Just like us, and our pets, horses can also suffer from anxiety and stress. The two most common types of anxiety in horses include performance anxiety and separation anxiety. Anxiety in horses must be handled with care, in order to ensure a horse’s well-being. Determining why your horse is anxious may be troublesome at first, but the more you observe their behavior, the easier it is to track the cause or trigger.
Causes of Anxiety in Horses
What stresses our horses may be very different than what stresses us, our dogs, or our cats. Unlike dogs and cats, horses are herd animals and a prey species. This means, by nature, they are more prone to a flight response when they become fearful.
Horses will instinctively run when something is frightening or stress-causing. In the wild, horses who run faster can more effectively escape predators, ensuring survival. This characteristic still resides within our domesticated horses today, just as many of our dogs’ traits are derived from their ancestors. This makes horses a bit more susceptible to anxiety-based behaviors than our dogs and cats are.
Horses also travel in herds and, therefore, possess a herd mentality and seek companionship in order to feel safe and secure. Safety is found in numbers to a horse. We are generally known to be our horse’s safe haven, especially if there aren’t any other horses in the barn or pasture with them.
When their natural instincts aren’t supported, that’s where anxiety may kick in. For example, when your mare or stallion is stuck in a 12’ x 12’ stall, that doesn’t exactly suit their natural environment. Naturally, they are born to be able to walk around, graze, eat small meals, and experience freedom among other horses.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Horses
Depending on the cause, horses may exhibit several behaviors in response to their anxiety including: