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Tears and Trauma: Understanding the Emotional and Physical Health of Horses

Do Horses Cry?

Horses are majestic creatures, beloved by many. They are known for their grace and beauty, but also for their emotional depth.

Horses, like humans, experience a wide range of emotions and can be triggered by irritants. In this article, we will discuss the physicality of horse tears, sources of eye irritants, and how to treat them.

Horses are known to shed tears, just like humans.

However, unlike humans, horses do not cry in response to emotional situations. Their tears are caused by a physical reaction to an irritant that has entered their eyes.

Horses have tear ducts just like humans, but they are larger and more prominent. If a foreign object enters a horse’s eye, its natural response is to produce tears to flush out the irritant.

This is why horses may appear to be crying when they are actually experiencing eye irritation.

Physicality of Horse Tears

A blocked tear duct can cause a horse’s eyes to water excessively. A veterinarian can diagnose a blocked tear duct by flushing the duct with saline.

If a tear duct is blocked, the vet will recommend flushing the duct to remove any debris that is obstructing it. If a horse has an eye infection, the vet will prescribe an antibiotic eye ointment to treat it.

Stressors and Emotional Reactions

1. Environmental Changes

Horses have a complex range of emotions, and they can be triggered by many different stressors. Changes in behavior or temperament could indicate that a horse is experiencing emotional trauma.

Horses can adjust their behavior in response to changes in their surroundings or routines. For example, a horse that is moved from a familiar environment to a new one may experience stress and anxiety.

This may cause changes in its behavior such as aggression or depression.

2. Loss of Companionship

Horses are herd animals that experience social connections. Losing a companion through death or separation can lead to feelings of confusion, loss, and loneliness.

If a horse has bonded with a human companion, the loss of that person can also be traumatic for the horse.

3. Changes in Routine

Horses are creatures of habit and thrive on consistency and predictability. Major changes in routine, such as a change in feeding schedule, can cause horses to feel anxious and unsettled.

4. Injury

Injury is one of the most common stressors for horses. Horses are incredibly athletic animals, but they are also prone to injuries.

Painful injuries such as sprains and strains can cause physical distress and emotional trauma. If the injury is severe enough, it may require the horse to rest or limit its movement, which can lead to further stress.

Eye Irritants

Horses can be exposed to a variety of irritants that can cause eye problems. These irritants can range from debris, dust, hay, to flies that continually buzz around their eyes.

Horse owners should be vigilant to ensure that their horses’ eyes are clean and free from irritants.

Sources of Irritation

  • Debris such as dirt or sand can easily get into a horse’s eyes. If larger particles get into the horse’s eyes, they can cause scratches or abrasions that can become infected.
  • While hay provides essential nutrients, it can also harbor dust that can cause eye irritation.
  • Additionally, flies can lay their eggs on horses’ faces, which can become maggots that can cause serious infection if not removed promptly.

Treatment for Irritation

The first step in treating eye irritation is to remove the irritant if it is visible. This may involve using a damp cloth to wash out the eye.

If the irritant is not visible, the horse may have an eye infection caused by bacteria or viruses. Treatment for eye infections involves applying a topical ointment to the affected eye.

In addition to using medication, horse owners can use fly masks to protect their horses’ eyes from flies.

In conclusion, horses have tear ducts just like humans, but their tears are produced in response to eye irritants rather than emotional distress.

Horse owners should be aware of the different types of irritants and take steps to remove them when horses show signs of eye discomfort. If the eye wateriness persists, the horse may need to see a veterinarian who can diagnose and provide treatment options.

Owning and caring for horses can be a delightful experience, but it is essential to keep an eye out for signs of eye irritations to keep them healthy and happy.

Signs of Emotional Trauma in Horses

Just like humans, horses can experience emotional trauma that can manifest through a variety of physical and behavioral signs.

Common Signs:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Sluggish movements
  • Irritability
  • Cribbing
  • Stall walking
  • Teeth grinding
  • High pulse/respiration rates

Changes in Behavior

Horses that are experiencing stress or emotional trauma may show changes in their behavior.

They may become more aggressive or more withdrawn. Some horses may show a lack of enthusiasm for activities they once enjoyed.

Off Feed

If a horse is experiencing emotional distress, it may lose its appetite.

Frequently monitoring the horse’s feed intake is essential in detecting changes in their behavior and emotional state.


Horses that are emotionally traumatized may be lethargic. This could manifest through sluggish movements or a lack of energy.

Irritable Behavior

Horses that are experiencing emotional trauma may become irritable and temperamental.

They may resist tasks they once performed willingly and become more reactive.


Cribbing is a common indicator of emotional trauma in horses. Cribbing refers to the horse’s action of grasping a solid object and sucking air.

Cribbing can be a coping mechanism for horses that are experiencing emotional distress.

Stall Walking

Stall walking is the term used to describe the repeated pacing of horses in their stalls. Stall walking can be an indication that a horse is experiencing stress or anxiety.

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding is an indication of pain or discomfort in horses.

Grinding sound is a sign that the horse’s jaw is tight. Grinding may indicate stress or emotional trauma.

High Pulse/Respiration Rates

A horse that is experiencing emotional trauma may have a high pulse and respiration rate, even when at rest.

Measuring a horse’s pulse and respiration rate frequently can provide insights into horses’ emotional state and detect early signs of emotional trauma.

In conclusion, horses can experience a range of emotions and are susceptible to emotional trauma, stress, and physical pain.

Horse owners should be vigilant in identifying the common stressors for horses and monitoring their horses for signs of emotional trauma. Early detection of emotional trauma can prevent long-term negative effects on horses’ physical and emotional well-being.

Taking steps to mitigate the impact of stressors can help keep horses happy and healthy.


Q: What are common sources of eye irritants for horses?

A: Horses can be exposed to debris, dust, hay, and flies that can cause eye irritations.

Q: How can you tell if a horse is experiencing emotional trauma?

A: Signs of emotional trauma in horses include lack of appetite, lethargy, irritable behavior, cribbing, stall walking, teeth grinding, and high pulse/respiration rates.

Q: What can cause stress for horses?

A: Common stressors for horses include environmental changes, loss of companionship, changes in routine, and injury.

Q: How can you treat horse eye irritations?

A: The first step in treating eye irritation is to remove the irritant if it is visible and apply a topical ointment to the affected eye.

Q: How can you prevent eye irritations in horses?

A: Horse owners can protect their horses’ eyes by regularly cleaning them up and using fly masks to prevent flies from laying their eggs on their faces.

Q: What can horse owners do to mitigate the impact of stressors on their horses?

A: Horse owners can minimize stress levels by maintaining a consistent routine, socializing their horses, providing a comfortable living, and paying attention to their horses’ behavior for signs of distress.

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