Anxious Horses or Horses with Anxiety?
If you’re new to our page, we professionally rehabilitate and care for horses with an array of medical conditions and issues. This can be anything from EMS and Laminitis to DDFT damage, stifle and tendon injuries and lameness, to behavioural issues such as anxiety, resource guarding and grass-affected issues. Having been officially open since January 2018 with the additional years of rehabilitating horses well before then, we’ve cared for a diverse range of equines, all of whom we have taken great pleasure in caring for.
It is through caring for these horses over the years that we have gained more and more experience working with anxious horses and have gained a better understanding of where said anxiety can stem from. We have had some truly wonderful horses in our care who have unfortunately been on the receiving end of abuse and neglect as some point in their lives, and therefore require months and months, if not years, of work done very gently and very slowly. We always celebrate any small success with these horses, knowing how hard it is for them to trust in us.
Although we’re very familiar with this type of horse, we more commonly work with different types of anxiety or reasons for said anxiety should I say. An unsettling amount of horses we have welcomed over the years have unfortunately endured lengthy periods of isolation as well as lack of movement, lack of forage and lack of enrichment. It is normally through the professional recommendations of more traditional Vets and Farriers that so many horses end up not only suffering from something like Laminitis that prompted the need for professional help in the first place, but then go on to experience months and months of box rest, restricted hay, stiff joints, poor hoof health and everything in between.
I think we truly undermine the consequences of these particular management practices, particularly what it does to a horse mentally. The equine world has a long way to come, both owner and professional, in ensuring our horses are happy and healthy without disregarding the importance of such basic needs and requirements. Your horse NEEDS contact with other horses, your horse NEEDS to move freely, your horse NEEDS a constant supply of fibre and lastly, your horse NEEDS you to allow them receive said contact, movement and forage.
Back to my point – anxious horses or horses with anxiety? When our horses unfortunately endure days, weeks, months and years without having their needs met, we often end up with a horse who becomes anxious or depressed. This anxiety can be in the form of separation anxiety, aggression, resource guarding, anxiety about being caught on a head collar, horse’s unable to integrate into a herd or be with another a horse and even anxiety formed around field shelters from fear of being locked in again.
Would I call this an anxious horse? Probably not. Would I say this horse has anxiety? Absolutely. The rarer types of horses we work with who have suffered abuse or neglect have ongoing, normally somewhat severe anxiety, affecting most, if not all portions of their lives. Although their anxiety can be somewhat improved through the type of environment we offer here, they still require constant work on our part to make any sort of small progress.
What I mean by a horse WITH anxiety and not an anxious horse is a horse that is experiencing anxiety due to bad management practices, isolation or restricted forage.
Although each horse of course differs and the time period to see an improvement in their anxiety also differs, we have had great success supplying these horses with the simple act of freedom. The horses in our care are turned out 24/7 and are therefore able to move whenever they’d like with whoever they’d like. Always with access to adlib netted hay, our residents are free to eat as often as they require without the threat of standing hungry for hours on end. They’ll also never know isolation again here at PB, allowing them to live in herds to form bonds and groom, play, eat and sleep whether that be by themselves or with their herd members. The choice is theirs and we will never take that away from them.
Often within a few months of arrival, said horses with anxiety are starting to unlearn their behaviours and relax in their environment. We often don’t even need to interfere with this progress as long as we respect their boundaries and don’t force said progress. My point is I wouldn’t say these types of horses are anxious horses, I would say these horses have anxiety because their most basic needs haven’t been met for what is sometimes a very long time.
© Madeline Sharpe