What Causes Horse Anxiety?
Anxiety will almost always have a root cause. The cause may be physical (caused by a physical factor – such as a snake or banging barn door) or psychological (past abuse or stress and separation anxiety). It may also be hereditary – so it is important to determine the cause of the problem. All horses that exhibit prolonged or sudden anxiety should undergo a full check up at the vet. Other causes of anxiety may include:
- A horse in a new environment or stressful environment
- Fear of other horses sharing stables
- Lack of a close relationship at ‘ground-level’
- Lack of training
- Past abuse or traumatic experience
Remember that horses are fight or flight animals, so when they are put into stressful situations they have a tendency to become anxious and want to ‘flee’. Some horses will be less nervous than others because of how they are able to handle stress. Also, always check for physical things that may be causing the anxiety – such as a banging barn door, fire-crackers on a neighboring field etc.
Diagnosing Horse Anxiety
Because degrees of anxiety vary, it is important to know your horse well and watch out for both physical and behavioral changes. These may include:
- Backing into the corner of the stable
- Peeling back of the lids (Widening of the eyes)
- Shaking or trembling
- Restlessness (a horse may pace back and forth)
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of appetite
Related physical conditions include:
- Constipation or upset stomach
- Eczema or skin disturbances and hair loss
There are many medications to assist nervousness, excessive anxiousness, or stress in horses. Unfortunately these medications are not without side effects, and while they may help to relax the horse in the short term, their long-term effects are not known.
Furthermore, sedatives and calming drugs can leave a horse’s senses dulled – that can make competitive events as well as training difficult, as concentration and alertness is required. Speak to your vet about other alternatives.
Natural Remedies for Calming Your Horse
There are many herbal and homeopathic remedies that can help to lessen equine anxiety while still keeping your horse alert. Homeopathic ingredients such as Chamomilla, Kali phos and Cina have been used traditionally for centuries to treat underlying root causes of fear and promote calmness.
Homeopathic remedies get to work on a cellular level, addressing the horse’s imbalances and promoting adequate levels of cell salts in the living cells needed for physical and mental health. Phosphorus and Asarum can also help to strengthen the nervous system in the animal body – promoting sound mental health and addressing nervous disorders.
- Don’t make the mistake of “tip toeing” around a nervous horse, rather work on gradually desensitizing a horse to the thing that he or she is anxious about.
- Increase the amount of turn-out time. This will allow your horse to expend extra nervous energy and be in its natural setting. This alone can work as a huge calming factor, as a tired horse will sleep better and be less nervous.
- Ensure adequate nutrition for your horse. Speak to your feed supplier about food that will not contribute to hyperactive behavior, anxiety or aggression. Look into supplements that have a natural calming effect on a horse.