While clearly a horse does not think and reason the way a human does, they do have feelings. And those feelings can be hurt. Most everyone has heard the expression about “breaking” a horse. It’s an old idiom, which has no place in today’s horse training world. Yet it’s still out there in the stables, arenas, sale barns and on trails.
Halter broke, saddle broke, broke to drive, broke when he was two, broke, broke, broke. If a horse is “broke” how is she or he then fixed? It’s not just an expression, it’s a mindset.
You want your horse to take on new tasks eagerly. You want them to revel in knowing routine. You want them to excel. You want them to be happy. Depression in a horse is a serious concern. A depressed horse has lost its will to romp and play, to thrive. And age has nothing to do with it. As with humans, depression is non-discriminating.
It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway because it can’t be stressed enough, a horse underfed is not a happy horse. Malnourishment is the foundation for illness, as is loneliness and boredom. A horse that is overworked is a horse on borrowed time. Mistreating a horse is a crime. They are not machines. They are our friends.
The old adage about how one should never fall in love with a horse may make the business end of owning and training horses more profitable when it comes to buying and selling, but in my opinion it needs revising. “You don’t have to fall in love with a horse, but you do need to treat him or her with care and affection. You need to treat them with respect.”
Taking into account the obvious reasons for depression in a horse, what about the melancholy horse that appears to have it made when it comes to good care and affection? Why is his or her head hung low? Why does the look in her eyes make you want to cry? What is it about the way they heave a resigned breath and sigh that breaks your heart? There could be many underlying reasons.
A school horse retired may miss the attention of the students. On the other end of the spectrum, one of her stable partners may hang his head at the sight of them coming. Some horses, as well as some people, thrive on routine. They need it, as one of my dear friends often says, “To maintain sanity.” Some horses rebel. Some sulk in the back of their stalls. Some will turn their backs, an action which speaks volumes. Some go off their feed. Some just lie down and die. A horse needs to maintain his or her spirit; her personality. They need to be happy. And it’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure their happiness.
Not every Thoroughbred is meant to be a racehorse. Some theoretically shudder at the thought. Not every Quarter Horse wants to be a barrel horse or exact a quick burst of speed and sit down sliding to a stop. I’ve seen graceful Draft Horses. I’ve seen ponies who apparently think they are Mack Trucks. A horse that is enjoying what they do will likely never fall into depression. One can beat a horse over a jump, but unless that same horse has happiness and determination in its eyes, soaring, what you have is a horse that is just going through the motions. Given the amount of horses that end up in sale barns with attitudes, addressing a horse’s mental attitude is well worth the time and effort.
Are they suited for the work they are doing? Are there underlying health issues? Have the horse vetted. Watch for signs of improvement or decline. Try a change of routine. Try not asking too much of the horse. Some horses do well with lots of activity. Some retreat, so to speak.They lower their head and try to hide. Each horse is an individual. Do all you can to make sure your horse is not only healthy, but happy.