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Is Your Horse Depressed?

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

Have you ever considered that your horse could be suffering from depression? Chronic pain, environmental changes and boredom are all factors that can contribute to the mental health of these highly sensitive creatures.

Warning Signs:

  • Withdrawal from the herd

  • Standing facing the stall wall or fence

  • Withdrawn posture (head low and eyes distant)

  • Low energy and lack of interest in eating or receiving treats

  • Lack of attention and enthusiasm (riding has become a real chore in getting your horse to focus and engage, sudden need to use aids such as whips and spurs)

  • Negative emotional response to normal situations (biting, pinning ears, kicking, rearing, difficulty being caught)

Horses are creatures of habit. Being "fight-or-flight" animals, they live in a state of heightened awareness in order to protect themselves from any potential threats. Like how they jump in freight away from those horrifying plastic bags... They like routine and find a sense of stability and security in it. The loss of a pasture mate, a new addition to the herd or sudden change in feed can cause excess stress and send those adrenal glands into overdrive. If the words "adrenal glands" don't pique your interest, then I might be the only one geeking out but nonetheless, let's explore this a little more. Our bodies react much the same as the horse does when we respond to any sort of stress be it sudden and acute or chronic and accumulating over time. Stress stimulates the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As the name suggests, adrenaline is produced from the adrenal glands and increases heart rate and blood pressure, expands the lungs and enlarges the pupils. It also redistributes the blood from the viscera (slowing digestion... that's a whole other rant for another blog) to send it to the larger muscles to prepare them for fast action. Cortisol is also produced by the adrenal glands to increase the metabolism of blood sugars to enhance brain function. Cortisol has another unique function in that it inhibits other bodily functions that the body deems nonessential in a fight-or-flight situation (ahem... digestion, ooh there it is again). In short, when the alarm bell rings, our bodies literally spring into action! However, imagine that the alarm bell doesn't have an off button... yikes! This is what can happen with prolonged exposure to stressors and chronic pain leading to a cascade of negative side effects until we get thrown into a very elaborate chicken-or-egg debate. Anyone ever been haunted by "mystery lameness", girthy or saddle sour horses, how about colic or ulcers?

We all know how stress affects our own bodies (tight muscles, aching joints, or a little extra weight here and there) and minds... horses are no different. Spend some time observing your horse, get to know their likes and dislikes or who they tend to hang around with in the field and who they avoid! If your little voice inside taps at that eyebrow and gets you muttering things like "hmmm, he seems off lately," or "she looks sad," don't ignore it. There are many different reasons why your horse can be experiencing physical or emotional changes. Reach out to your veterinarian if there is a serious concern or try switching things up with a new exercise routine or a fun toy! An animal communicator once told me that my horse would really like to have a companion goat and he could also use a massage to relieve his tension... I did not go out and purchase a goat but he did get the massage!

Get in touch today and ask us how we can help restore the body, mind and soul with alternative therapy techniques such as acupressure, massage, cranial sacral therapy, herbal remedies, etc.

Rewind Equine believes in the whole-horse approach to restoring health and wellness. If your horse is experiencing any changes out of the norm, it's important to take a good look at all of the possibilities.

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