With horses having a strong prey drive, they are highly susceptible to suffering from anxiety. Their natural instinct is to be wary of danger. And when they sense danger, their biological instinct is to flee. So equine anxiety is something every horse owner needs to be well-versed in.
The first and most important thing you need to keep in mind is that it’s completely natural for your horse to suddenly become anxious or scared. Accepting this fact is a crucial prerequisite to learning calming tactics. In this article, we’ll look at some of the effective ways to calm your horses quickly.
Step #1. Identify The Cause
In the wild, a horse’s instinctive response to danger is to run. While that may be helpful in such an environment, it is certainly not something you’ll appreciate in a domestic setting. Just imagine the trouble you’ll have to go through when your horse suddenly starts to flee because of some perceived danger while you’re saddling up.
So in order to calm your horses, you need to start by identifying the cause of their anxiety. Broadly, we can classify the causes of horse anxiety into the following categories:
- Situational – Horses may exhibit situational anxiety when they associate a certain situation with a bad experience. Since horses don’t like enclosed spaces, your horse might get anxious when stepping into a trailer.
It might be difficult to diagnose this type of anxiety when you have a new horse. So it would be wise to get a thorough history of the horse in order to anticipate issues.
- Change – Another common cause of anxiety in horses is change. An abrupt change in a horse’s living condition or environment can trigger this type of anxiety. Suddenly moving your horse from an open field into a confined space, or an instant switch to a hectic training schedule, are some examples of changes that can trigger equine anxiety.
- Sounds – Many horses are known to get nervous on hearing certain sounds. It could be a loud noise of something knocked over or a car honking or backfiring. Some horses react negatively to hissing sounds like the rustling of leaves or a hose leaking.
- Performance – You may notice that your horse tends to get jittery or tense before a big event. This is a sign of performance anxiety. In some cases, it’s because the horse has picked up on the rider’s nonverbal anxiety cues such as holding onto the reins too rightly or tensing up. Performance anxiety may also occur when the horse associates the sounds and smells of a competition with anxiety.
- Separation – Being herd animals, horses feel safer when they have companionship. So a horse may become anxious when it’s moved away from its herd mates. For example, your horse may try to bolt when you’re taking it into the stable from the pasture for grooming or saddling.
Step #2. Remedy The Situation
Once you have identified the root cause of your horse’s anxiety, there are a few ways you can address it. Here are some suggestions that you can use based on the cause of the anxiety:
Address Your Anxiety
Horses have a tendency to be influenced by the rider’s mental state, as mentioned earlier. So if you are stressed around your horse, there’s a good chance they will pick up on it. It’s crucial that you address your own anxiety first when you’re around your horse.
Before you ride your horse, take a few deep breaths. This will help you relax so that when you are in the saddle, your horse will pick up on your calmness. This, in turn, will help to calm it too. Make sure you always do this before riding.
Even while riding, if you feel that your horse is tensing up, don’t hold your breath. Sometimes this happens inadvertently. But once you realize that you’re tensing up as well, start taking deep breaths to calm yourself. It will, in turn, help to calm your horses quickly.
When your horse suddenly gets scared, don’t panic even if you’re in the middle of riding. Panicking is the worst thing you can do when you’re trying to calm your horses. Once you’ve calmed yourself, talk to your horse and reassure it in a soothing voice. Better yet, gently rub or pet the horse’s neck while you’re doing this. Your calmness will emanate from you, eventually calming down your horse as well.
Repeat And Familiarize
You must understand that most of the things that upset your horses cannot be eliminated completely. You can’t remove certain objects that cause their anxiety or avoid situations and places that trigger their anxiety.
What you can do, however, is to get them more familiarized with these objects, places, or situations. For example, if an object seems to be unsettling your horse, try to make them look at it calmly. Sometimes taking them closer to sniff the object can help to calm your horses quickly.
However, if they are extremely unsettled, then dismount and take the horse closer to the object. Allow the horse get accustomed to it gradually.
If your horses are scared of unfamiliar arenas, you need to familiarize them by taking them there prior to the event. Give them sufficient time to get accustomed to the place and surroundings.
You can also give your horses calming supplements that will ease their nervousness. Make sure to use them after consulting with your vet for the best results.
Additionally, it would be wise to avoid making abrupt changes to their living conditions. Before you switch to an intensive training schedule, make sure you follow a training schedule that will help them gradually adapt to the intensity.
While riding, if you find that your horse has suddenly become very tensed and fixated on something, start trotting. You can ride in geometrical patterns like a figure eight or a zig-zag. Just try to relax and focus on the trot pattern. This is a great way to calm your horses down.
Avoid Rapid Actions
If your horse starts getting nervous while you’re on the ground, avoid rushing quickly towards it. This can make your horse get even more nervous and overreact, which can be dangerous for themselves and for you. So even when you’re walking towards your horse to calm it down, walk as you would normally.
Sometimes riders or owners struggle with horses who are perpetually scared. The slightest of things can set them off at any time. If you’re dealing with such horses, exercise caution to avoid any accidents. Try consulting with an experienced horse trainer in such cases.
Additionally, your horse’s diet can make some difference in reducing bouts of anxiety. Vets generally recommend a low-starch, high-fat, and high-fiber diet for horses as this makes them calmer while sustaining more energy.
Horses are amazing animals that respond very well to training. By taking time to understand their fears and anxieties, you can easily develop the skills required to calm them quickly.
If you have any additional tips for calming horses, please share them in the comments below. And if you have any questions about this post, or if you need any additional help calming your horses, please feel free to contact us.