Your horse is a lot like you. Humans can experience trauma that can affect them for life and the same can be said of horses. They come from all walks of life, and some have had difficult pasts. What we have found from years of working with them is that before you genuinely help a horse, you must understand what has happened in their external and internal world. The process can be quite tricky, but it’s essential in assisting them to achieve their full potential. Controversy, horses, can also suffer from depression and anxiety too. When these mental health issues are present, it’s not uncommon to see things like:
•Sensitivity During Grooming Sessions – Fear of Grooming Tools
•Rebuttal of Going into The Trailer
•Hesitancy to Lead
•Rejection of The Saddle or Tack
•Other Stable Vices Like Weaving and Cribbing
The Many Ways Trauma Affects Horses
Unfortunately, we don’t view trauma the same as a horse. It doesn’t always have to be caused by a ‘smoking gun.’ If a horse was tacked up with an ill-fitting saddle, bridle or halter, then it can cause the horse to fear the entire process. They associate pain with the experience, so they make it challenging to be saddled in the future. When a horse gets into a rebellious stage because of trauma, then they are hard to control. You might see their experience as trivial, but they see it as life-altering. You won’t always know what happened in the past, but you can use their behaviors to determine their stressors.
Humans use escapism all the time to help divert their mind from anxiety and stress. When it comes to the horse, what we see as compliance may be nothing of the sorts. Horses have adapted well to training, or have they? Have they merely disassociated from the entire process? We must remember that they are wild animals, and they have natural instincts to handle any physical or emotional events that they face. Shockingly, these incidents don’t leave behind any trauma.
They are inbred to protect themselves and to find food and shelter. A horse has a built-in ability to dissociate from natural traumatic events because it’s part of their makeup. They can’t watch a movie, go shopping or for a night on the town. They have their own unique coping mechanisms. Consequently, when we remove a horse from their natural element, it can be quite upsetting to their balance. Some experts believe that human interaction alone is a cause of trauma to these animals.
They have the same fight/flight reaction that you do in time of danger. You must learn the horse’s behaviors, and see how they react to certain situations before you can determine if dissociation is a problem.
The most recognizable sign of trauma is hostility. Even in a horse, the most natural emotion to show is anger. Aggression can be displayed in many ways. A horse may buck, bite, kick, and use other negative behaviors to show they are upset. Since they cannot speak to you, they are communicating the only way they can. Let’s assume that a horse was in an accident involving a car. The very sight of a vehicle may send their anxiety into overdrive. They associate all automobiles with trauma because they remember that event.
Some experts say that trauma can lie dormant in the subconscious part of their brain and resurface for no apparent reason. Some horses are just grumpy while others seem to be more pleasant. You can’t mistake personality for a mental upset because the two are vastly different.
At Oak Haven Acers, we make a practice of listening to our horses and helping them deal with their issues. By observing reactions to threats, we can help them ease their fears and overcome their angst. While most of the horses we deal with are in their retirement years, we still don’t always know where they have been or what they have been through. Having a well-trained staff that can understand what these animals needs is vital in all stages of life.