Travelling to competitions and clinics can be stressful. Help your equine feel at home, even when he’s not!
Travelling to a different environment can be stressful for even the most seasoned competitor. And stress is definitely something we want to avoid for our equine athletes. Not only can it affect their performance, it can also negatively impact their health and well being. Horses that become anxious and won’t eat or drink properly when they’re away from home can develop a number of serious health issues, such as ulcers, dehydration, and colic.
Getting to and from the event
Trailering can become a nightmare for those whose horses don’t load or travel well. It can start a competition off on the wrong foot for everyone involved. Prepare in advance by making sure your horse loads happily onto trailers, and make some short test runs so he can get his “sea legs”. When trailering, make sure there is proper airflow so your horse doesn’t get too hot (or cold), and that he has access to hay. Offer water at regular intervals if you are going to be travelling long distances. When possible, having a buddy in the trailer usually makes the experience a more pleasant one.
VERY FEW EVENT VENUES HAVE AREAS WHERE YOU CAN TURN YOUR HORSE OUT, SO HE WILL NEED AS MANY OPPORTUNITIES AS POSSIBLE TO MOVE AROUND.
Once you have arrived at the event grounds, you’ll need to rely a bit on what you know about your horse in order to help him settle in well. Some horses do best if they can immediately go for a walk to see the sights, are ridden to get their minds focused, or just put into their stalls so they can chill out. However, regardless of your horse’s preferences, try to:
• Keep your horse’s routine the same when travelling. Obviously you will need to schedule around your show times, but try to keep his feeding times, etc. as close as possible to what he is used to at home.
• Take water and feed from home. Some horses will not drink unfamiliar water, and hydration is important. So take some with you just in case. You could also try a flavored electrolyte in the water (try it out at home first to make sure your horse will drink it). Take enough of your horse’s grain and hay to get you through the event, and even bring a little extra should you need to extend your stay.
• Stable him where he will be happiest. If you get a choice about where your horse is stabled, select an area that best suits his character. Some horses love being right in the middle of things where it’s busy and there’s lots to look at, while others prefer a quieter area. Some enjoy having neighbors they can see and interact with, while others must be kept to themselves.
• Make sure he gets quiet time. Show environments can be busy and involve long hours. Classes can run late, and then competitors are up again in the wee hours of the morning, braiding and getting ready. Do your best to make sure your horse gets some quiet time to rest. Leave him alone when you can; you can even get a cover for your stall front to block out some of the noise and distractions.
• Stretch his legs. Very few event venues have areas where you can turn your horse out, so he will need as many opportunities as possible to move around. Not only will it be good for his brain, but it will also help keep him limber and get his digestive tract moving! This could mean handwalking/hand grazing, lunging, or going for a relaxing hack around the grounds.
A heathy horse is a happy horse
Whether your horse is showing in some particularly challenging classes, or staying stabled at the show grounds for an extended period, there are always ways to keep him in tip-top shape. If his body feels good, his brain will, too! You may already be doing some of the following for your horse at home – so you just need to carry them over to the show environment.
Many shows have an on-site equine massage therapist, and plenty of horses will appreciate this service before or after a long day of showing. If you know some massage and acupressure basics, it can be helpful to give your horse mini bodywork sessions regularly throughout the event. If your horse responds well, you could try magnetic or light therapy – several companies offer products that you can use yourself with a little research and training. And I know my own mare loves her Back on Track wraps after a hard day competing in the jumpers.
Horse shows don’t need to be stressful. With a little preparation and practice, your horse will become a seasoned traveler and competitor. Any little thing you can do to help him relax and feel more at home will help, so keep that in mind when planning your events. And don’t forget to have fun!
If your horse needs some help relaxing when travelling, a number of natural remedies can assist. Clear them with your horse’s integrative veterinarian before giving them a go, and try them at home first. Your vet can also let you know if certain remedies are not allowable for competition horses.
• Bach Flower Remedies (Rescue Remedy)
• Essential oils / aromatherapy – There are many to choose from, and what you select will depend on your individual horse, but some to research are basil, bergamot, chamomile, lavender, vertiver, clary sage, frankincense, myrrh, mandarin and ylang ylang.
• Herbs – Again, what you try will depend on your particular horse’s needs, but some common calming herbs to get you started include chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, Siberian ginseng, valerian, and vervain.
• Homeopathics – Aconite, Chamomilla