Getting your horse to travel a long distances can be stressful. Apart from being confined in trailer transport, your horse may feel separated from his stable mates; his normal feeding schedule is disrupted and he may need to adapt to a new environment. The transported horse is exposed to many factors that induce stress. Each stressor makes him more vulnerable to a variety of diseases, from respiratory tract infections to digestive ulcers.
Horses do not need to be in extreme situations such as long distance travel for them to be considered under stress. Even extreme cold or hot climates, vigorous training programs, variations in feeding regimen, and daily routine disruptions can be considered as equine stressors.
Horses, by nature, are particularly reactive to stressful situations. They are prey animals when in the wild, and as such, they have a superior fight or flight response and can avoid dangerous situations instantly. When horses face stressful situations, their bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones and while that is a natural inner response, stress is manifested through swishing of tails, pawing on the ground, kicking, and biting. Evolution made horses able to keep themselves away from predators through their fight or flight responses.
Nowadays, domesticating is a common equine stressor. Studies reveal that about 80-90% of racehorses, 60% of performance horses and about 30-40% of dressage horses tend to develop digestive ulcers. As a horse owner, it is important to know how your horse reacts to stressful situations in order to prevent stress from troubling your horse’s life.
Your horse can either bite and kick, shy away, remain in stride, or become tense when introduced to stressors. That is because horses are forced to live their lives according to what is convenient for horse owners. Owners train them and put them on feeding schedules convenient for them, the owners, and not for the horses. Even the food they eat is controlled to meet the energy demands required for show or performance. What the horse eats and how he eats his meals can contribute to stress. Normally, roughage should be increased and high-grain meals decreased, but it’s the other way around for modern practices. When the normal eating habits are disrupted, ulcers in horses may result and the need for anti-ulcer medications like AbPrazole or AbGard is needed.
It may be almost impossible to avoid equine stressors most of the time. It only requires owners to stay alert and responsive as to what stresses their horses and better manage a stress-reduced environment. This can apply for both top-performing horses or a backyard trail horse.