How does stress affect my horse's well-being?

In the wild, horse is a herd animal that grazes all day long and keeps an eye on his environment to run away from possible predators. The way of life we impose on him is often very different from that of his natural environment.

By interacting with him and changing his habits, we confront him with various stressful elements. The stress generated can have an impact on his health and well-being but also on his sports performances.

Let’s take a closer look at this evil that is an integral part of our mount’s life.

What is stress?

Acute, punctual or chronic stress is a situation of physiological and behavioral tension due to a new or threatening context. It is a reaction state that primarily affects the nervous, endocrine and immune systems and negatively affects the welfare of the animal.

In the natural environment, when the latter get stressed, the heartbeats accelerate, the blood pressure increases, the circulation speeds up, the brain works faster, the hearing and sight are on alert… The whole body is ready to flee. In captivity, when it is impossible to run away, his metabolism will begin to secrete cortisol (stress hormone) more consistently. The state of stress is managed by the central nervous system that works in tandem with the adrenal glands to produce a cascade of hormones.
In case of a one-off stress situation, the levels of cortisol will return to normal fairly quickly. However, if the stress is intense, if it persists and becomes chronic, the consequences associated with the release of corticosteroids will be harmful to the horse's well-being and his performances.

What are the consequences of prolonged stress?

Stress affects the overall health of your horse by causing physiological or behavioral disturbances such as:

• Lack of concentration while working,
• Muscle contractions,
• Excessive sweating,
• Exercise intolerance,
• Loss of appetite,
• Weakening of the immune system making the horse more susceptible to other diseases.

Whatever the origin, stress changes your horse's digestive functions. Indeed, an excessive release of cortisol will disrupt the digestive transit by a decrease in the digestive enzymes thus inducing the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria. This can lead to diarrhea, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance, causing development of colic.

What about your Seaver girth?

By measuring the stress level of your horse while training on a regular basis, Seaver gives you the opportunity to identify stressful times and anticipate these disruptions. In our case, the level of stress is measured from changes in heart rate and respiratory rate and is symbolized in the application by a gauge divided into several distinct color segments: green representing a low stress level, blue, a normal level and red, a high level. The part highlighted on the gauge is the average of your horse. The more this part will be placed to the right and the less your horse will have been stressed during his session, and vice versa.

One last piece of advise to finish

Because workload is directly proportional to stress load, top-performing athletes are particularly prone to stress. Training and exercises adapted to your horse's work level are a good way to prevent and combat stress. Consistent exercise programs not only help develop physical fitness and prevent overtraining injuries, but also ensure that you do not inadvertently require a level of physical performance that can cause chronic stress in your horse.

See you soon for a new article,

The Seaver team

(1) Dr Yves Bertrand, Stress et bien-être chez le cheval. February 2007.
(2) Marie Peeters, Evaluation du niveau de stress du cheval en compétition et en milieu hospitalier : Mesures comportementales, physiologiques et appréciation du tempérament. 2012.

29th May 2017