Spooks may be fun for Halloween, but a violent horse spook is no fun ever for the horse or rider. The Water horse temperament has a tendency to be more spooky that other temperaments. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, fear is the emotion associated with Water so the Water horse needs more support to overcome his natural spookiness. Sometimes other horse temperament types will develop spookiness that is not consistent with their character.
Physical Causes of Spookiness
One phenomenon that can set up a normally quiet horse to be spooky is a diaphragm that is not moving as well as it should. The diaphragm is a huge, dome shaped muscle between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm is responsible for inspiration and expiration by expanding and contracting so the lungs can expand and contract. When the diaphragm is not moving as it should, it interferes with the body’s ability to breathe.
Not being able to breathe well is concern enough for a horse because he does not feel like he can get the air he needs to escape if threatened. In addition to this concern, there is a strong metabolic reason for a scary horse spook in a normally even tempered pony. The air exchange in the lungs brings in oxygen(O2) and clears out carbon dioxide(CO2). High CO2 levels in the body make its overall pH more acidic. When the pH of the body gets too acidic, enzyme reactions don’t work right. It is the job of the pancreas and kidneys to produce and release buffers to bring the body pH back to normal. The pancreas already has to buffer the stomach acid so much of the extra work to buffer the acid falls to the kidneys.
Constant need to release buffers into the body because of a poorly functioning diaphragm will weaken the kidneys over time. When the kidneys of any horse get weak, he will be more spooky because the emotion associated with Water is fear.
Why the diaphragm can cause a horse spook:
- Fear is the emotion of the Water horse temperament
- The Kidney is the organ of Water
- A poorly functioning diaphragm will cause CO2 to build up in the body
- The kidney has to work harder to buffer CO2
- The kidney will weaken over time from the extra effort
- A weak Kidney means more fear and more spooking
Unfortunately, there are many reasons for a diaphragm to be restricted in its ability to move. Any swelling or inflammation in the organs lying next to the diaphragm will mechanically interfere with it. These organs include the heart, lungs, liver, stomach and spleen. Can you just imagine how much a stomach ulcer would interfere with the diaphragm? From a neurological standpoint the connective tissue covering for every organ in the chest and abdominal cavity gets its nerve supply from the phrenic nerve. The diaphragm gets it nerve supply also from the phrenic nerve so any irritation or restriction on any organ can affect the nerve impulses coming to the diaphragm.
The diaphragm attaches to the spine at the level of the lower thoracic and upper lumbar vertebrae, to the inside of the ribs and to the sternum. Any restrictions or pains in these areas will affect the diaphragm. You can see how the fit of the saddle and tightness of the girth could cause problems for the diaphragm. With the connective tissue attachments of the pelvis and sacrum to the sternum, any restriction of motion in these bones will affect the diaphragm. The muscles and connective tissue attachments from the head to the sternum allow any problem in the neck or head to affect the diaphragm. Bummer, just about everything affects the diaphragm and yet we often don’t immediately think about it as a cause of a horse spook.
What affects the diaphragm:
- Inflammation or swelling in the organs in direct contact with it
- Inflammation or swelling in any chest or abdominal organ
- Pain or restriction in the back, ribs or sternum
- Restriction in the head, neck, sacrum or pelvis
- Just about everything
Supporting the Diaphragm
To keep the diaphragm moving freely it is important to support the digestion of the horse. A good probiotic/enzyme/algae supplement will go a long way towards supporting good digestion. If you suspect an ulcer you can use natural products like GastroPlus Pro, Succeed or aloe/ slippery elm. These products will not interfere with normal acid production in the stomach. Lung inflammation should also be addressed. Aleira is an herbal lung support product which can help many horses that have to live in stalls or travel in stuffy trailers. Make sure your tack fits well and be careful to have a good body worker address any fixations in the neck, spine, sacrum or pelvis.
How to keep the diaphragm moving freely:
- Support proper digestion
- Support the lungs
- Make sure tack fits well
- Address fixations in the head, neck, spine, sacrum and pelvis
A violent horse spook is scary and dangerous. If you have a Water horse temperament you will want to give extra support in training to help him overcome his naturally fearful nature. If you have a horse that is normally quiet but begins to be more spooky think about his diaphragm. The diaphragm can be mobilized by an osteopath but the problem will return if the cause is not found and resolved. Have fun this Halloween with all the little spooks, but when it comes to your horse spooking, try the tips in this article to help him get back on an even keel.
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