How to Calm My Horse Down?

Is your horse gritting its teeth before you? Is it getting restless, prancing, or even running away from you? Is it noticeably tense, has the muscles cramped, and generally does not seem to come to rest? These are all signs of stress in the horse. But what are other symptoms? What actually triggers the change in mood and how can you calm your horse down? We’ll tell you that and more now!

The Basics of Stress: Distinguishing Two Forms

Before we devote ourselves specifically to the stress in horses, let’s take a look at what is actually hidden behind the word. Because while we use it relatively often in everyday life to describe our own state of mind, we actually know relatively little about the phenomenon.

Basically, this is a physical reaction (e.g. palpitations, sweats, and tension) to a threat that can be both physical and psychological. It is actually a perception of danger – we register a threat and react to it. It is no different with animals. We therefore fundamentally differentiate between two types of stress in horses:

Acute stress

Short-term (an acute threat is perceived). Escape, hormone release (adrenaline and noradrenaline) to strengthen the energy balance. Short-term overload of the body, acute symptoms that recede as soon as the period of stress is over.

Chronic stress

Long-term (a threat persists). Permanent tension due to increased attention, devotion complex (“submit to your fate”), the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Disruption of the immune system, damage to health.

You can probably read it off from the consequences, but we want to emphasize it again at this point: If your animal is suffering from stress, you should act as soon as possible. This means that you first perceive the symptoms, determine the source and then calm the horse accordingly. How you do all of this is explained below.

Recognize Stress in Horses

Horses speak their own language, this is clear to most owners and riders. But it is not always easy for us to understand them and interpret them correctly. That is why we have put together a list of possible symptoms of stress that should help you to determine whether your horse is currently overwhelmed:

  • constant hitting with the tail
  • frequent neighing
  • distended nostrils
  • grind your teeth
  • frequent yawning
  • cramped jaw
  • constant ear movement
  • wrinkles around the eyes
  • constant prancing or general restlessness
  • cramped or tense muscles
  • trembling despite external warmth
  • excessive sweating
  • loss of appetite or unusual eating behavior
  • weak immune system or constant illness
  • an uncharacteristic (possibly aggressive, restless) behavior

If you get more than one of these signs, it is very possible that your horse is stressed. To confirm this suspicion, you can also order a blood count if necessary. This is actually only worthwhile in the case of chronic stress because here the hormone balance can be precisely determined and thus also the release of cortisol. Adrenaline and noradrenaline, on the other hand, are relatively short-lived and are only released in acute (perceived) dangerous situations.

Horses are Creatures of Habit: They Trigger Stress

Actually, with this one statement, we have already brought together the most well-known reason for stress: changes in routine. Because horses quickly get used to a daily routine and then expect it to stay the same. New influences, on the other hand, quickly lead to stress and restlessness. But what exactly can be responsible for this?

Injuries as a Cause of Stress

Injuries play a role in the well-being of the horse in two ways: on the one hand, because of acute pain, and on the other, because of the consequences that result from the treatment. Let us first dedicate ourselves to the former: Especially internal injuries to the joints, but also diseases of organs are not always easy to recognize for us humans but cause problems for the horse.

The persistent pain usually leads to the instinct to flee being triggered and a stress reaction occurring. It is therefore important that you take a close look at the horse’s body and ideally feel it once. Does your animal react particularly sensitively at one point? For example, could the saddle no longer sit properly? Or is the bridle chafing something? If you cannot establish a clear connection, you should contact the veterinarian to investigate the cause.

If the doctor discovers an illness or an injury, it is not uncommon for stable rest to be one of the consequences. While this promotes healing, it also often leads to boredom, loneliness, and fear of separation in horses. These, in turn, are stress factors and can trigger a physical reaction. So if it is possible, you should still keep your horse busy and incentivized.

Diet-Related Stress

In order for the horse’s body to function properly, it needs some nutrients. These should usually be delivered through the feed. However, at certain times of the year or due to the quality of the feed, deficiency symptoms can occur, which manifest themselves as stress. Magnesium plays a particularly important role here, as it is responsible for the transmission of stimuli.

In addition, together with the amino acid L-tryptophan, it is involved in the formation of the hormone serotonin. This neurotransmitter ensures well-being and calms in the body. If it is only poorly formed, irritation and over-sensitivity can occur in the horse. So it is best to check the concentrate and roughage for possible deficiencies.

Change of Location Often Causes Unrest

Whether for a tournament or for a permanent change of location: New surroundings cause stress for most horses. Even the drive in the cramped trailer with the many ambient noises that the animal cannot identify is often frightening. In this case, only herbal remedies or intensive training can help calm the horse.

A tournament situation also brings stress to the extent that the horse definitely feels the tension of the rider, is in a completely new environment, and is under pressure to perform. Your nerves can go crazy. The great stress that is also placed on the horse’s body is an additional physical stimulus to which it is exposed.

When moving, on the other hand, it is not just the new environment, but usually also new conspecifics. The horse then has to re-establish itself in the herd and find its place in the hierarchy. This proof of joining is also a stress factor. It is, therefore, best to slowly introduce your animal to the new situation.

Other Causes of Stress in the Horse

In addition to these triggers, there are many other ways that stress can trigger a horse. For example, pregnant mares are particularly susceptible because their hormonal balance shifts during pregnancy. For some horses, visiting the vet or farrier is also a challenge. On the one hand, this can be due to the fact that the animal associates it with negative experiences, and on the other hand, it can simply be the stranger who seems frightening.

Particularly intensive training units that lead to physical exhaustion and changes in the training plan can also cause stress in sensitive horses. Changes in the weather, loud noises, and fluctuations in temperature also often trigger. In each of these cases, you will take different measures to be able to calm your horse down.

Calm the Horse: Here’s How to Do That

We have already tried to give you incentives on how to calm your horse down when the stress in a situation becomes acute. We want to take a closer look at these and add to them at this point. One thing in advance: It is important that you have patience and do not let yourself be stressed by your animal. Because that will usually have the opposite effect.

Pay attention to body language

Read your horse’s body language – where could it be in pain? Where is it sensitive? Can you see something in the corridor? Is there a particular area of the body that is particularly busy? Then derive appropriate measures (veterinary examination, targeted training).

Rewarding work

Integrate regular training for certain situations (e.g. hanging) into the process and also reward small steps (e.g. approaching the trailer without hesitation).

Calm and serenity

Keep calm and avoid training if you feel stressed or nervous – horses will sense this and will reflect your mood.

Form routines

Establish a concrete daily routine and stick to it – this is especially important after moving so that the horse has a constant that it can use for orientation. This is a good way to calm the horse down.

Promote herd cohesion

Horses feel most comfortable among their own species – the strength for them actually lies in the amount. So make sure that your horse feels comfortable in the herd and gets on well with its neighbors. If necessary, it is necessary to change the composition of the herd or even to change the barn.

Employment and variety

Boredom is often a trigger for stress. If the horse is not busy, stupid ideas come up. Therefore offer them employment opportunities (e.g. toys, paddock trail, etc.)

Nutrient-rich feeding

Eat a balanced diet that includes all of the essential nutrients. Special feed supplements can also help calm the horse.

If it is an acutely stressful situation, you can also use light tranquilizers for the horse. If possible, these should be made up of plants so that they can be easily absorbed by the body. Typical is, for example, the addition of hemp oil, lavender, or Bach flowers to be able to calm the horse. In the long run, however, you should work with training to make the animal more balanced.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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