Can Horses Be Bi-polar? By Don Jessop

Can Horses Be Bi-polar? By Don Jessop

June 12, 2018

Can your horse be black and white? What I mean is, can your horse change from one extreme, to another? Is it possible that some horses are bi-polar? 

Bi-polar typically means manic/depressive. At least in our human world. The one we call manic leads a person to think they are bullet-proof in a sense. The bio-chemical shift in a persons body who's experiencing the manic state, causes them to believe they can, and probably should, do anything their heart desires. Many fearless entrepreneurs have manic episodes in which they rapidly develop their business. The flip side is depressive, which, in some cases borders on suicidal. My closest friend suffers from manic/depressive swings. And the triggers that set off those swings are still not completely understood. But what it makes me think, is... are some horses burdened with this same bio-chemical disease.

From what animal science I've studied, there are only a few animal species besides humans that have the cognitive understanding of suicide and the ability to go that deep into depression. Dolphins, we now know, have the ability to commit suicide by drowning themselves. (Sorry- not a very nice mental picture.) Horses, on the other hand, in my experience, have never been so depressed that they revert to jumping off a cliff or overdosing on poisonous substances. So I don't think you'd see a horse go from dominant, bomb-proof, energetic, all the way down to suicidal. But I have seen many horses make dramatic swings in mood. So dramatic in fact that I begin to wonder if horses do in fact suffer from a different kind of bi-polar. Such as super confident, to super scared. Like a switch goes off and they don't know how to shut down that natural inclination to save their own life no matter what gets in their path. 

These horses can lull you into thinking they are happy, calm, confident, then one day, out of the seemingly blue, they turn on you, and throw you out of the saddle without any thought to your safety or previous training. Then they continue to try to throw the saddle away too. Then they run through the nearest fence and the subsequent fencing in between them and freedom from whatever just grabbed hold of their fragile mind.

I can tell you of only a handful of these extreme horses in my career who I would describe as bi-polar. Most horses, with a little training, realize they can trust the human world to a certain extent and apart from the rare, but natural, kick or buck or bite, they just act like regular horses. I think in most extreme cases, if the horse has any negative history with humans, it might not be bi-polar. It could be chalked up to post traumatic stress dis-order. read my article on horses that suffer from  PTSD. 

So the answer to, "do horses suffer from bi-polar disease?" is a resounding maybe. I'd like to see some scientists tackle this new question in real clinic trials. 

Comment below to tell me your story of drastically emotionally shifting horses. Tell me what you think of the title question. 

If you have specific questions. leave them in the comments and I'll respond via email to your request. 



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