Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Allison Price
Hot horses are like onions. There are many layers to uncover before you can get to the root of the problem. If you don’t pay attention, they can make you weep.
Hot horses are something I’m familiar with, having started many OTTBs during my second career. It is important to learn how to manage them.
There are many ways that hot horses can express their energy. They come in different sizes and shapes. One horse may jump at the slightest touch of pressure while another might build tension with each passing second, ready to explode. No matter which category your horse falls under, they can pose a danger to others and themselves. It is crucial to have a healthy, happy relationship with your horse.
Our horses are unable to communicate their emotions in words. They will try to express themselves through actions, such as taking off the stirrups the moment you step into them.
To understand why your horse is acting out, what they do is the first thing you should look at. Horses can roam over thousands or hundreds of acres in the wild. Horses can graze for up to 20 hours a day, sleep when the rest of the herd are asleep, run, buck, and play whenever they want. Their lives will be drastically altered when they are riding horses. We have control over their diets, exercise and all aspects of their lives. We place strange leather items on their backs, and metal in their teeth. We ask them to drag us around in circles, over fences, and through tunnels.
We are responsible for making sure our horses live happy, healthy lives. If a horse acts up, pain is the first sign to watch for. Our horses will not speak to us unless they are able to express their feelings. Like taking off your stirrups the moment you get in them.
Are your horse’s teeth floated? Are there sharp points on your horse’s teeth that could cause pain when it is bridled Is your horse sore? Are there any heat or swelling on your horse’s body? If your horse is acting strangely, ask these questions and get in touch with your veterinarian, farrier, or chiropractor.
Next, consider the overall lifestyle of your horse. Stalled horses don’t have enough room to move around and burn off energy. When you take your horse for a ride, this can lead to a forward-looking horse. Horses who have excess energy might benefit from extra turnout time in large pastures that allow them to run and play. They will be happier running and playing together if they are paired with a laid-back, more relaxed pasture mate.
After your horse has been checked by a veterinarian, is able to access a large pasture with plenty of time, and is still very tense and energetic, you should look into their daily nutrition. Although opinions differ on whether certain grains or hays can cause behavioral changes in horses, horses who are anxious, nervous, or energetic might benefit from a change to their daily nutrition.
Horses’ energy levels are affected by excess calories and simple sugars. Simple sugars are higher in grains that have high levels of non-structural carbohydrate (or NSCs). A horse can be kept from getting too high in sugar by eating a hay-based diet, and then supplementing with small meals of grain that have lower NSC percentages.
Supplementing horses with essential vitamins can help balance their diet and control excess energy and tension. Kentucky grass is high in calcium. This is good for bone health and development but can cause muscle contractions.
Magnesium helps to balance calcium levels and promotes muscle relaxation. Magnesium can be used to help relax horses suffering from high calcium levels.
Horses are prey animals by their very nature. Horses have a hyper-sensitivity to their environment because they are at the bottom of evolutionary food chains. Horses are able to sense almost everything and everyone around them. They react to any situation that makes them anxious with a “fight or flight” instinct. They can either flee, or they may tense up and run.
Horses can be nervous and hypersensitive, so it is important to have mutual respect between rider and horse. Your horse will not trust or respect you if they don’t trust you. Trusting horses are calm and relaxed because they know that there is nothing to be afraid when their human companion is present.
Groundwork is essential to establish trust and respect with your horse. Groundwork can be very beneficial for horses who are hot. It strengthens their bond with their rider, encourages trust, and promotes relaxation.
I wrote in my article ” Why do We Lunge” about why lunging shouldn’t be done with the intent of riding a horse. This is especially important for horses that are hot. You might believe that if you clip on the lunge-line before you ride, your horse will be less energetic and calmer if you run around. This is not the case. Horses with excessive energy, tension, and anxiety need a calm leader who is methodical and calm in their training. An energetic, frazzled leader will bring out the worst in horses. They will feed off your body language, believing there is something to be afraid.
Build trust with your horse instead by encouraging relaxation. Ask them to stand still, move their feet and lower their heads, and then relax. Engage your horse’s mind by luring with the intention to supple their body. You can ask for transitions within and between gaits, or spiraling in and back on the lunge. This will encourage your horse to pay attention to what you are asking, rather than focusing on the frightening, horse-eating things beyond the arena gate.
After you have addressed any pain and assessed your horse’s nutrition, and done groundwork to promote relaxation, it is time to get into the saddle! As with groundwork, your horse should trust you and listen to what you say.
This layer is crucial. You may need to start over if you’ve got all the pieces but still have a nervous, anxious, or energetic horse. A few friends can help take the stress out riding many horses. It is very healthy for your horse’s mind and body to allow them to walk in the company of their friends. Horses can unwind and relax.
©Tamarack Hill Farm
You can use several exercises in the arena to calm and slow down the horse who is moving forward. Hot horses will benefit from a routine. They can be taught to anticipate what is coming and stop worrying about the ride. Warm-ups that get your horse thinking and supple are very beneficial.
It is important to take a step back and ensure that your horse’s nutrition and lifestyle aren’t causing stress and excess energy. Your relationship with your horse will be built on trust. All of the groundwork you do under saddle, which focuses on relaxation, is a great way to manage a hot horse.