Being able to calm nervous horses down is a vital skill for a rider to develop. Horses, as prey animals, are prone to nervousness and acute startle responses. Their emotional responses are often a result of external stimuli from their surroundings, but are also affected by the emotions of their rider. Our equine friends are easily spooked sometimes, which, in a worst-case scenario, can cause an accident. This can happen for a number of reasons, like contact with something unfamiliar or even an alteration of the horse’s routine.
If things go south, it can result in injuries to both rider and horse. It’s important to be able to calm your horse down in order to prevent any serious incidents.
Symptoms of Nervous Horses
You need to be able to diagnose if and when your horse is nervous or about to engage their startle response. Anxiety in equines is the expectation of future danger accompanied by signs of tension. It can be from internal or external causes. Here are some behavioral abnormalities that could be symptoms of anxiety/nervousness:
- Trembling or Shaking –One of the first signs that your horse may be anxious or nervous is if it starts to tremble or shake. You’ll notice them getting twitchy and their skin might seem to ripple as a nervous response.
- Rearing –Most riders are familiar with this fairly obvious sign that their horse is feeling frightened of something. They tend to seize up and rear in order to strike with their front legs. It is a sort of defense mechanism when they feel threatened by something in their vicinity.
- Stall Walking and Weaving –If your horse is weaving or stall walking, it’s a definite sign of stress, boredom, or even nervousness. Stall walking is when your horse paces and usually walks in circles. It’s mainly seen in horses that are stalled or confined. If you tie a horse up to prevent stall walking, it may start weaving. They pick up their hooves, shift weight, and or bob their head. This side to side swaying or weave walking can result in a strain on their ligaments and joints. What’s worse is horses can become underweight as the weaving causes them to burn extra calories. Anxiety and nervousness may not be the only underlying causes for these actions, but it can worsen them.
- Eye-Rolling –Along with a trembling motion, your horse may start to roll its eyes as a sign or nervousness. Their eye whites will clearly be visible as they tense up.
- Backing into a Corner –In a scary situation, like anyone else, a horse will seek the fastest way out. If they’re confined to a stall, they may back into a corner to protect themselves. Be aware of your position and make sure they can not swing their butt to you and put you in a bad position. If they are scared enough and backed into a corner, there is a likelihood of the horse kicking as well.
- Bolting or Spooking –A spooked horse will try to veer off course and away from whatever object has startled it. This might happen while they are being ridden or led. It can create a dangerous situation for the handler if the horse tries to bolt suddenly.
Tips to Calm Your Horses
After determining that your horse is nervous or anxious, the next step is to help them calm down. Here are some simple tips to keep in mind:
- Remain Calm Yourself –
Horses are exceptionally good at picking up tension in the riders bodies, which is why it’s important to remain relaxed and calm yourself. Otherwise, they may feed off of your nervous energy and get more anxious. It’s understandable that you may get startled yourself if your horse spooks suddenly. But it’s important to move on quickly and compose yourself. Don’t hold your breath, stay loose, and remain physically relaxed.
- Remain Calm Yourself –
- Talk to the Horse –
Another simple way to calm your horse is to talk it down when it is frightened. Just the sound of your calm voice can help reassure nervous horses. When talking to your horse, try to maintain a low, soft, and soothing tone. An added benefit of talking to nervous horses is, it forces you to breathe and relax too. That’s something your four-legged partners will pick up on and find reassuring.
- Determine the Cause of Anxiety –
Horses can often get spooked by new objects in their surroundings and start to act up. Physical pain or some kind of discomfort may cause them to act frantically. It’s best if you investigate the situation promptly and determine the cause of anxiety. It’s best to address the problem right away. If there’s a strange new object around, let your horses investigate it for itself. Once your horse determines that the object is harmless it will calm down on its own.
- Redirect Attention –
When a horse spooks or gets nervous, it helps to redirect their attention away from whatever was spooking them. You can ask your horse to lower its head or flex. You can also ask your horse to lunge in a circle, making them focus on their forward momentum rather than their original source of fear. Once they are focusing on their movements, make them circle closer to their fear source until they do not react to the fear source.
- Minimize Changes –
Our equine friends are easily frightened by changes in their environment. Even walking the same trail during a different time of day is enough to scare them. The smallest of changes in their regular environment is capable of giving them a nervous fit. It stands to reason then, that you should either minimize changes while you work on developing your skills to sooth your horse. Once you’re sure you can remain calm even when your horse is not, you can reintroduce variations on your routine.
- Provide Calming Supplements –
Some horses have hot temperaments whether it’s because of genetic factors, hormones (especially in mares!) or environmental stimuli. Calming supplements should include things like: L-tryptophan to help regulate serotonin, and magnesium and thiamine to help with physical factors that can result in increased nervousness or sensitivity. Formula 707’s Calming Supplements will increase calm and focus, but won’t make your horse slow or unresponsive – and since they’re available in pellets, Daily Fresh Packs, and as a paste they’re easy to feed at home and on the road.
Most nervous horses can get better if they’re handled calmly and consistently. Calming your horse’s nerves is like any other aspect of riding and requires regular attention, knowledge of your horse’s behavior, and consistent work. With these tips, hopefully you find it easier to handle such situations. If you still have any questions, you can reach out to us.