Anxiety in horses is a far bigger problem than most people realise. People tend to think that training will give them the horse they want, but fail to take into account both their own contribution to the situation as well as whether the horse is suitable physically for what they wish to do. And of course, some training methods today still belong in the past, they are so insensitive.
Why Horses Are Sensitive
Horse are prey animals. That means they have to be super alert at all times for predators, if they want to survive. Being alert all the time takes its toll, which is why most prey animals live in herds or groups. Watchmen can be rotated, allowing the others to sleep.
In addition, horses don’t need much REM sleep as they are able to doze standing up. So their vulnerable time is when they are lying down in their REM sleep. Which is why it is normally only for short periods, maybe up to half an hour. And normally only in daylight hours.
They also have to feel very safe to lie down. Just because you don’t have any predators round the corner, doesn’t mean your horse feels safe. It’s a hard wired safety feature.
Sleeping standing up is far safer as they can gallop off in a moment.
This means a horse kept on their own, without companions, is likely to be much more nervous and jittery. They have to be constantly alert and frequently don’t get enough REM sleep, the important refreshing sleep state.
The sensitivity of horses far exceeds anything we can even conceive. Our lives have dulled us so we don’t have to be so sensitive. And our horses have adapted to that to some extent, as a domestic horse doesn’t react to things that wild ones do. But their sensitivity is a hairs breadth away.
Training Horses Has Become Far More Sensitive And Compassionate
Some horse trainers have become much more sensitive and compassionate than they were in past decades. But not all. As with all things human, some are reluctant to drop old ways. It’s too scary to learn new ways. Be assured that the old ways need to be relegated to the ‘bad old days’.
Some horses are started far too young, well before their bones have hardened enough to accept the athletic demands and weight of a rider. This limits their life usefulness. And it sets up problems for the future.
Some horses conformation is clearly unsuitable for the areas of the equestrian sport they are put to.
Your Contribution To Your Horse’s Anxiety
Until you take into consideration your own contribution to the state of anxiety in horses, you may never enjoy the truly amazing relationship they so generously offer us.
Your horse picks up everything you are feeling – anger, irritability, depression, frustration, short temper, fear, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, a recent argument, etc. As a prey animal, this is their strategy for survival. So you need to really understand and appreciate that. Strategies include:
- getting holistic help for yourself
- taking Rescue Remedy when being with horses, to ensure your calmness
- not asking anything from your horse when you are not in a good place, whatever the cost to you
You can be with horses at these bad times, but not ask anything of them. They may well help you and support you.
The so called bad behaviour from ridden horses is far more about the rider than the horse. Adding the more restrictive, barbaric and painful gadgets will never solve the problem. Bits and martingales can be very damaging and painful.
Helping Horses Overcome Past Hurts
Most of us have horses with an unknown past. Who knows what the breeder was like? Too early removal from the mother is still wide spread, even though it is damaging to both. Separating horses from paddock companions as they are sold on takes its toll.
As already discussed, the early training is often draconian and unsympathetic.
People seem to be more focused on what they want from their horse, with little consideration of what the horse is feeling or going through.
Prey animals have an additional side to them that helps then survive well in the wild, but is their downfall with humans. They are stoic. They don’t show their pain until it’s pretty bad. A prey animal who has a weakness is always targeted by the predator, because they are easier to catch.
So horses put up with a lot from us, often without apparent distress or discomfort. Which doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. And it does all add up eventually, often being displayed as anxiety. Sometimes, although less common, irritability, even anger.
Treating anxiety in horses needs to be with someone who understands horses and with an holistic system of medicine. Herbs, while helpful in minor issues, are unlikely to help in serious areas.
However, good homeopathic treatment can resolve most problems. Homeopathy has the ability to heal current and past injuries, other musclo-skeletal issues common with working horses, as well as deep seated emotional issues such as anxiety, downright fear and panic. It doesn’t matter if these have just arisen or if from past emotional upsets.