Do horses experience stress and anxiety? Do they feel depression? The answer isn’t black and white, and it’s not exactly the same as humans. Still, the mental well-being of your horse is vital, and many specific situations can contribute to their stress responses. Here are some things to know about depression and stress behaviors in horses and what to do about them.
The Cause of Stress Behaviors
While we want to avoid projecting human emotions onto horses, the truth is they’re very sensitive animals, and many things can cause them to experience stress. The definition of stress is the reaction to new or concerning circumstances through a combination of physical and psychological responses. For horses, that can be anything from loneliness to fear. A change in location, routine, companions, or any other new experience can cause stress and depression behaviors.
The Herd and Mental Wellness
Horses are not intended to be solitary animals. Evolutionarily, their ability to stick with the herd was vital to their survival. So when they are alone, they react in a way that we might consider depression. A horse can experience physical symptoms such as ulcers when they feel like they’re no longer a part of their herd.
Watch for Behaviors That Indicate Depression
What can you watch out for to catch depression and stress behaviors before they spiral out of control? A study in France observed several behaviors among horses that can indicate stress and depression. This is also an excellent list to consult. Some behaviors include:
- Immobile posture with unfocused eyes
- Unresponsiveness to humans or other stimuli
- Loss of appetite
- Cribbing, weaving, or other destructive behaviors
- Lack of sleep
- Unwillingness to work
- Increased levels of fear or anxiety; spooks more easily
- Reduced cortisol levels
- Avoidance of other horses
Horse First Training and Care
At horseOlogy, we want to ensure that every horse we work with is healthy and happy. That includes including them in a positive horse-first environment. We know that happy horses will perform better, which is good for our investors and partners and the horses we work with. Contact us today to learn more about the horseOlogy approach to breaking and training.