PROMOTING EQUINE WELFARE & HEALTH
BY GEERTJE FRENCH©
At Horsewell Equine Support our aim is to raise awareness for the different types of stress related behaviours your horse may be displaying in its daily life, and the changes you can make or professionals you may enlist, to help your horse overcome these behaviours.
Cause and Effect of Stress Induced Behaviours
Horses can experience different types of stressful stimuli, either internal or external, to which they will, to a higher or lesser degree, adapt their behaviour in order to escape the anxiety, discomfort or pain caused by external stress or ill health. Keep in mind that horses are individuals and may react differently to any given circumstance.
Your horse may become known as a ‘difficult’ or ‘nuisance’ horse, it has always behaved in that way, so it must be part of its character. There is usually a root cause for problem behaviour. Your horse may have been subject to aversive training techniques, or it may have learned its behaviour from other horses. Some behaviours may be due to sickness or disease, and some behaviours become instrumental to the deterioration of health and the mental state of mind of your horse, these, among others, may include: Weaving, cribbing, windsucking and box walking. Uncommon behaviour may also be a sign that your horse is lacking certain vitamins or minerals of if they have a ration unsuitable to their breed or work level.
All behaviours are driven by emotion - therefore they all have a very good reason behind them.
Trying to resolve behaviour issues with targeted ‘preventative’ measures, such as an anti-crib strap, invasive surgery or isolation, will only lead to more stress and damage to your horse. Tying your horse up to prevent it from box walking could also cause more anxiety for the horse and may elicit other forms of behaviour, such as aggression or apathy. Installing anti-weaving bars will only cause the horse to step back and continue as before.
Neither should you ignore a problem in the hope that it will resolve itself, as this is never the solution.
If your horse behaves in a way which causes you concern, your first port of call would be to contact your equine vet, to eliminate any underlying health-related issues your horse may be suffering from. Your vet may in turn advise you to enlist the help from other professionals, such as an equine nutritionist or physiotherapist. Another valuable professional to bear in mind, is a qualified equine behaviour therapist.
Horses thrive in an environment where there is plenty of opportunity to socialise with other horses and people. And where it will receive lots of positive stimuli and room to play and explore. A happy horse is a horse that enjoys a life free from fear, anxiety and pain and without being put under too much pressure to perform to a standard of which it may not be capable.
Image Credits (top to bottom); PeziBear, HP Gruesen