If your horse is fretful, does it mean there’s something wrong with him? Not necessarily. Every horse is an individual, and just like people, some horses are more anxious than others. In this article, we discuss natural, common sense ways to calm a nervous horse. Read on to learn more about the best calmer for nervous horses.
What You'll Learn Today
- 1 Why Do You Need To Calm A Nervous Horse?
- 2 Address Your Horse’s Fears
- 3 Time And Consistency Heal All Things
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do You Need To Calm A Nervous Horse?
A high strung horse can pose challenges in everything you try to do with him. From walking to training to grooming to farrier and vet visits, you could find yourself struggling through every aspect of dealing with your horse.
This spoils your experience and your horse’s experience. A high strung horse can also present a danger to himself, you and those around you.
Thoughts On Sensitive, Reactive Horses
What Can You Do?
There are medications that can calm an anxious horse, but these should not be your first option. Just as with people, there are many reasons why a horse may seem to be “wired”. Are you inadvertently adding to your horse’s problem?
Think about your horse’s diet, exercise and care routines, and ask yourself these questions:
1. Is my horse’s diet too rich or sweet?
If you are feeding lots of sweet feed or pelleted complete feed, your horse may be experiencing a constant sugar high. A horse’s ideal diet should consist mostly of grass and hay with grain given sparingly. Choose natural grains over processed or heavily sweetened combinations.
2. Is my horse getting enough exercise?
Horses need ample turnout time to run and play with their friends. They also need regular riding and exercise. Just as you should get twenty minutes of light-to-moderate exercise daily to maintain your health and well-being, a horse should have several hours a day to move around and burn off steam.
If your horse can’t have an adequate amount of free exercise, you must hand walk him, lunge him, increase your riding and/or make use of exercise equipment, such as a horse walker:
3. Am I making my horse anxious?
Horses like routine. An unpredictably routine can cause a horse to feel insecure and anxious. It is important that you feed your horse consistently at the same time every day. Follow a regular schedule of feeding, grooming and care. Make adjustments and changes in small increments.
In addition to maintaining a regular care routine, you should behave in a consistently calm and competent manner around your horse. Move and speak smoothly and quietly. Don’t rush about, wave your arms or shout.
Always use consistent verbal and physical cues to mean the same thing every time you use them. If your horse sees you as being unpredictable and undependable, you will not be able to build a solid relationship with him, and he will feel anxious around you.
Address Your Horse’s Fears
Some horses are afraid of specific things or activities. Observe your horse closely to identify situations and things that tend to make him anxious. Once you understand what causes him distress, you can take specific steps to desensitize your horse to these triggers.
Desensitization involves exposing your horse to the frightening object or situation gradually to allow him time to become used to it. Sometimes this process takes minutes or hours. Sometimes it takes days, weeks or months. This depends on the reason for the anxiety and the severity of the problem.
In this video, a rider allows her frightened horse to watch other horses walk past a donkey and then rides the horse past the donkey and back again allowing plenty of time for the horse to overcome his fear of the donkey.
Spooked Horse Over White Donkey
Establish Calming Routines
Some horses like to be talked or sung to. It’s often a good idea to talk with your horse as you work with him and/or to establish a song you sing while riding or doing chores around him. This can become a calming, focal point. When your horse is used to your voice, you can use your voice to calm him in times of stress.
Add Essential Oils To Your Grooming Routine
Establish a regular, predictable grooming routine that your horse can count on and enjoy. Grooming your horse gives you an opportunity to bond, and it can have the same effect as a calming massage on your horse.
This is especially true if you add calming essential oils to the routine. There are a number of different essential oils that have been known to have a calming effect on horses, but lavender oil is probably the simplest, safest, most affordable and easiest to access.
Keep a bottle of lavender essential oil in your grooming kit. Before you groom your horse, rub a few drops on your own hands and wrists. Rub about a dozen drops between your palms and stroke the oil over your horse’s nose and around his mouth allowing him to inhale the calming scent.
Sprinkle a few drops of lavender essential oil on your finishing brush to infuse your horse’s mane and coat with the scent for a lasting calming effect.
If your horse tends to be anxious with the vet or farrier or in any other situation, be sure to do a full grooming with essential oil before the situation takes place.
Try A Calming Supplement
Your horse may be anxious because he is lacking in vitamins or minerals. For example, a lack of magnesium in the diet can cause anxiety and many other health problems in horses, people and all living things. Review the nutritional content of your feed and discuss your horse’s nutritional needs with your vet.
Some nutritional or calming supplements contain balanced nutrition and herbal support. For example, supplements that provide a full array of vitamins and minerals, along with calming herbs such as Valerian root can be very effective.
Note that if you show your horse, you should check to be certain any supplements you are using will not disqualify you from competition.
Time And Consistency Heal All Things
Helping a horse overcome anxiety is not a quick or easy process. When you change a horse’s routine or diet or add supplements, it can take a month or more to begin to see improvement.
Be positive, consistent and patient. Establish a workable routine and stick with it. A sensible, predictable routine is key to having a sensible, predictable horse. That’s why the word “routine” has been used a dozen times in this article.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, just as with most animals, horses need to know who is in charge, and in a human world, they very often prefer that it be a reliable human. This is why it is so important to bond with your horse and have him understand that all good things come from you. Once you have established a consistent, trusting relationship with your horse, teaching or reviewing ground manners (in a patient and calm manner) is a great way to work on calming him. When you do regular, daily ground manners work, your horse is soothed by the repetition and gains confidence by learning what is expected of him.
Of course, lunging and riding provide excellent exercise opportunities. Practicing ground work every day will also provide exercise. Follow this up with some long walks together. This will provide you and your horse with exercise, and it will help build your bond while giving your horse a chance to familiarize himself with the area surrounding his living situation. All of these factors will help your horse calm down and gain confidence.
No, desensitization training involves carefully and patiently allowing your horse to explore things that have been frightening to him. When you help your horse become desensitized, you respect his boundaries while simultaneously supporting him in expanding them and gaining confidence.
Sacking out is an old-fashioned, brutal practice that involves tying a horse up in a way that does not allow for movement and confronting him with all manner of scary objects and actions. This is far more likely to lead to post traumatic stress than confidence.
If a previously calm horse suddenly becomes nervous, check to see if he has good reason to be. If you can’t find anything frightening him, check your tack. A damaged girth, a burr or some other uncomfortable situation can cause anxiety. If your tack seems to be fine, contact your vet. The anxiety could be a symptom of injury or illness.
Sometimes keeping up a steady stream of calm, positive talk can help keep horses calm, but it’s important to remember that horses are individuals. Some become irritated if you are a chatterbox. Learn to read your horse. Watch his responses to various tones of voice and other sounds (e.g. singing, humming, etc.) Adjust your interactions and communications accordingly.
Of course, if your vet is coming to deal with an emergency, your overall environment may be stressful. Do your best to counteract this by having your horse in a comfortable, familiar setting if possible. If you are not able to move your horse to a calm, safe area, do your best to block off distractions and keep him comfortable until the vet arrives.
For example, if your horse is stuck outside, in the elements, in an area with a lot of activity, try parking a vehicle between the horse and any distracting activity. Give him shelter from rain, wind, cold or heat. If appropriate, put fresh hay and water in reach (consult your vet about this first).
If your horse has an established calming song or a comforting companion, make those available. Use calming essential oils if your horse is used to this.
Massaging the jaw line and Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can have a very calming effect. There are a number of trigger points in this area that help provide a sense of calm when massaged. Many horses also like to have the chin area rubbed. Adding lavender essential oil to the massage can intensify the calming effect.
Don’t rub the front of a horse’s face. Remember that horses cannot really see right in front of themselves, so rubbing ahead of and between the eyes could be a bit confusing and annoying. Additionally, there isn’t much padding on the front of the face so a lot of touching could be uncomfortable.
If you have a very anxious horse who doesn’t like to be touched, attempting to massage him or applying pressure to acupressure points will only make matters worse. If you have done your ground work and calmed your horse enough to have him stand to be groomed, you could add some massage and/or acupressure to your routine. If he enjoys it, and it helps him relax, it may also have a calming effect.
This is a fairly new supplement made using milk proteins. Anecdotal evidence derived from work with completely unhandled ponies indicates that beginning supplementation with this product a week or so before starting ground work can have very good effects on temperament and demeanor.
Yes, horses seem to enjoy music that has strong rhythmic patterns and short melodies played quietly in the background. Music in the barn provides a calm, consistent environment and can mask out noise pollution from outdoors. Some of the best choices include quiet country or classical music. There are also some choices to be had in equine specific music.