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STRESS IN HORSES, HORSE STRESS – GLOBAL HERBS


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STRESS
IN HORSES

 

 


Presented by Stephen Ashdown

 

 


Just
like us, our horses get stressed.  Stress
seems to be an inevitable part of modern life and we can even pass on such
feelings and problems to our pets and animal companions. In the same way
when our animals become stressed we know it and it affects our riding and
enjoyment.

 

But
how damaging really is tension and anxiety. 
How can we avoid it and why is it important for animals as well as
people?

 

cartoon horse

Stress
is a natural response of the body to something that threatens it whether
that threat is mental or a physical accident or a disease. 
When the body senses that something bad may happen to it, cells
release chemicals that start to protect the body from what ‘might
happen’.  This threat to the
body might be a sudden change in the weather, a new horse in the field
that might cause a fight, some change to management regime or maybe the
loss of a companion in the same field. 
Some of the chemicals that the body releases in such situations are
natural steroids which calm damage in the body down whether that damage
occurs in the mind or the muscles.  Other
chemicals start to prepare the body for taking evasive action i.e. running
away quickly.

 

So
we can see that stress is actually a natural state of the body. If we or
our horses did not get worried or stressed about things to some degree we
would be much more likely to get into trouble in difficult or dangerous
situations.  The trouble comes
however when stress continues for long periods of time without us being
able to get away from what is causing it. 
Then the natural chemicals in the body that are supposed to protect
the body actually start having negative effects. 
The body steroid hormones start weakening the immune system, body
chemicals make us ‘revved up’ in order to escape the stress and cannot
do so and by products of all this chemical activity called ‘free
radicals’ start damaging the cells and make us grow older more quickly. 
It is a bit like ‘revving up’ an engine for a long period
without going anywhere.  Of
course it is not good for the engine after a while. 
Recent studies show that short periods of stress are actually good
for the body because the healing process of the body afterwards gives it a
lift.  If a person has no
occasional challenge to make them think more acutely the brain degenerates
and becomes less able to function well.

 

So
what does all this mean for horses?  It
means that if your horse is locked up in a stable for prolonged periods
and does not like this it can get stressed and this damages its health. 
It means that horses that loose their companions and are then left
by themselves get ill eventually.  It
means that if a horse is constantly worried about a heavy competition
schedule and non-stop travelling it is likely to get ill relatively
easily.

 

How
do we prevent the longer type of stress causing damage to our horses? 
The key is of course good management and an understanding of how a
horses mind works.  For many
people this is not natural and it is worth reading up on how horses behave
in the wild and in domestication and trying to fit in more with what a
horse is happy with.  For
example most people are well aware that horses like to be fed at regular
times during the day and get stressed out if regimes are upset. 
If a horse never knows when its feed is coming it is a constant
state of anxiety.

 

When
a horse has been stressed for prolonged periods of time sometimes extra
help is needed. Bad experiences can affect a horse strongly for the rest
of his or her life – just like a person. 
In the same way a period of one month’s stress because of an
inability to get on with another horse in the same field may take several
weeks to get over after normality has returned and this is where herbs can
fit in nicely.

 

Many
herbs are great at tackling stress and help animals adapt to stressful
situations.  The most
important of these are called ‘Adaptogens’ (help bodies adapt). 
Examples of such plants are Indian and Chinese ginsengs, Astragalus
and even turmeric.  Other
plants have strong antioxidant properties which help get rid of toxic free
radicals which are releases at times of stress. 
Most people think of different types of food, vitamins and minerals
as being the only sources of antioxidants but many herbs are specifically
more powerful than anything else at providing this form of protection.

 

So
when horses and people are stressed the strategic use of herbal mixes to
reduce stress can make an enormous difference. 
Rather than reaching for the diazepam a quick drink of a suitable
herbal drink can get you back on the right track in an hour or two when
otherwise you might be uptight for days. 
In the same way for horses the careful use of a good herb blend can
help your horse recover quickly from a difficult situation or cope with
stress more easily until you are able to remove the underlying cause.

 

 Herbal
World of the Horse (www.globalherbs.co.uk)

 


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