Keeping your horse stress-free

  • Psychology

    Horses are creatures of habit. Is there something new on the yard he doesn’t like? Have you changed your feed, stabling, bedding or work programme, moved a new horse on to the yard or changed paddocks? You may be surprised how even little things can upset your horse.


    If your horse is a little too fizzy for your liking, take a look at his diet. Are you feeding too much quick-release carbohydrate? Talk to a feed company’s helpline about slow-energy feeds.


    There are many “calmers” available. Some are traditional herbal remedies, while others are based on research and theories about dietary levels of vitamins, minerals and manufactured compounds. If you are competing under rules, make sure that none of the ingredients is banned.


    This can help release tension in the horse’s muscles, but make sure a qualified equine therapist does it. Also, make time to give your horse a good strapping. A quick flick over with a dandy brush may get the surface of the coat looking presentable, but a good thorough grooming will get the blood flowing, making him feel good and, hopefully, taking his mind of any potentially stressful situations.


    These can be useful for a horse who gets stressed because he is bored. There is a wide range available for purchase. Some people prefer to make their own toys by suspending water-filled lemonade bottles or swedes in the stable or on field fencing.


    There’s nothing worse than winning your first rosette and your horse rearing up when the sponsor tries to hand over your ribbons. In showing, it can lose you the placing altogether. Condition your horse to accept these situations as non-threatening. If you are not confident about doing this yourself, ask someone to help you.


    Talk to your horse in a low and calming tone if he is getting upset. It will reassure him that you are there and that you are not worried.


    Turn out, loose-school or ride your horse to get rid of any excess energy he might have before a competition


    Lots of horses don’t travel well alone. If your horse has this problem, think about finding a companion. A horse who kicks in the horsebox will upset others as well as run up a bill for damage, so try putting covering boots on his back feet to dull the noise and take the “enjoyment” out of it for him. Playing a radio while you are travelling can drown out the noise of passing traffic and can be a relaxing, familiar sound.

    Your attitude

    Try to stay calm yourself. If your horse is nervous, he will look to you for reassurance. Getting worked up about the fact that your horse is stressed will only reinforce his instinct and make the problem worse. Calmly try to identify and remove whatever is causing the stress

    Overall health

    Most importantly, ensure that the reason your horse is upset is not because of a veterinary problem that is causing pain and anxiety

  • This feature was first published in Horse & Hound (7 July, ’05)

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