Horses seem to go on and accept anything that we put them through, but the truth here is that the horse is greatly affected by all this change; much more than many people realize. First and foremost, horses don’t do change very easily. Life for them is based upon consistency as well as their total dependency upon the human being for its existence and they don’t understand why there has to be so much change all of the time. It was through watching various horses and how they reacted to all of the above-mentioned situations that made me wonder if a horse could suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What we found out was quite clear and what has actually been the basis for various clinical studies concerning horses and their ability to suffer from PTSD. The finding is quite clear, horses can be affected in various ways that do categorize them as PTSD cases. The main reason that came out of these various studies is the fact that horses do not have the same level of cognitive skills that people do, and being lower in the area of cognitive skills makes it much harder for a horse to manage mentally in any situation where there is a much higher level of emotional decision.
Another point that makes the horse a higher candidate for PTSD is that they are constantly aware of their surroundings and what is going on near them. Being able to communicate among themselves comes from this natural ability of constant awareness and at the same time keeps track of the emotions of the humans that are around them. Here opens the door, just as it does for the combat soldier or abused child that allows the foundation of the symptoms of PTSD to be built upon. It could be an action that is taken against them that they feel is not necessary or it could even be an event that they witness that happens to another horse.
As we are all aware, horses communicate in many different manners than we do; we mainly use speech (and expect the horse to totally understand us), the horse uses body language as its main manner of communication reverting only to the use of speech when absolutely necessary. Therefore, we tend to overlook any of the symptoms of PTSD that may be coming from the horse. So what are some of these signs? It can be very simple and subtle things as simple as cribbing, locking up (or freezing), swaying (also known as weaving), sudden reaction to what appears to us as nothing, mouth displacement, or even the grinding of teeth. There can also be more serious symptoms, such as; constant bucking, bolting, or even charging. Anyone of these indicators can be an indication that there is a serious problem that is embedded deep inside the horse.
Before we go any further let me say, not all horses that do many of the things listed above are horses that suffer from PTSD; and yes, all horses can be difficult from time to time and even overreact in certain situations. What makes a horse a PTSD candidate is the one horse that starts to do things that are out of the ordinary for them to do and keep doing it on a regular basis.
Whenever the problem of PTSD is discussed, be it human or equine, you have to remember it all comes from the mind; it could be a memory, or a sound, something they smell, or even something that they have seen. All of these are known as “triggers” and may be all that is necessary to activate the PTSD problem, there is never any relationship to a logical answer once that process is set into motion.
Horses that suffer from PTSD can be helped, just as clinical research program with people are proving; in fact, the US military is doing a massive research program on the East coast with returning warriors that concerns the use of “Low Level Light Therapy” and it is showing extremely positive results. This same non-invasive technology is being applied to horses with similar and lesser problems already. “Low Level Light Therapy” results within the equine care field has progressed a very rapid pace and is being used with additional energy modalities to help horses with all levels of ailments.