Horseman's Guide to hormones

Happy Hormones

  I think we all want to feel happy, satisfied and grateful. That’s the dream, so why does it allude us and our horses so often? 

In an effort to stay safe, I started studying Relaxation and Connection, old bones seem to break easily as does confidence, things like fear, adrenaline and cortisol kept popping up in my way. I became determined to understand why my horses and I had changed.

First, I found, my horses hadn’t really changed, they were mirroring me, just as they had always done. I was a big factor in their change. I had to figure this out in people for myself, then I was determined to crack the code in my horses, so we could get out and enjoy life again!

I found we have 4 main hormones that influence our mood and our reaction to stress, and I paired them with the needs we have for each individual horse:

Endorphins – pain killer, overall sense of well-being, necessary for Relaxation with the Freeze response.

Oxytocin – love, bond, protect, trust, necessary for Connectionwith the Flight response.

Serotonin – mood stabilizer, appropriate behavior, necessary for setting Boundaries with the Fight response.

Dopamine reward, feel good, necessary for Motivation and Focus for Everyone!

Exercise and a balanced diet are key to all positive hormones, but I have also found a few ways to trigger each individually:

Endorphinshead down, starts with blink

Oxytocin – lateral flexion, starts with ear flick

Serotonin – establishing & maintaining fair leadership

Dopamine – Positive (add to reward) or Negative (remove to reward) Reinforcement


Dopamine and serotonin

Dopamine and Serotonin

 Dopamine and Serotonin are the most elusive of happy hormones. Much human study has been done on deficiencies of Dopamine and Serotonin, and their causes. Too little causes big problems, an excess can be tricky too. So how do we keep these things in check, I think by seeking balance. Doing our best to find ways to boost all our happy chemicals naturally is key 


  Low Dopamine

Most Common Causes:

- Adrenal Fatigue (being in SNS)

- Low Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Vitamin C and D

- Low Stomach Acid or Leaky Gut

- Hypoglycemia

- B6, B3, L-tyrosine or L-phenylalanine Deficiency

- Exposure to Lead, Arsenic and Cadmium

- Diets high on sugar and saturated fats

Most Common Symptoms:

- Muscle cramps, spasms or tremors

- Chronic pain and stiffness

- Loss of balance

- Difficulty swallowing

- Trouble sleeping or relaxing

- No focus or motivation

- Anxiety

- Hallucinations or delusions

- Lack of self-awareness

Increase Dopamine levels:

- Supplement with Vitamin D, Magnesium, Omega-3 fatty acids

- Exercise

- Massage/PEMF/Tapping

- Create an environment where horse can feel safe and deeply relax

In our work we can boost Dopamine by increasing rewards to motivate our horses. 

Positive Reinforcement is rewarding by adding something, a treat, a scratch or rub.

Negative Reinforcement is rewarding by taking the stressor away, like removing your leg or hand cue, stop tapping, stopping or getting off when your horse has done well.


  Low Serotonin

Most Common Causes:

- Prolonged periods of Stress (SNS)

- Genetic factors, faulty metabolism, digestive issues can impair breakdown and absorption of food (SNS)

- Poor diet lacking protein, vitamins &minerals

- Toxic substances, pesticides, drug use can damage the nerve cells that make Serotonin

- Lack of sunlight (not enough turnout)

Most Common Symptoms:

- Anxiety

- Panic Attacks

- Insomnia

- Irritable bowel

- Hormone dysfunction, esp mares

- Obesity and/or eating disorders

- Muscle and Chronic Pain

- Obsessive or Compulsive Behaviors (cribbing, weaving, stall walking, etc)

Increase Serotonin Naturally:

- Lots of turnout and sunlight

- Walking, stretching, groundwork/yoga

- Tapping, Brain Gym, Poles

- Drink lots of water

- Create environment where horse can feel safe and deeply relax

Serotonin boosting is my most recent study. It is necessary to stabilize mood, especially on aggressive/defensive horses. 

Ample safe turnout, good quality feed and unlimited hay and water can boost Serotonin.

Providing predictable, fair leadership with clear rules and boundaries, seems the best strategy when working with these individuals.