Stress in Horses: Signs, Causes and Effects

Last Updated on August 11, 2020 by Allison Price

We want to be sensitive with how our horses feel, right? Especially when they are stressed out.

There are many things that can make your horse stressed. Like being alone, loading and riding in a trailer, veterinary farrier and farrier work. Also, preparing for and going to shows. Changes in weather, changes in people taking care of them, and changes in routine. Like a new stall or differing feeding schedule can affect them.

And horses show psychological stress in many ways. We will know the signs and the reason behind their stresses. So, keep reading!

Causes of Stress in Horses

Chronic stress is usually the result of changes in the horse’s environment or lifestyle. Strenuous exercise routine and new feeding schedule can also lead to long-term stress. Some horses can adapt to these changes easily. But some may have a harder time adjusting. Different people handle stressful situations differently. Also, horses are more likely to experience chronic stress than others.

We need to be aware of what triggers stress in our horses. So, we can take the necessary steps to keep our horses healthy and happy. Below are some causes of stress in horses:

Changes in Exercise Routine

Horses can experience stress if their training schedule becomes more difficult. Or changes significantly.

If your horse feels uncomfortable during exercise… like ill-fitting equipment or a new rider, the stress level can elevate.

Changes in Diet

Well-balanced diet and regular feeding schedule help your horse stay healthy and fit. A proper diet includes all the basic nutrients a horse needs. This includes carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Chronic stress can also be because your horse did not receive enough forage. Or their diet is lacking in essential nutrients. Another common cause of stress is feeding your horse only twice a day. Rather than several times.

Feeding routine can also lead to long-term stress. Follow your horse’s feeding schedule as consistent as possible.

Transportation Schedule

Performance horses that travel most of the time… during show season are prone to develop chronic stress. Travelling can be stressful for horses. Because they are going to an unfamiliar location. And are likely to experience changes in their routine.

Keep your horse’s feeding and exercise schedule even while travelling.

Housing Conditions

Housing conditions can also cause stress when new horses are introduced. Or if a barn that is used to be quiet becomes noisy and crowded.


During different stages of the pregnancy, horses may experience natural stress. And this can become chronic stress if not managed properly. The physical changes can cause discomfort.

Effects of Stress in Horses

Weight Loss. Horses can lose weight when they are stressed out. There are many reasons. Heat stress, parasites, poor feed and health problems are one of those. That is why it is important to look at all aspects of the horse’s care to solve the weight loss problem.

Stall Walking. It is when your horse walks around a stall. Or walks back and forth along one wall again and again. Other signs of stress are weaving, cribbing, wood chewing, wall kicking. And fence walking.

Grinding the Teeth. Some horses grind their teeth when being stabled. Others do while ridden. It can be a sign of physical or physiological stress. If your horse has no other dental issues, it’s important to check for other reasons why they grind their teeth. Check for sources of chronic pain or stressful situations.

Yawning. We all yawn when we are tired. It’s the way our bodies inhale extra oxygen to fuel our sleepy brain. But horses don’t yawn for the same reason. Yawning may be a way for horses to release endorphins. When horses yawn for several times, it can be a sign that the horse is feeling stressed. And by yawning, they release the stress.

Manure and Urination. Horses that are stressed can produce plentiful amounts of manure in a short period of time. Some can produce very runny manure. Horses will usually urinate if stressed out. And if they can’t relieve themselves, they can become anxious.

Bad Behavior. Poor behavior while being ridden can be caused by physiological or physical stress. Stress can be shown through pawing, pulling, tail wringing, bucking, rearing, and bolting. Or being cold backed.

Colic. Colic symptoms can be because of stress. A new herd-mate or changes in the routine can be enough to make some horses mildly colicky.

Trembling. Stressful situations can cause a horse to tremble. The appearance of the veterinarian and farrier. Or the arrival of the trailer can cause them to start shaking. Most of the time, when the cause of the stress disappears, the shaking stops.

Licking and Chewing. These are signs that the horse is accepting new information. Such as during training. This action may be more like yawning in its function. It is a way to release any stress your horse feels.

High Pulse and Respiration. The pulse and respiration rates can increase when they become stressed.

Bolting Food. If your horse bolts its food, he is worried. And bolting can lead to choking. It can happen in a stall or trailer.

Chewing or Biting. Horses also express stress by biting things, people or other horses.

Sweating. When your horse’s pulse and respiration increases, it may start to sweat. Work stress shows up between the horse’s legs. And under the saddle area. And can eventually cover the horse’s whole body. It depends on how hard and long your horse works.

How to Relieve the Stress

We can relieve the stress our horses feel. It by giving consistent schedules in natural environments. It means frequent turnout, with ample access to food, water and companionship. Show stress is more difficult to deal with. But turnout and exercise between shows are helpful.

Give your horse the time to adapt to new situations. Like new herd-mates or stall locations. Do your best to give your horse in trailer a smooth ride.

We cannot avoid our horses from being stressed. But good basic care is very helpful.


If you see these signs of stress in your horse, there are several measures you can take. So, you can create a more comfortable and healthier environment for them. It is an advantage to know the cause and effects of stress in horses. This will help us relieve their stress and create a happy environment for them.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!