Despite their large size and great power, horses are sensitive creatures. They can experience anxiety just like people, especially when separated from loved ones or worried about performing. If your horse is going through any of these experiences and you’re concerned about anxiety, keep your eye out for telltale signs. Please keep reading to learn about anxiety symptoms in your horse and how to treat them.
Chewing and Teeth Grinding
If you’re worried your horse might be developing anxiety, pay attention to its mouth. Since horses don’t have the same extremities we do, like fingernails to chew on when we’re nervous, they often end up excessively chewing their food or grinding their teeth even when they’re not eating. Monitor your horse during mealtimes and pay attention to how much they chew their food compared to other horses. Watch for mouth movements that signal teeth grinding when they’re not eating.
You’ve probably heard of humans’ fight or flight response, and horses can experience something similar. However, in horses, we call the flight response spooking. Spooking could be as obvious as running away or towards something, such as trying to run away from a show ring or towards someone that makes them feel safe. It can also manifest in pacing, rearing, and excessive sweating. They may do this in an immediate response, such as rearing when you try to load them into a trailer, or you might see a delayed response, such as excessive sweating after a show or separation.
Sometimes anxiety manifests internally, which can be harder to detect. However, this internal manifestation often appears in the digestive and gastric systems, which are easier to keep track of since horses eat so much. Those eating habits may silently communicate the presence of anxiety, so watch them closely. It is very complicated to care for underweight horses, and anxiety can cause weight loss, so noticing their eating habits and intervening before dangerous weight loss occurs is crucial. You also need to pay attention to what comes out the other end since diarrhea is another anxiety symptom.
Gastric ulcers are another indicator of anxiety, but only a medical professional can diagnose those. If you notice appetite and weight loss or attitude, performance, or coat changes, your horse may have a gastric ulcer. Call a veterinarian for a diagnosis and to learn how to proceed.
There are many symptoms of anxiety you may see in your horse. Treating them often requires a professional, although providing comfort and encouragement as they experience separation or performance anxiety should help.