Horses are prey animals whose flight response is deeply ingrained in their DNA. Because of this, most horses are reactive to unfamiliar sights and sounds, despite domestication. However, most horses adapt to new environments quickly as they learn that what they perceived as stressful is no longer a threat.
Some horses, however, do not adjust as quickly. Performance horses are often under chronic physical and psychological stress from training, management, and competitions. This means that cortisol, a stress hormone, is being released into the horse's body almost constantly, which can affect digestive and immune systems. Chronic stress can also lead to bad behavior and fatigue.
Stressed horses may exhibit the following behaviors:
- Reluctance to work
- Decreased appetite
- Poor performance
- Execution of stereotypies like cribbing, weaving or stall walking
To determine why a horse is acting a certain way, it's important to rule out pain. If pain is not a contributing factor, determining if his management is contributing to his stress is the next step.
If the horse is overly exuberant, providing more turnout or consistent work may help lower his stress level. Also, allowing ample time for him to just be a horse is imperative: down time with other horses is key to his mental health.
A balanced diet that meets a horse's nutritional needs is essential; many times, horses are “hot” because they receive too many calories in their grain meals and not enough hay or grass.
Magnesium supplementation may help calm an anxious horse, as well. An essential micromineral, magnesium is often seen in calming supplements. A study out of Cornell University showed that adding 10g of magnesium to a horse's high-fiber diet reduced a horse's reaction speed by more than one-third, making him calmer.
Read more at Feedmark.
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