Preventing Stress in Horses

by Mary Ann Simonds

What Is A Horse? A horse is a free-roaming social herbivore.

What Is Stress? Stress is the body's response to any(stressors)that it preceives as threatening.

Two types of stressors:

  • Physical-- based on horses physical makeup and ability to respond to changes in diet, injury, infection, etc.
  • Phychological - base on horse's personality and its perception to life.


  • BEHAVIORAL - move away from something dangerous, various levels of stress (rearing if saddle pinches a nerve -- swishing a tail to remove flies)
  • SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM ACTIVATED - stimulates involuntary action of intestines, glands, and heart -- triggers "fight or flight" i.e. stress cholic, diarrhea, etc.
  • NEUROENDOCRINE SYSTEM ACTIVATED - increase energy flow too take action if needed -- using up stored fat, proteins, and carbohydrates--break down of energy rather than storing.

**All three reactions can take place at the same time-- response varies depending on how horse perceives threat.


  • PHYSICALLY, - any demanding sport causes stress--stress is what encourages a species to adapt or change(for better or worse}
  • PHYSICAL PARAMETERS - check overall health

Signs of stress:

  • sore muscles
  • heat in joints
  • injury to body parts
  • dull dry coat
  • uneven temperature in corresponding body parts

severe stress

  • cold back
  • lack or energy blocked

**The body stores physical and emotional stress if not processed appropriately.


Psychologically--need to know the animals personality. Understanding how it preceives its world bo better understand how your horse deals with stress. Often a quiet sweet horse that will really "try" for you is internalizing stress, the "wanting to please" syndrome. Various personalities cope with stress in various manners and training can affect the horses ability to process stress.

Behaviorial Signs of Stress:

  • cribbing
  • shying
  • head tossing
  • weaving
  • tight lips etc.

Mental stress can be stored in the horses body. Tightness over the shoulders, whithers and back is "Armor" just like people. Yin underside, protective, Yang dorsal side armor.

WHAT CAN CAUSE STRESS IN A HORSSE? Obvious and Not-so-Obvious

First look at horse's basic survival needs: Food, water, shelter, reproducing, socializing and then look at what we do with them and compare whether needs are being met considering personality.

  • Traveling - changing habitat
  • Showing
  • Feeding at irregular times
  • Insufficient nutrients
  • Toxins in water,hay,air-radiation, heavy metal, herbicides, etc.
  • Stablemate - moving a friend away or no other animal to socialize with
consider all of the things that can cause your particular horse stress.

Personality types critical to understand how horses percerive and process stress. Demonstrative, passive, confident, quiet, fearful, creative, busy, playful, purposeful, etc. Below is a breakdown of some of these types:

Demonstrative - Confident "lets you know when stressed". Bucks, kicks, bites(displays behavior)etc. Usually curious, mouthy, into everything. If abused or unfairly treated these horses will turn into troublemakers.

Demonstrative - Fearful Shys at everything the first time. Needs time to make sure everything is alright. Worries about things.

Passive Confident More "inward" horse, dosn't display much. Often friendly and calm. "Doesn't understand what the other horses get all worried about". When stressed, shows little if any behaviorial changes. These horses tend to internalize stress and "hold it in", but are not stressed by many things if trained by understanding humans.

Passve Fearful Won't show fear opening. Seems very willing and often have the "want to please" syndrome. These horses tend to have tight muscles and lips, but will not display fear related stress until "pushed over the limit".

Summary: Preventing Stress in Horses

We can't always prevent it, but, we can understand what causes it in horses and help them better cope with stress.

b070.gif 1.0 KUnderstand how your horse preceives its world

  • instinctual/biological needs
  • personality and phychological makeup

b042.gif 1.0 KLimit stressors for your horse

  • Feed a well balanced diet, horse systems are designed to handle about 8-12% protein and the calcium/phos. ratio is critical -- natural grass mix legume hay, (as natural a diet as poss)herbal suplements help to de-tox toxins in hay. Allow free grazing and browsing of such plants as dandelions,(make sure they haven't been sprayed with herbicides)and other palatable herbs and grasses. Provide nutritional mineral/vitamin supplement if needed.
  • Maintain a good health program, regular health checks before something happens(ideal checks are before and after each season) reduce exercise and showing during winter.
  • Provide pleasant natural environment with as much space as possible.
  • Regular varied exercise: mix ring work with hills and trails.
  • Allow play itme for you and your horse
  • Prevent boredom - toys for your horse(rope toys, textures, sizes, shapes, tastes)
  • Prepare your horse for travel or other changes. Increase B complex vitamines, "Dill" flower essence and body work for relaxation.
  • Allow your horse to meet other horses, smell manure, and engage in as many horse activities that you safely can.
  • Allow your horse the opportunity to roll daily, this helps keep their backs healthy.
  • "Know" your horse's stablemates and its relationship to them.
  • Keep yourself happy and healthy, limit your stress - your thoughts and feelings are picked up by your horse and can be relflected in your horse's behavior and physical well being.

b070.gif 1.0 KTeach yourself and your horse how to properly cope with stress

Conduct some form of bodywork on your horse(have some done for you)on a regular basis. This trains your horse to relax and listen to touch. ie:acupressure, TEAM, physical therapy, etc. Before you get on, stretch yourself and your horse.

    While warming up at the walk
  • center yjourself with your horse
  • ask to connect with your horse for the "highest and best purpose"
  • take 3-4 deep breaths and try and synchronize your breathing with your horse's breath
  • feel your horse's muscles as energy and visualize how the energy is moving-change the energy with your thoughts
  • relax and enjoy your horse

Meet Mary Ann Simonds a quick biography.

NEW Horse Charming or Horse Human Communication

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