Is your horse stressed while driving? You might not think that your horse is stressed at home but he really might be, especially if you are stressed while driving with him.
Some of the outward signs that your horse is stressed is kicking, biting, bucking, and bolting. None of these are things we want to see our horse do while they are being hitched or while being driven. Ignoring the signs of a stressed-out horse is not only unsafe for your horse but also you.
I know that right now there are a lot of people that are stressed due to the current Covid-19 situation in their lives. The first thing you have to do is to get your stress level under control.
The worst combination is a stressed-out human dealing with a stressed-out horse!
There are lots of exercises that we can do to destress ourselves, from yoga to breathing exercises to putting the essence of lavender on your wrists.
So how can we help our horses when they become stressed while driving?
That lavender that I mentioned above can also work on your horse, just add some to a small bottle of water and spray on like you would fly spray.
Many horses get stressed out just getting in the horse trailer to get to a driving event. Try just taking your horse for a trailer ride to some pleasant place such a trailhead or park and just take him out for fifteen minutes and then load him up and take him back home. Do this weekly, if he realizes that every time he gets in the trailer he’s not going to be worked he will be
A 2010 study by (Schmidt et al.) showed that a horse needs up to ten practice trips to get acclimated to being transported in a trailer.
If your horse is so connected to another horse where he is boarded then move him to a stall as far away as possible. He will be upset at first so give him some hay to keep him busy. Soon he will realize that he can be without that other horse. Do not take a buddy with your horse you will be showing as this will just increase your horse’s anxiety when you take him away from the trailer. This is also very disturbing to all the other horses at the event.
When you get to a driving venue don’t make the first thing you do, “hitching up your horse”.
Get him settled in his stall if at a three-day event. If just a one-day event then tie him to his trailer, give him food and water and let him be for a good thirty to forty-five minutes. If he is anticipating being driven the moment you arrive then he will be stressed. When you are planning the day make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the event and to be able to let your horse chill out.
All of the increased activity that goes on at an event can be unnerving to some horses. I usually find a parking place as far away from all the other participants so that my horse has a quiet place to hang, in-between driving classes or parts of a combined driving event.
Sure you might have to walk a bit farther to get to check-in or walk courses but your horses no stress level is worth the walk.
Keep your horse happy at an event by having food in front of them as much as possible. It gives them something to do while in the stall and hanging at the trailer. I generally feed my horse about four times a day to keep him occupied. My Friesian-Sporthorse is 16.1 hands and 1300 pounds so when he is in an eight or ten by ten stall he does not have much room so food is a good deterrent.
Keeping your horse drinking water at an event is even more important for his stress level. Bring along the water from home for that familiar taste. If hauling water is not your thing then get your horse used to chlorine. You can do this by putting the one-inch chlorine tabs to your horses’ thirty-gallon or larger water tank at home. Then when you go to a show you can use the water at the venue and just put a chlorine tab into it when you get there.
He will not know the difference!
When you sign up for a driving event you want to practice at home one level above that which you are competing at. So if my horse is entered in intermediate then I will be practicing at the advanced level at home. By doing this, when at the event, your horse will think it is really easy so there is nothing for him to stress over.
Make sure you practice at home in the cart and harness that you will be using at the driving event. I know that this creates more of a beforehand cleaning job but it is worth having an unstressed horse at the event!
In the end, if you get to the driving event and your horse is still showing signs of stress then just use the event as a training tool for him. If all he can handle is just dressage then that is all you do. Don’t ever push your horse into a stress overload because that will be what he remembers for the next time.