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Effective Stress Reduction Techniques for Horses: 17 Approaches to a Calmer Equine


two horses closeup

In this blog post, Ontario Wholesale Farm Direct shares some tips on how to alleviate stress in horses. Whether you are a horse owner, a horse trainer or simply an equestrian enthusiast, here are 17 stress reduction techniques that you can use to keep your horses happy and relaxed.

 

1. Check If Your Horse Is in Pain

Common causes of stress among horses include pain and discomfort. Signs to look out for include unusual behaviour during groundwork, when the horse is in its stable, or when under the saddle. Increased agitation and aggressive behaviour, especially with other horses is also often symptomatic of an underlying painful condition.

 

2. Make Sure Your Horse Isn’t Bored

To keep your horses happy, it is important to ensure that they have access to a variety of enrichment activities. This is particularly important given the amount of time that horses spend confined in their stalls. You can for instance provide your horses with treat balls and hay ball feeders, and hang fruits, trees, foraged items, and branches at different heights and in different locations in the stable.

 

3. Add More Horses to the Stables

Horses may also show signs of stress if they feel lonely. As pack animals, horses find comfort in the presence of their own kind. They also tend to be quite social and will exhibit grief and loneliness when a companion is sent away or dies. It also gives them a sense of safety and makes them feel protected from predators. This is true even for domestic horses.

 

4. Make Sure Your Horse Has Plenty of Freedom

Your horses may also feel stress if they are unable to express their natural behaviour. To feel happy and relaxed, your horses should be able to move, roll, scratch, and run freely, groom each other, sleep, eat, and drink whenever they need to, and interact with each other.

 

5. Make Sure Your Horse Is Sleeping Enough

While horses equipped with a passive stray apparatus can sleep while standing, they also require rapid eye movement (REM) sleep for the healthy development of their memory and cognitive function. To achieve REM sleep, your horses need to be able to lie down completely with their head on the floor, have minimal exposure to noise and light during the night, and have access to comfortable bedding made of straw or shavings.

 

6. Add Mirrors to the Stalls

Normally, horses should be able to see and hear each other when stabled to feel less lonely and stressed. If the stable’s layout does not allow this, mirrors can be added to achieve the same effect.

 

7. Use Music Therapy

Playing music for your horses for several hours a day helps reduce stress, hyper-alertness, and aggressive behaviour.

 

8. Give Your Horses a Proper Diet

A healthy horse will be happier and more relaxed. It is recommended to give your horses a diet full of fibres and made up of at least 80% forage items. This will give your horses the volatile fatty acids (VFAs) that they need to stay adequately energized. In order to avoid aggressive behaviour and gut issues, it is also important to avoid grain-based diets.

 

9. Be Mindful of Your Horses’ Feeding Patterns

It is best to avoid intermittent feeding patterns as this will leave your horses with an empty stomach multiple times a day, which can lead to them developing stomach ulcers. Instead, provide your horses will a lot of accessible forage items that they can chew on throughout the day.

 

10. Ensure That Your Horses Have Access to Enough Water

Your horses will be prone to stress and anxiety if they are dehydrated. Lack of water can not only increase their heart rate, but it can also cause spikes in their respiration and blood cortisol levels. As they get more nervous, they will sweat and develop diarrhea, which will make the dehydration even worse.

 

11. Give Your Horses Daily Massages

The relaxing benefits of massages are not exclusive to humans! Daily massages can help reduce your horses’ blood levels of cortisol and keep them relaxed.

 

12. Make Use of Positive Reinforcement Training

During positive reinforcement training, the horses’ handler will provide them with a cue, followed by a reward, or primary reinforcer. For instance, after the horses successfully completes a command issued by the handler visually or verbally, they can be rewarded by being given a delicious treat. The primary reinforcer or reward can also be paired with a secondary reinforcer, such as a clicker.

 

13. Do Not Subject Your Horses to Excessive Exercise

While it is important for your horses to engage in daily exercises and physically stimulating activities, handlers should also be mindful of not overexerting their animals. Prolonged or high intensity exercises can trigger stress responses. This can affect the horses’ hormonal levels and neural responses, which can lead to unhealthy spikes in their cortisol levels.

 

14. Keep Your Broodmares Happy and Relaxed

If your broodmares are stressed, it will increase their corticosteroids, which can lead to low progesterone levels. This can in turn negatively affect their reproductive hormones, leading to multiple issues during the conception and embryonic stages.

 

15. Minimize Your Foals’ Stress

During the weaning stage, foals are prone to stress, which can trigger disease and injury. It is therefore important to adopt gradual weaning protocols. This includes providing your foals with access to creep-feed and increasing human interactions prior to weaning.

 

16. Minimize Transportation As Much As Possible

Transportation causes a lot of stress to horses. It is therefore important to gradually acclimatize your horse to transportation in order to decrease their stress responses.

 

17. Avoid the Use of Cross-Ties During Transportation

The use of cross-ties can not only increase the horse’s stress level, but it can also contribute to respiratory problems.

 

Wholesale Farm Products in Southern Ontario

Do you need wholesale products for your farm or stables? Serving Southern Ontario, Ontario Wholesale Farm Direct provides a wide range of high-quality farm products at competitive prices.

 

Contact us today to learn more about our products.


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