There are thousands of things that can cause stress to a horse. Most people are aware of the larger stress factors such as an obstacle, bad fitting equipment, illness and etc. With these issues a horse will show large signs of stress which are hard to not recognize.
If a horse is not totally content…he is harboring stress! It is our responsibility to recognize any time a horse is feeling stressed…no matter how small you might think it is. The stress will not magically disappear.
Here are some areas that I have witnessed while working with students and their horses:
Entering your horse’s stall
Approaching your horse
Haltering your horse and taking halter off
Leading your horse…is your horse with you
Grooming your horse on both sides (brushing mane and tail, picking up feet, fly spray and etc.)
Placing saddle pad, saddle and bridle on
Cinch and/or girth
How do you handle your lead rope? Are you abrupt when you put your hand on the lead rope? I see people at the end of their lead rope handling it like a horse isn’t at the end of it. Remember…he is feeling every thing.
All of the above mentioned items don’t seem all that stressful to us so we don’t think it should be stressful to our horse. I keep getting more detailed in my way of thinking because the horses I have worked with have showed me that each and everything we do with our horse definitely matters to him and how he is feeling about each and everything!
Your ride with your horse starts way before you mount. The next time you are with your horse…please try to think of all the above mentioned items and recognize any small signs of stress your horse might be feeling in each area. His body language should be totally relaxed and/or content. If any of the above listed items cause him stress he will likely move his feet (even if a step or two forward, sideways or backwards), raise his head, eyes show concern or worry, possibly flinching when grooming or tacking up, pulling his foot away when you pick them up or place his foot down, his body is tight, swishing of tail, unhappy ears, shallow breathing and shape of his nostrils could be changed.
A horse will carry stress no matter how small it might be. If a horse could feel totally content in all the above areas…your ride could easily improve. Again, each and every horse I have worked with has taught me that each and everything we do matters to him.