What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Agitated, Anxious, Nervous or Stressed


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.

  • 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.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
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your role


What To Do

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.

What Not To Do

Calming medications and herbs are a poor substitute for veterinary assessment and a review of management. If used, they should be used under veterinary guidance.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How is the horse's appetite?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Have you changed your horse's feed or management lately?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Does your horse seem normal otherwise?
  • Is this a new horse to the facility?
  • Have this horse or companion horses been moved lately?
  • Has there been a storm or change in weather?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Is the horse lying down, pawing, rolling, looking at side, stretching, or kicking at their belly?
  • Are you seeing other signs of abdominal pain (colic)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP