lead to pent up energy and anxiety.
There is some evidence that a higher fat, low-sugar diet can help some horses to cease their anxious behaviors. Before making any changes to your horses diet, you should consult your veterinarian.
3. Try a CBD Supplement
CBD (or Cannabidiol) is one of over 100 naturally occurring phytocannabinoids (chemical compounds) that have been identified in cannabis. CBD is the most common cannabinoid and is found in all varieties of the cannabis plant.
CBD is a known anti-inflammatory, anti-analgesic (pain reducer), and an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety). For this reason, it is an effective anxiety reducer in all mammals.
If you want to know more specifically about the endocannabinoid system that all animals have, and how CBD works with it, you can read this article.
If your horse spends a lot of time in a stall, getting more exercise may be the simplest fix. Sometimes boredom or un-channeled energy can look a lot like anxiety. Increasing turnout and regular rides and training sessions could do a world of good. If installing a run off of the stall is an option, this is also an additional way to allow a little more movement into your horse’s life.
Physical exercise is also mental exercise for your horse!
This one is a little tongue-in-cheek, but maybe your horse is picking up on your own anxiety or lack of confidence. Horses are amazing at sensing any nervousness or change in mood.
There have been various studies where researchers measured heart rate and observed behavior to measure the influence of a rider on a horse. The research showed that when the heart rate of the rider increased, so did the heart rate of the horse. This demonstrates that human behavior does, in fact, influence the horse.
Here are some links relevant studies:
- Investigating Horse-Human Interactions: The Effect of a Nervous Human
- Equine Behaviour and Heart Rate in Temperament Tests With or Without Rider or Handler
What other solutions do you have for helping anxious horses?