Guest post by Becky from Insightful Equine.
Having an anxious horse is exhausting.
You just want to focus on reaching your goals but its hard to accomplish anything when your horse is constantly distracted by worry.
The first step is to stop fighting for their attention and start understanding what’s going on.
Horse anxiety is a complex beast.
It’s impossible to cover everything in one post, so I’m touching on eight points that will at least get you one step closer to finding relief.
Here’s what your horse wants you to know about anxiety:
1. Horses aren’t using their anxiety to get out of work.
When our horses become anxious during an exercise it’s easy to think they’re acting up to avoid work.
Looking at the bigger picture you’ll find that your horse isn’t trying to avoid the work itself but rather something about the work that’s troubling them.
Maybe the way they’re being cued has them on edge or perhaps their confidence took a nosedive when the exercise became physically difficult.
If you find that your horse is looking for a way out of an activity, stop to pinpoint the exact moment that the evasive behavior started and you’ll find the source of the problem.
2. Anxiety is impacted by more than just the environment.
It’s usually pretty easy to spot environmental factors that cause horses to get stirred up.
We all know that horse that loses it’s marbles every time the wind starts howling.
But what we don’t usually pick upon the more subtle factors impacting their emotions such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, immune system weakness, physical pain, hormones, genetics, and nutrition.
If you’re looking to ease anxiety I encourage you to approach it with as much openness as possible.
Being open to making mental, physical, emotional, and environmental changes will be what ultimately brings balance to your horse.
3. Natural Healthy stress is good for horses and helps to reset their response system.
Creating a stress-free environment will ultimately make your horse become moresensitive to being triggered.
By sheltering our horses from every little thing and arranging their lives so they don’t have to think on their own or use any natural survival skills they will become more helpless and more easily overwhelmed.
The key here is setting up their environment with natural stressors that they are capable of working through.
One idea would be to put out food in different areas of the pasture every day,then let them figure out how to find it. This simulates seeking and finding food the way they are designed for survival in nature.
Your horse gets to use their instincts productively while gaining confidence in their survival skills.
4. Stress can cause heightened senses.
Just picture the last time you’ve been stressed out and the sound of someone slurping coffee sent you right over the edge.
Horses can feel the same way, when your horse is anxious, something as simple as the radio playing too loud can send them over the edge.
Taking an assessment of the sights,sounds, and smells in the area will show you things that may be contributing to their overwhelm.
5. Horses need to feel their concerns are being heard in order to overcome them.
Blowing off your horse’s worries takes a dig at the trust in your relationship.
Imagine telling two friends that you’re afraid of ghosts. One tells you to shut up, ghosts aren’t real, you’re being an idiot. The other one asks why you’re afraid, then offers to help you face your fear.
Naturally, you’ll feel more comfortable with the friend that offers to help without judgment.
Next time your horse starts stirring with worry, have the patience to be the second friend, help them explore what’s going on.
6. Telling your horse to STOP feeling anxious doesn’t help them to feel better.
We’ve probably all done it. Saying calm down, relax. The problem with this approach to anxiety is that it doesn’t give the horse any instruction of things they can DO.
Remember anxiety is an involuntary reaction if they could just calm down they would (they have no desire to feel anxious and are probably just as annoyed about it as you are).
Instead, give them more guidance with small specific action steps that they’re capable of doing.
Be sure you’re strategic with these action steps, working toward lowering stress not just making your horse busy.
7. Overcoming anxiety works best with a multifaceted approach.
Trying one method and getting lackluster results doesn’t mean that the method is faulty. It usually means that it needs to be paired with additional support to be more effective.
For example, let’s say you’re using systematic desensitization to slowly help your horse feel comfortable being separated from his buddy but you aren’t making any consistent progress.
No matter how many baby steps you take, you’re not getting anywhere near having a horse that is confident on his own.
The method isn’t necessarily wrong, but your horse may need additional support along with it such as a supplement to address a magnesium deficiency or essential oils to feel more grounded during the process.
Don’t be afraid to troubleshoot combinations till you find the right recipe.
8. Ordering your horse around does not reduce anxiety.
When we start making an anxious horse busy it can appear that they are not as stirred up.
Unfortunately, all the horse has learned is that it’s not safe to outwardly show you that they’re worried therefore they redirect it internally.
Just like in people, internal worry puts additional stress the entire system which usually leads to bigger health issues down the line.
This usually snowballs when these health issues lead to even more anxiety.
I hope these points shed a little light on how your horse feels and just where thosefeelings are coming from.
If you’re feeling like you’re ready to dive into more actionable ideas for helping your horse conquer their anxiety you’ll want to check out this post on the Insightful Equine blog.
Becky Ruhl is obsessed with finding ways for horses to thrive. She’s all about sharing her ideas on her Insightful Equine blog and hopes to inspire others to find optimal ways of working with horses as well. When she’s not immersed in horse projects, she loves spending time with her boyfriend, traveling and hiking around the country with their two squishy faced Boston Terriers. If you’re up for expanding your circle of horse friends stop by and say hello to her on Facebook or if you’re looking for a bit of beautiful equine inspiration follow her on Instagram @insightfulequine.