Signs of Horse Releasing Stress?
I was surprised to see my boy shake vigorously, twice, while walking back into the barn from our dinky little half hour ride today. In our ride, the only thing I did differently was ride him in a bareback pad. Hardly even cantered him because he's so narrow and I was trying to keep relaxed but no grip with my legs. Funny, it didn't occur to me that something I did was causing him to become anxious. He didn't appear anxious. Maybe he internalizes??
I've seen horses yawn after receiving chiro, massage, and zero balance therapy. I consider these 'working signs' in therapy as they suggest relaxation or some sort of release...sighs, snorts, deep breaths, glazed eyes, 'camera-shutter' eye blinking, penis dropping, head down, ears lopped. What else do you notice when your horse is relaxing?
The first thing I usually notice is a horse licking and chewing. Often the horse takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly too.
I sometimes work with a very nervous horse who just loves to be nervous. He's a Morgan with very tiny eyes, go figure, so he's always got his head straight up in the air like a pole, and it doesn't come down for anything. I'll just do some light join-up and walk him around a little bit because I'm working with two other horses and don't have much time for him. It's so funny because you can see him start to calm down. He lowers his head a little bit, breathes out, and licks, and then suddenly he realizes what he's doing and bam, his head goes straight back up and he's scared again. Then it slowly lowers, he breathes out... and bam, head straight back up and body tense. Poor guy has been terrified most of his life he doesn't know how to relax and it's like he scares himself when he relaxes.
My arab would do that if his back was itchy. Instead of rolling he'd utilize the saddle or bareback rider to scratch his back. Laffeetaffee, your horse is zoning out when his head is high. It becomes a very comfortable place to be. When such a horse returns to reality they invariably spook as they haven't been paying attention as to what has been going on. I spent months with such a horse and when the breakthro came he began working his lips, blinking his eyes and shaking like a wet dog. When it stopped he was a different horse. The best thing to do with this horse is any time he lowers his head, immediately back up a few steps and turn your back to him. Give him 10 or 15 seconds then do again what you'd asked him to do. He'll get to thinking aha, I drop my head and she leaves me alone.
He had the horse stand still and if the horse raised its head above the whithers, the crowd made noise. As soon as the horse dropped its head, the crowd became silent. The horse eventually wanted to keep its head down.
Six main signs I look for that a horse is relaxed are licking/chewing, sighing, cocking a back leg, head lowering, blinking, or standing still for 15 seconds.
One sign I think that a horse is relaxed in its surrounding (not dealing with working with them) is that they will remain lying down while you walk around them. If they are nervous about the surroundings, like possible predators, they won't lay down. If they are nervous about you, they will get up if you come near them when lied down. Just from personal experience.
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A few things about this subject. In reference to head position, a low head = a calm horse, it's a grazing or napping positions. A high head = an alert horse, looking for potential danger.
Yawns = stress, it's a way of releasing stress, but it means the horse is/was just stressed. Repeated yawning = very stressed or sick (physical stress). IME.
It's interesting CA's experiment it shows two things, horses don't like loud noise, and horses learn from release of pressure - that's all really though. When his head was up 'pressure was on' with the noises the horse didn't like. When his head was down it relieved the pressure. Unless he put a cue to this act I don't see it helping much, unless he hopes the horse will keep his head down for the rest of his life?
"Put your head down" is a cue I teach every horse. You can do this many ways - CA's crowd noise clearly worked, but you could also just use pressure on their poll (by pulling straight down on a lead rope) releasing pressure when they move their head down or (what I use) Clicker training. But however you teach it the cue "put your head down" teaches them to do just that. This skill does more than make their nose closer to the ground, it helps horses 'shift out of flight mode'.
I am working with an Arabian mare who's been mildly handled for the 23 years of her life so far. She leads and is relatively easy to handle - but does no form of work and is never expected to do much, after kicking her owner 3 times no one besides me and her owner can handle her - each kicking incident was out of fear (clear fear, like a plastic bag rattling that spooked her and such). She has no aggression in her, but her fear takes her over more than she can control herself.
I recently started working with her with Clicker Training, just for fun to keep her mind busy. First I taught her that when I don't ask anything of her her nose should be down. So when I'm not doing anything, her mind is in 'neutral' - not looking for danger. Now she's learning several other skills including targeting, backing, touching 'scary' things and putting scary things on her back and head. She's progressing faster than I ever imagined. She's gotten to the point where when I present an object that makes her nervous, she puts her head down, if I ask her to touch it, she'll muster up all her courage and touch it. She knows now that I present all sorts of silly things she will be expected to touch, and none have ever hurt her.
She's working up to riding and coming along quite well, faster than any other horse I've worked with - but I'm staying slow making sure every step is solid, with her history I want to be careful.
So point is, teaching the head down skill is great for shifting horses into a calm spot. And Clicker Training works great for nervous horses, it just gives them confidence. :)
CA's experiment was just to show an example of pressure(noise) and release(silence). It wasn't really to teach the horse. Saddlebags post just made me think of it.
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I've never heard that about yawning. One of ours, my wife's horse, will yawn or sometimes cough if he thinks you are coming to get him to ride. He is a character though.
I've also seen some yawn 6 or 7 times just standing out in a pasture.
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Here's some info on yawning in general :P I learned this when training dogs, ever notice that dogs will often yawn when being yelled at? They aren't bored - they're stressed. :P
Yawning Caused by Anxiety « Calm Clinic
I'd forgotten about some other signs of lack of relaxation or stress.
I've seen in my gelding: chin looks tight; jaw angrily chomping, not chewing the bit; nostrils expanding or contracting, hard eye, lips look tight or pursed. Tensing in anticipation of something 'undesired' under saddle.
Releasing: lop ears, lower lip hangs, way soft eyes, heavy eyelids/falls asleep, chin droops, blows, snorts, shakes like a dog, hangs head.
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