Your horse appears calm, so must not be stressed, right? Think again.
Just because your horse isn’t displaying anxious behaviour, it doesn’t mean they’re not stressed.
As a flight animal, horses are programmed to avoid showing their weaknesses to potential predators. This means gut stress could be happening on the inside, but you mightn’t even realise, until it’s too late.
Acute stress can affect horses in many ways. They stop eating. They stop drinking. Their muscles can fatigue quickly with dehydration, which results in reduced nutrients available to support energy production.
Competitions, strenuous work, transport, illness, long days competing, extreme heat and humidity, extended times off feed or other major changes to your horse's normal routine can compromise gut health and cause internal stress.
This stress means the horse's gut bacterial populations can shift. Muscles and organs can be damaged by higher rates of oxidative stress. This can lead to health challenges like colic and laminitis, tying up, skin conditions and performance problems.
Their behaviour may become anxious and highly strung, and this behaviour then starts the stress cascade all over again. They stop eating. They stop drinking… and so it goes.
Healthy gut bacteria create the by-products that contribute to a healthy horse that is not only calm and trainable and healthy on the outside, but also healthy on the inside.
So managing the stressors your horse is exposed to is really important, both for their health, and your safety and peace of mind.
Simple tips for managing a horse's stress include:
1. Provide access to plenty of forage
Provide your horse with constant access to fibre sources such as hay and pasture to help keep their good gut bacteria in abundance, and the bad bacteria at bay. Forage also helps satisfies your horse's need for mental stimulation, which is achieved with constant access to hay or pasture.
If horses need to be on a restricted amount of hay, using slow feeder hay nets to extend the time they spend eating is recommended to ensure that their gut doesn't become empty between feeds.
2. Use high fibre, low starch horse feeds
If your horse needs hard feed to meet their calorie requirement, use feeds low in sugar and starch where possible, or use limited amounts of grain based feed in your horse's diet. The aim is to limit grains, sugars and starch to allow the stomach to complete digestion of these substances, preventing undigested starch and sugars from entering the hindgut, where they are fermented by, and nourish, the bad bacteria. Starch and sugar fermentation in the hindgut is a process which upsets the balance of the horse's microbial populations, disrupting the work of the good microbes.
3. Ensure your horse has a balanced diet
A balanced diet can work wonders! This may sound like a very basic point, but meeting your horse’s energy, vitamin and mineral requirements is crucial to a healthy gut, and will therefore aid in reducing your horse’s stress. Deficiencies in vitamin B1 (thiamine) and magnesium can have severe impacts on your horse’s behaviour, and exceeding energy requirements can result in hot-headed and/or spooky behaviour.
Our complete daily mineral and vitamin supplement Digestive VM is perfect for ensuring that your horse is getting all the right trace minerals, minerals and nutritional vitamins they need.
4. Make any feed changes slowly
Sudden changes to diet can easily disrupt the balance of bacteria in your horse’s gut which can create some of the problems mentioned above. High sugar/starch feeds should be gradually reduced to ensure a steady shift of the microbial populations toward fibre-fermenting microbes.
5. Support your horse's gut - especially in times of illness
You can support your horse’s gut to help them feel better - and to minimise stress via the gut-brain axis - with effective equine gut health supplements such as Digestive EQ or Digestive RP and a good fibre-based diet that helps support a healthy gut microbiome.
When needing to use medications due to illness, such as antibiotics, this gut health support is even more essential to support your horse's health.
6. Be ready for the show
Your horse is likely to perform at their best if they feel comfy inside and are able to digest their food well (making energy easily available). This means that daily gut care with Digestive EQ or Digestive RP is important, and on the of the show you can also employ Stress Paste as a tool to help address the causes of stress, empowering your horse feel great, and cope more calmly with that elevated show atmosphere.
We recommend giving your horse a dose of Stress Paste 20 minutes before any event that is likely to cause them stress, or before travelling to any show that is over 40 minutes away.
Some of our customers will administer half a dose as they leave home and half a dose on arrival at the show. Eventers tell us that they see great results when they use Stress Paste throughout a 3 day event at these stages: Before loading to travel to the competition, before dressage warm up, before Cross Country to assist their horse to cope with the pressure and to support recovery, and again before show jumping, with a final dose before heading home again.
7. Prepare your horse for changes
If your horse is going to be facing a change in their routine due to transport, extreme heat, or a change in their herd environment, be proactive in how you support them. Remember, even if they don’t appear ‘stressed’, their internal systems might still be suffering.
You can make sure they are getting their daily gut support from Digestive EQ or Digestive RP. You can prep the day before with Stress Paste to ensure their gut is really well prepared and they have a good supply of magnesium and B Vitamins in their system, then administer Stress Paste just before the change (and after if required).
8. Allow your horse to have a paddock buddy if possible
Especially one with a healthy gut microbiome. Horses love company and tend to be happier with another horse or even a herd to interact with.
However, there's another reason that another horse can make yours less stressed! Having a paddock mate gives your horse the opportunity to collect fungi that has been scattered around the paddock. They may even eat the manure from a healthy horse to naturally repopulate their own gut with good bacteria. Strange but true!
If you want specific support and advice - reach out! We are happy to help.