WHOA! Hold up! I can’t believe summer is over and it is already September! All of the wonderful kids that groom me during the day are going back to school; I sure am going to miss them. School can put a lot of stress on my human friends! Have you ever had the feeling of butterflies in your stomach? That’s one of the ways your body lets you know you are stressed! Horses respond to stress in the same way as humans by the frequent release of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can affect your and your horse’s digestive, reproductive, immune and cardiovascular systems.
Most of kids have told me they are nervous about going to a new school, and I can’t help but think about how many four-legged friends are stressed when trailering to a new environment. In order to combat the effects of stress on our bodies, it is important to surround you and your horse with familiar things. For example, when you’re trailering to a show make sure you bring the same shavings, food, and hay. That way you can make sure your horse will be able to get adequate nutrients and be comforted by familiarity, despite the stress of new sights, sounds, and smells. It is also a good idea to train your horse to drink flavored water (e.g. peppermint) so that way you can always ensure the water will taste the same away as it does at home. On your first day of school, it will be comforting to pack your favorite lunch!
Similar to the stress you might experience on your first day of school (new environment, people, and challenges),
horses can experience the same feelings in new environments such as horse shows.
Although going to a new place for the first time is nerve-wracking, my pal Dr. Malinowski looked into the effects of show jumping on stress levels in horses that were in show and home environments. She analyzed plasma cortisol and behavioral responses as markers of stress. Overall, the study showed that horses that were used to attending horse shows did not appear stressed when they were trailered off property for a day. So although the initial change of a new school can be stressful, as you get more comfortable trying new situations, the more equipped you are to handle the situations. If you are interested in reading more, my pals Dr. Malinowski and Dr. Williams published fact sheets that discuss the variety of other causes and solutions for managing stress in horses! I wish you all the best of luck on your first day of school!