Anxiety in Horses
by Elaine Polny
(Palgrave, Ontario, Canada)
A Stress free lifestyle
So many people have been asking me about the anxiety in horses that it beckons to answer the question why. What causes anxiety in horses? And what can we do to help them?
For every one question about a subject I have learned to look deeper and farther back toward the beginning to find my answers. And when I do I am often very surprised about what I discover.
For example; many years ago when I started asking the questions "Why do we put metal bits in horse's mouths?" And "Why do we nail shoes to horse's hooves?" The array of answers I received from people always lacked validation since the answers were usually, "Well that's just how we've been doing it for years" or "Without bits we wouldn't be able to control horses, or without shoes the horse would chip up his hooves over the rocky terrain we go on." It often all sounded like the blind leading the blind to me!
Where was the hard core evidence to the choices we make on behalf of the horses? Do we even have the right to make choices on behalf of another? But more importantly is why are we doing all these things to them to begin with? Maybe if we didn't take them on that rocky terrain they wouldn't chip up their hooves to begin with. Maybe we should learn how to control horses without painful metal bits in their mouths. To whom does the responsibility fall under, the human or the horse?
I also wonder who and why man come up with rules, specific movements, patterns, tests and the list of tack required in order to compete in a competitive sporting event? Are we really considering the horse's perspective and well being here?
What's done is done
In the past, we used (and notice I said "used") horses to take us to wars, plow our fields and transport us to where we needed to go. But those days are long gone now and instead we have replaced it with pleasure, but pleasure for whom? Do our horses find pleasure in what we are doing with them now?
Unleash your Awareness
For every injury, illness or anxiety in horses that they suffer from we can trace most of the cause directly back to what people are "doing" with horses. This includes but not limited to how we care for them as well as the physical activities we place upon them.
Here's a few of many examples:
- Stereotypical Behaviors: any repetitive behavior that is created as a coping mechanism to reduce stress i.e. wind sucking, pacing fence lines, chewing fencing or wood. Often the cause is isolation from other horses and an unnatural diet and adequate movement.(there are many more causes to this as well)
- COPD (Heaves) a respiratory ailment caused by horses breathing in too much dust, mold and ammonia particles etc. from being in a stalled environment with lack of fresh circulated air.
- Metabolic/Founder problems are rapid in the horse world caused by incorrect feeding, nutrition and exercise. The feed industry hides many of the unnatural ingredients used in their formulations from the public.
- Lameness/Navicular problems originate mostly from incorrect hoof care trimming, shoes that eventually contract the hoof and deform them as well as horses being physically overworked.
- Anxiety in horses range from the unnatural lifestyle like being removed from a herd environment, confinement in a stall, harsh training methods, painful tack used (bits), put in stressful situations, expectations to compete, well the list just goes on and on.
- Stomach ulcers to broken bones will be found very prevalent in all competitive environments from the race track, dressage, jumping, cross country and rodeo industry caused by the whole unnatural lifestyle and winning expectation placed upon the horse. It's nothing shy of abuse accepted by those who participate.
Horses in the wild or those given a more natural lifestyle do not seem to suffer from Stereotypical behaviors, Metabolic issues, COPD, Navicular syndrome, or stomach ulcers and many other illnesses that the traditionally kept horses do. How come?
It's also worth noting that horses who are asked to compete in any competitive way are always and only retired when they have suffered an incurable injury. So the horse is pushed until they break down. And breakdown they do even at the tender age of two in many sports.Be Honest with it all!
We need to start asking the tough questions and then try to honestly answer them. Only each individual person can decide what feels right for them.
- Why do we "ride" horses? Who in this interaction of riding is having fun? How often do horse's get sore backs or pulled tendons when they are not being ridden?
- Why would we go and participate in a competition? Who it is for? If a horse wins a race, do they understand winning? Who takes home the prize?
- When people compete in events and loose, who is the one angry and frustrated? Who gets blamed for not winning? I witnessed this exact chain of events take place with a young lady who just finished competing in a barrel race. She lost and her words were, "I'm angry and disappointed. My horse was not focused on what she was doing." She then declared this horse was not good enough (she was embarrassed in front of the camera and needed to put blame somewhere!) and was going to trade it for another. (This was this horses first competitive race)
- Look closely at the tack we have designed to "fix" problems and/or "force" the horse into performing "our" desires. Nasty painful metal bits, tie downs, mouths forced to stay closed with gags, double bridles with two bits, spurs, whips, martingales, treed saddles, high painful shoes to force gaited horses to walk in a certain high stepping way, well that lists just goes on and on too.
- If you were a horse, what would you want to do today?
I believe we have the ability to stop anxiety in horses by removing the unnatural desires we place upon them. Let's start thinking with our hearts and not our financial gain or our human ego's need to win and be recognized!
From here we can make more humane decisions into what we would like to "do" with them and how we should go about doing it.
Yes, I believe it's that simple.