We are all very sensitive to people enduring Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Veterans, First Responders, Police and of course women and children. But what about horses? Can horses suffer from PTSD? I submit they can and in fact do, all too often do. Sadly this is usually diagnosed as bad or non compliant behavior and a wide variety of "training" routines are administered most of which can only deepen the grip of PTSD in the suffering horse.
|Kessy helping me with my PTSD with her love ...|
PTSD occurs when a traumatic or sustained stressful event or events occur, causing an over active adrenaline response which creates deep neurological patterns in the brain which can persist for decades after the event or events that triggered the fear. These patterns in the brain are a transformation making the person hyper-sensitive to future stressful or fearful events, real or perceived.
Some of our Coffee Clutch and Facebook friends know bits and pieces of my childhood, the unspeakable abuse I endured for over 3 years locked in a room. I can tell you, to this day as
an old geezer in his 6th decade of wondering this beautiful world, it takes only a single instances of the wrong kind of fear or stress and I'm 8 years old again, back in that horrid room with the blackened window. Interestingly recent studies at Harvard Medical School in Oregon found that adults who were in foster care for one year between the ages of 14 & 18 were found to have higher rates of PTSD than combat veterans, and the recovery rate significantly lower.
I share the tidbit of my personal struggles to help make the point, the younger the individual, or horse, when the original trigger events happen, the more ingrained the PTSD. The more difficult the personal battle to manage it is. It walks with you as an unwelcomed friend every day. Unexplainable or out of context behavior, feelings and emotions simply occur without the ability to completely manage or control. They are as much a part of PTSD as kisses and hand holding are to love.
In my travels I've seen many horses, young, old and middle aged displaying the symptoms of deeply ingrained PTSD. I know I'm right about this, and it breaks my heart. They may not have all been abused, they may have been weaned too young, trained too hard too young, trained, owned or shown by one, or too many individuals who could not understand them and disciplined instead of trying to connect and understand them. They may have been yanked from friendships, or homes in ways they could never understand.
How can we help horses with PTSD? Our interactions, our intent, our training should follow one simple rule, "Ignore the negative and celebrate the positive." And in everything we do, operate from the horse's perspective ... We want to do our best to never be the trigger that drives them back into that horrid room with the blackened window.
Gitty Up, Dutch Henry