How to Keep Your Horse Calm: A guide to a stress-free show
Stage fright… we all know what that feels like. But what we sometimes underappreciate is what our horses have to go through on competition days.
While riders may feel competition nerves, the journey from stable to show ring can be stressful for the horse. That state of tension can disturb their psychological functions and can bring on their initiate the fight or flight response.
So, if you’ve ever wondered why your horse can be an angel at home but somewhat of a neurotic nightmare at shows…. here’s why.
Horses are incredibly sensitive animals and on competition days they are exposed to many potential stressors. The stressors may include things such as environment, noise, temperature, overcrowding, type of stabling, demands of the work they are being asked to perform, increases in workload, and transportation.
The stress thresh-hold will vary from horse to horse, depending on their temperament and experiences, but understanding the potential stressors and how to reduce them can make a big difference to the day.
Unpicking the cause of stress
The venue – The competitive environment can be overwhelming for your horse. Everything is strange to them: the arena, horses, crowds, new brightly coloured jumps and banners. Things that are different have to potential to cause your horse anxiety.
Heat – When their body goes over a certain temperature (150of), it cannot efficiently cool itself down. Competition days often involve a high level of exertion and time spent standing in direct sunlight (in the summer) or in a warm horsebox. This will cause depleted electrolyte levels and contribute to heat stress.
Travel – If you thought your horse was grumpy when you disturbed them at that early hour, you were probably right. Competition days that involve an early start are often a far deviation from their usual day to day routine of eating and sleeping. Then the journey itself involves stressors such as confinement, movement, noise, gases, changes in temperature and humidity.
Dehydration- The loss of electrolytes (through body salts) stimulates thirst. A serious loss of electrolytes can cause the horse to become seriously ill and requiring iv fluids and electrolyte therapy. Ample water should ALWAYS be provided for the horse at the show.
Anticipation – If you have a tried and tested competition routine, that’s great! However, if one day you deviate from this, your horse is going to notice. Your horse will know that certain patterns are only performed when going to a competition and if something changes within that, your horse will not know what to expect. This can cause anxiety and agitation.
How to minimize competition stress
- If it is a long journey, consider a rest break
- Ensure your horse is as comfortable as it can be by creating good travelling conditions – Check ventilation, rugs, boots/bandages
- If your horse is anxious about travelling alone, consider taking a companion
At the show:
- Warm-up and cool down properly
- Use breaks between classes sensibly
- Stay HYDRATED
- Try to keep routine as close to the same as home as possible. This includes not changing the diet on the day if possible.
- On a hot day prevent heat stress by wetting the neck, chest and forelegs before and after classes.
- In the cold, suitably rug between classes and consider using a warm-up sheet.
- Remember, your horse is a grazing animal. Pack enough hay and hard feed to last the duration of the day.
- Use a gut balancer if required.
- Do not work your horse to the point of exhaustion. We all have our limits, and you must listen to your horse if they show shows signs of fatigue.
- You must entertain the idea of retiring from the competition if your horse becomes fatigued.
- Promote speedy recovery with electrolytes and nutritional feedstuffs that are easily digestible and palatable.
- If your horse is showing signs of stiffness, consider booking an equine sports massage. This will aid recovery and help to restore and strengthen the muscle by speeding up the removal of excess lactic acid. A massage will work to relax your horse following their big, and hopefully successful efforts on the competition day.
The supplement that takes away the stress of show day
You may take every measure to keep your horse cool, calm and collected, however, the excitement of the day may just result in a horse that is being a bit of a handful.
GOOD AS GOLD PASTE is an excellent solution for nervous or hot horses as it is specially designed to reduce stress reactions. In syringe form, Good As Gold is a quick convenient calmer for competition days. The formula contains a high level of Chelated Magnesium, B-Vitamins and L-Tryptophan.
This form of Magnesium is better for absorption and helps to regulate Calcium irons that contribute to the overexcitation of nerves, adrenaline secretion and adrenaline responses. B vitamins have important nutritional functions in the central nervous system. And L-Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin.
Why is managing stress so important?
Besides seriously affecting your competition results, too much stress can be harmful to your horse. If not properly managed it can lead to chronic or long-term stress, which could potentially lead to detrimental health effects such as reduced immune function, gastric ulceration and colic.
What is more, stressed horses, who are often more reactive and aroused at competitive events, might also misbehave, posing a safety risk to themselves and their riders.
Therefore, from both a competitive and a welfare perspective, owners should be concerned about their horses experiencing stress and make every effort to support them on the day.
We hope this helps, good luck in your upcoming competitions!
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