Watch out for these four signs of stress in your horse

Unfortunately, we often misinterpret, don’t see or even ignore the early signs of anxiety or stress in our horses and this can escalate his behaviour to something more dangerous, like bucking or biting. With expert advice from equine behaviour pro Justine Harrison, discover how to spot the subtle signs of stress - your horse will thank you for it.


You’ll often see horses being punished for behaviours like barging, biting, rearing, bolting or being anxious.

But horses can only communicate with us is through their behaviour and body language and, chances are, he will have been showing subtle signs of stress long before it got to this stage, and so it’s vital to read the cues our horses display so we can keep them mentally and physically healthy and ourselves safe.


Horses in the wild are highly tuned to signs of danger or stress for the herd and they’ll do one of four things in response.

These ‘Four Fs’ can happen isolation or combination.

1. Flight

Fleeing from danger is his preferred option. In our horses, this may manifest itself as bolting or trying to escape a situation.

2. Freeze

Planting or refusing to go forwards if nervous or frightened. We often see this when loading horses onto a trailer or lorry.

3. Fight

If he’s cornered, or has learned previously that this strategy works.

4. Fidget

If he can’t escape he may fidget – also known as a ‘displacement’ behaviour.

Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now. Find out what’s in the latest issue here.