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Equine Stress and PTSD
 By Saferaphus   •   6th Jul 2018   •   205 views   •   0 comments


Some horses are more nervous than others. But, most horse anxiety is situational. Your horse probably isn’t nervous outside with other horses in a pasture, but move it into a stall, a separate paddock, have the vet or farrier show up, or take it in the trailer or to a show and you suddenly have a basket case. Remove the horse from these situations and your horse will probably settle down again. But if the horse is stressed enough, it will start to affect its performance and health.

Some horses can develop what could be considered posttraumatic stress disorder. This isn’t common, but it can happen when horses are exposed to stressful situations over a long period. Horses with PTSD have damage to their hippocampus from the constant release of fight-or-flight hormones. Horses with PTSD can have extreme reactions to situations and not react like a ‘normal horse’. With the right combination of environment and vet care, horses that show signs of PTSD can be helped.

We can’t avoid all stress. If your horse is a show horse, it will have to get on the trailer, and once there, perform. Your horse needs its hooves trimmed and you don’t want it to have a meltdown each time the farrier comes. These are situational stresses, and you probably don’t need a vet to deal with them.

Basic Stress Relief
For some horses, a long period on pasture just being a horse might be the ideal way to decompress. Many people find giving their horses herbal remedies are sufficient to overcome many stressful situations. We’ve looked at other de-stressors in Horse Stress Relief Methods. For situational stress, one or a combination of these methods can be helpful.

Consistency
After providing the right environment, there are lots of things you can do to help your horse deal with those stressful situations. If your horse is stressed by the farrier, every day, pick up its feet, clean them, bang around on them with the back of a brush, and try to help your horse accept that sort of handling. Find ways to gradually get your horse used to whatever is causing it stress.

Body Wrap
It sounds strange, but wrapping your horse in a snug elasticised blanket can help keep them calm. Or, you can wrap your horse is stretchy bandages. This helps calm them and increases body awareness. Using a body wrap isn’t difficult and can have some very profound effects. This PDF outlines how to use a simple TTEAM body wrap on your horse. Go carefully, as full out wrapping your horse could cause it to panic—and do the exact opposite of what you intend.

Twitches
There is a lot of controversy around the use of twitches. But, research suggests, that if used properly, they can help your horse past a rough patch, such as being shod or vaccinated. They certainly won’t help if your horse has a more generalized anxiety. We’ve looked at twitching in Twitching a Horse.

Pharmaceuticals
Lots of people use herbs and other remedies to calm their horses. But for a horse suffering from severe anxiety medication is available. Some medication only sedates a horse. The popular ACE is an example of this. It will help your horse through a shoeing or vet visit because it dulls their senses, but doesn’t prevent the triggering of the flight or fight brain chemicals. For that, you need an anti-anxiety medication. Some of these drugs are used for short terms, like a few weeks of layup. Or some drugs, used carefully, and mindful of possible side effects, like Xanax, Prozac and Comicalm help the body retain the serotonin—a happy hormone that is shed during times of stress, might be used over a longer period. A knowledgeable veterinarian will be able to help determine if these types of drugs are appropriate.
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