We all feel stressed sometimes and horses are no different. Many of us ask a lot of our horses, and we sometimes don’t keep them in ways that allow them to just be horses. Horses that are stressed can act out, develop ulcers, seem depressed, become balky or may become more flighty. It sometimes takes small adjustments in management to help our horses be relaxed. Here are just a few ideas to provide stress relief to your horse.
For a relaxed, happy horse, turnout is perhaps the most important part of its management. Horses on pasture are much less stressed than horses kept stabled all the time. Horses should be outside, grazing and moving freely as much as possible. Horses living in a herd may be calmer than horses living alone. Unless, of course, a horse is being harassed by other members of the herd. In that case, adjustments have to be made, so that everyone gets along.
Feeding for a calm horse can mean simply not over-feeding it on too much energy food. Feeding grain to an idle horse can result in a horse that is overweight and a little too energetic. Tailor your feed program to your horse’s activity level. That pasture potato probably doesn’t need any grain, but your five-year-old going into work may need a bit more.
There are many types of bodywork. The basics of most are easy to learn by all of us although some might require some study. Touch, various types of massage, reiki, and acupressure are just a few that can relieve tension and often, lead to improved performance.
Music soothes the savage beast claims the old adage. Music while you ride, in the trailer, on in the stable is known to have a calming effect on horses. One study suggests that classical or country music is the best soothing sound, with rock and jazz being less relaxing for horses. Volume too is important. Air on a G String may be soothing when played softly, but will be less so if it’s rattling the stable windows.
Adding herbs to a horse’s feed is a very traditional way of treating a number of problems including stress. Lemon balm, chamomile, hops and valerian and many more are thought to help calm the nervous system. These should only be fed short-term, or the effectiveness lessens. There are many mixes that can be bought if you don’t want to worry about choosing and feeding herbs yourself.
Aromatherapy can be used on its own, or in conjunction with massage. You have to educate yourself about how to use various oils as some can be toxic in large quantities or irritating. For example, cinnamon oil may be an irritant, so you don’t want to use it straight on skin or near the eyes, nostrils or mouth. Don’t use oils on wet skin or in the saddle or harness area.
Horses should also not be kept in a place where they can’t get away from the fragrance, such as shut in a shed or stall. While the fragrances of most oils dissipates fairly quickly, you don’t want to force your horse to breathe it in. And of course, don’t use a diffuser that uses a flame anywhere near your barn or any flammable material. And don’t think because your horse is large, you need to use a large amount of oil. Horse’s sense of smell is much better than ours, and a little oil will work well.
Common calming oils are lavender, bergamot, Roman and German chamomile, and sweet marjoram are just a few of the oils that can be used for stress relief for your horse—and for you too.
There’s no hard science proving that flower remedies work, or if they do, how the they work, or even that they don’t work. But there are still a lot of people who use various flower remedies such as star of Bethlehem or a ‘rescue remedy’ blend. If doing ‘something’ calms you down, that can lead to a calmer horse. They’re not terribly expensive so they might be worth a try.
Going to work can be calming for all of us unless it is the work that is causing the stress. Finding different ways for your horse to use its brain helps to calm and educate it. Team ‘playground for higher learning’ or groundwork, steady schooling work that doesn’t push the horse to do things it doesn’t understand yet, and even a trail ride if ring work seems to be causing tension are all good ways to help our horses stay calm and focused without being stressed and frustrated.
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