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  • Lauren Fraser, MSc, CHBC

Recognizing Subtle Signs of Fear, Anxiety & Stress in Horses

When horses experience stress they often behave in ways easily identified: they become difficult to handle or ride, and try to flee or ‘fight’ to escape what they perceive to be a stressful situation.

These 'large' behaviours are obvious to most horse people, but less well known are other ways horses respond to stress, such as by fidgeting or as can be seen in the above video by becoming still, or ‘freezing’.

However, stillness doesn’t equal calmness. While still horses experiencing fear, anxiety or stress may show fewer obvious behaviours, subtle signs of these states can still be seen by trained observers.

Horses who become still when stressed are often labelled crazy or described as ‘exploding out of nowhere’. As this video touches upon, by training the eye to better recognize subtle signs of stress, horse trainers and handlers can respond sooner to the horse’s stress and de-escalate the situation, avoiding bigger stress responses.

For more information on my online courses on horse behaviour, please visit the Understand Horses website.



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