A number of things can make horses stressed, like being alone, loading and riding in a trailer, veterinary care, farrier work, preparing for and going to shows, changes in weather, changes in the people caring for them, changes in routine such as a new stall or differing feeding schedule, stall rest due to injury or illness, and a stressed handler or rider. Horses express psychological stress in a number of ways.
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Stall Walking and Other Vices
Stall walking is when a horse walks around a stall or walks back and forth along one wall repetitively. Weaving, cribbing, wood chewing, wall kicking, and fence walking are all signs of stress.
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Most of us yawn when we are tired. It's the way our bodies inhale a little extra oxygen to fuel our sleepy brain. Horses, however, don't yawn for the same reason, nor is it an appeasement gesture, as in dogs. A University of Guelph study found that yawning may be a way for a horse to release endorphins. Yawning and most horses will do it several times in a row, is a sign that the horse was feeling stressed, and by yawning, is releasing the stress.
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Some horses grind their teeth while stabled, some while ridden. Tooth grinding can be a sign of physical or physiological stress. If the horse has no other dental issues, it's important to check for things like EGUS and other sources of chronic pain or stressful situations.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Many examples of poor behavior while ridden, can be caused by physiological or physical stress. Stress can be expressed through pawing, pulling, tail wringing, bucking, rearing, bolting, or being cold backed.
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Manure and Urination
A horse that is stressed can produce copious amounts of manure in a short time. Some may produce very runny manure. Horses will often urinate if stressed, and if they can't relieve themselves because they can't relax, such as in a trailer or when being ridden, they can become antsier.
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Licking and Chewing
Natural horsemanship information has suggested that licking and chewing is a sign that a horse is accepting new information, such as during training. This action may be more like yawning in its function, as a way to release any stress it may have felt.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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High Pulse and Respiration
When a horse becomes stressed, their pulse and respiration rates can increase, sometimes drastically. It's important because of this to know your horse’s basic TPRs.
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As a horse's pulse and respiration may increase when stressed, it may start to sweat (and tremble). Work stress tends to show up between the horse's legs, and under the saddle area and can eventually cover the horse's whole body. It depends on how hard and long the horse works. A stressed horse may sweat in patches, however. Patches of sweat can also show the location of old injuries.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Chewing or Biting
Some horses express stress by biting things, people, or other horses.
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How to Alleviate Stress
Much stress can be relieved by providing consistent schedules in natural environments, or as much so as possible. This means frequent turnout, with ample access to food, water, and companionship. Show stress is more difficult to remedy, but turnout and exercise between shows can be helpful.
Give horses time to acclimatize to new situations, such as new herd mates or stall locations. Do your best to give horses in trailers a smooth ride. It's almost impossible to prevent all stress, but good basic care should take care of most.