Equine Wellness Includes Mental Health
By Kim Roe
A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ. – John Steinbeck
As I’ve developed as a horseman, my focus has turned more towards keeping my horses emotionally healthy. I love my horses, as we all do, and I want to know that they are content.
It goes beyond a lack of suffering; I want my horses to be happy. (I feel the same way about people too.) Seeing joyful horses makes me feel good and lets me know I’m doing things right by them. A nervous, anxious, or irritated horse makes me unsettled.
I know there are people who don’t believe animals feel emotions like joy or depression, but most of us who live with animals know that their emotions are similar to ours. They feel joy, grief, stress, contentment, worry, and depression, same as humans.
Many training problems are emotional problems; they require us to dig deep and be creative to figure out how to solve them. We have to know what our horses are feeling to know how to solve whatever training issue they are having. And yes, many mental problems are triggered by physical issues in horses. Remembered pain like saddle pain, abusive riding, or a crash at a jump can create an impossible emotional barrier to a horse, even after the physical pain is long gone.
As a child I rode my poor horse like she was a motorcycle—thoughtlessly and hard. She gave me a few hard lessons in return, but she still tolerated my youthful ambitions and stupidity. Horses are like that––generous and forgiving.
Many years, horses, and lessons later I now know that I’m here to mold the horse into the best version of himself, to make his body feel better through gymnastic work and to make his soul happy by giving him what he needs. That might be a friend or two, more space to move, a hay net full of hay, time off, or a long trail ride.
I constantly assess my horse’s state of mind, especially if I’m putting him in the trailer hauling him to competitions. How can I make this fun for him? Why is he getting stressed? Is his performance improving or declining? In turn I’m made happier by knowing my horse is content in his life and working as a happy athlete.
Enjoy our Equine Wellness issue. I’m excited at the return of Barbara Breckenfeld who will be writing a series of Equine Wellness articles. Don’t miss them!
As always, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Roe grew up riding on the family ranch and competed in Western rail classes, trail horse, reining, working cow, and hunter/jumper. She trained her first horse for money at 12 years old, starting a pony for a neighbor.
Kim has been a professional dressage instructor in Washington state for over 30 years, training hundreds of horses and students through the levels. In recent years Kim has become involved in Working Equitation and is a small ‘r’ Working Equitation judge with WE United.
Kim is the editor of the Northwest Horse Source Magazine, and also a writer, photographer, and poet. She owns and manages Blue Gate Farm in Deming, Washington where she continues to be passionate about helping horses and riders in many disciplines.