Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Agitated, Anxious, Nervous or Stressed

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

  • If the horse seems otherwise normal and you are confident this is not colic.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

At rest or at work, unridden or ridden, signs of agitation might include vocalization (whinnying) pacing, pawing, head tossing, among others. A “pinched” facial expression, teeth grinding and elevated heart rate are examples of more subtle signs of a stressed horse.

Excessive agitation or nervousness may be considered normal for some horses, but also may be the cause or result of potentially serious health-related issues. Abdominal pain (colic) can look like agitation, however excessive stress also makes colic and injury more likely.

Certain conditions are thought to be more common in horses with nervous dispositions. A notable example of this is Recurrent Equine Rhabdomyolysis (one form of “tying up”). Changes in management can also cause stress. A herd member will become very agitated if removed from the herd.


If you suspect the cause of your horse’s agitation is environmental or management related, try to remove or lessen the aggravating cause. Monitor your horse for other signs of illness or abnormalities.

Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), looking for signs of abdominal pain (colic), and share your findings and concerns with your vet.


On examination, stressed horses often have elevated heart rates and reduced gastrointestinal noise. Your vet may first try to rule out physical causes, and then evaluate stabling, feeding and management. The help of a qualified trainer may be needed.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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