I’ve already discussed the dangers of anthropomorphising our animals.
It doesn’t matter how many Disney movies you’ve seen or touching animal-led Dramas, the fact remains that your animals are not capable of the kind of emotional resonance that you’ll see on the big screen.
I may have been induced into my passion for Equine Behaviour through such films, but I’m under no illusion that Jackson, or any of my other horses for that matter, has the capacity for the same kind of emotional resonance that a person has.
With that being said, there can be some tell tale signs that might suggest your four-legged friend isn’t as happy as he could be. If you happen to spot any of these signs – don’t despair! You have plenty of options, it’s just a matter of troubleshooting and getting some advice from a trainer/vet:
Not as social with other horses
Take a look at how your horse behaves with his stable mates. If he’s grooming other horses and being groomed himself, then this means that he’s feeling sociable and comfortable in his surroundings. However, if he’s standing at a distance from the other horses and not engaging with others, then this might be a sign that he needs cheering up.
What to do: Try spending more time with him. Whether it’s an extra half hour of grooming or a long hack out, the extra hour could be the difference in lifting his spirits.
Long bouts of sensory inattention
This is another signal that you might be only see if you spend a long time with your animal. A keen eyed stable hand has also got a better chance of this, as they’ll be around your horse more frequently. Prolonged staring at a wall and a lack of reaction to audio or visual stimuli can signs that your horse has began to tune out his environments.
What to do: Sometimes what your horse might need is a change of routine. Visit him at an odd hour, or try exercising him on different days – if he remains the same way, contact your vet.
Bed in disarray
When you come to turn out your horse in the morning his bed should remain largely in place. A relaxed horse will be content with their bed, whereas a stressed or unhappy horse may well pace around his stable, causing his bed to become pulled apart – this is a tell-tale sign of stress in racing horses, but could also suggest that your horse isn’t happy with his environment.
What to do: Try and make his stable more comfortable. In winter you could invest in affordable, environmentally heating in the form of a burner that uses wood pellets and briquettes. In summer, try improving ventilation to allow the air to flow more freely.
Leaving food – losing weight
If the livery hands are reporting that your horse isn’t touching his feed, or if you notice that he might be losing weight, then you should consider contacting a vet. This can often be a sign that he might not be happy, but it could also related to his physical health.
What to do: If in doubt, it’s always best to seek the advice of a trained vet; they’ll be able to examine your horse, as well as it’s lifestyle and be able to determine what the matter is.