Is your horse nervous before shows? Read this!
We’ve all been there before: it’s the first time you and your horse enter a contest and he/she is used to being in the same box, safe, without any outside noises and people around.
Traveling is even worse.
You feel worried because you only see expressions of anxiety and fear in the eyes of your horse. You must know how to calm down your nervous horse before show.
Take your horse out for a ride!
Sometimes, exercise can aid in anxiety relief and behavior modification.
When you take your horse out for a run, they release dopamine which is a neurotransmitter in their brains that makes them (humans and horses) feel pleasure and reward.
If you find your horse is too anxious and it is difficult to keep it under control, set it free. Set them free from the box and let them kick, roll over or run around.
This will make them feel like they’ve released a lot of energy and can return to their normal state.
Your horse might be very nervous before shows.
Horses are animals that have survived during evolution thanks to their flight instinct when they perceive any danger.
For this reason, they are naturally prepared to run away from situations that cause them insecurity, or that show even the least amount of danger.
It is also common for horses to become injured after being in a situation that causes fear. It is common for horses to run away and crash into fences, step into holes in the ground or even kick nearby animals.
Foals learn from their mothers, and anything that will scare their mother, will scare them as well and they will develop the same behavior when hearing a certain sound or finding themselves in similar contexts.
After the weaning period, foals continue their learning process with the rest of the mature horses and spend less time with their mother.
Horses tend to be very nervous but, after associating a good experience with certain objects multiple times, they will understand that these things will do them no harm.
To calm down your nervous horse, Reinforce a positive association with the places your horse needs to spend a lot of time in:
If you’re heading to a show where you have to travel far, try to make it a couple of days before to be able to help your horse form a positive association with the place where it will rest.
This can help anxiety relief and therefore impulse a better performance. One of the most common ways to do this is by offering carrots or placing them inside the box before the horse enters.
This way, when they walk inside, they will find something they consider a treat and will be associated with a positive experience.
Hiding a couple of carrots in different parts of the box will let your horse understand that this is a place of safety and comfort.
The box must also be very comfortable, have enough hay and water available for the horse.
It has been shown that positive association can help calm horse anxiety and protect from fear-based behaviors.
Follow these tips to work on your horses’ behavior and increase their welfare before starting a show!