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Understanding the Four Categories of Stress

When it comes to stress your horse can show many different indicators relating to stress; most of which we have covered in the last two postings. But, what we need to understand is that horse owners need to be able to recognize stress as it applies directly to their horse.


Horses can show their owners many different ways that they are experiencing stress or even a stressful situation. It can be seen when your horse tends to run within their small paddock or by exhibiting stall weaving; both could be out of the ordinary for your horse’s normal daily routine.


In addition, if excessive sweating is noticed, that too can be an indicator. In fact, even your horse’s own muscle tone being more taught than normal could be an indicator that your horse may be progressing to a condition known as “Tying up”.


So, let’s start by grouping stress, in horses, into a total of four categories, and they are:


  • Behavioral or Psychological  

  • Mechanical  

  • Metabolic, and  

  • Immunological 


Behavioral Stress  -- horses do not see or experience the world in the same manner as you or I do; and it all comes from the way that their eyes operate. To start with they have two types of vision where we have only one. The first type of vision that horse experience is “monocular” vision which allows them to see on both sides of their head and to do so much better than we can; the second type of vision that is normal for them is “binocular” vision which allows them to see what is in front of them. The only drawback is that their binocular vision is somewhat limited since they cannot see directly in front of them for the first four feet, or so. In addition, horse ability to hear is about double the ability that we have; so once that you add up all of these factors it is easy to understand why horses tend to spook rather easily and tend to do so without any warning at times.


When a horse becomes stressed they may also show signs of agitation and will show such signs by laying their ears down against their head and start to swish their tail. Horses have been found to show much less stress when they are with other horses or even near them. In either case as long as they can see other horses they can stay relatively calm and controllable.


Mechanical Stress  -- This type of stress is totally related to the fact that there is most likely some sort of structural injury, such as some sort of lameness situation, a local inflammation, body swelling, excessive heat, and/or pain that can cause this type of stress.


Metabolic Stress  -- Also referred to as Nutritional Stress this form of stress is directly related to the digestive tract and its ability to operate in a correct and balanced nature. The horse’s digestive tract is designed to intake small and frequent meals. This is why a horse that grazes on a regular basis is more likely to maintain as close as possible optimum health. In order to e able to reduce certain types of stress a horse does need a certain amount of its diet to be in the form of roughage. At the same time, the vitamin and mineral requirements vary to the specific needs of horses relating to age, body condition, and workload.


There are three major problems that are directly tied to metabolic stress, and they are:


  • Colic  

  • Laminitis, and  

  • Tying Up 


Immunological Stress  -- This form of stress is directly related to the immune system and how healthy it is. Disease as well as parasites can cause horse a great amount of stress ranging from a slight discomfort to much more complicated problems that can lead to the death of the horse. Here is where working hand-in-hand with your regular veterinarian can create a solid and regular preventable maintenance program.


New Wave Equine Therapy is a practitioner-based business that centers on stress and tension release in horses. We have worked with all breeds, all disciplines, and all ages at various points in their lives. We have seen tremendous results in performance, attitude, and overall body condition by using our four protocol approach to help maintaining a horse’s health.


If you feel that we could benefit your horse, please do not hesitate to contact us.


So, until next time, this is Bob Burdekin saying “Thanks for Coming By!”

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