How the Sympathetic Nervous System Helps Your Horse in Competition

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) can help your horse during competition by preparing its body for physical activity and performance. When your horse experiences stress or excitement, such as during a competitive event, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, leading to a “fight or flight” response.

This response can provide a number of benefits to your horse during competition, including:

  1. Increased Heart Rate: The sympathetic nervous system can increase heart rate, which can improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles. This can help to improve performance and endurance.
  2. Increased Respiratory Rate: The sympathetic nervous system can increase respiratory rate, which can help to deliver more oxygen to the muscles and remove carbon dioxide and other waste products. This can help to improve performance and endurance.
  3. Increased Blood Flow to the Muscles: The sympathetic nervous system can increase blood flow to the muscles, providing them with the nutrients and oxygen they need to perform at their best.
  4. Increased Mental Alertness: The sympathetic nervous system can increase mental alertness, which can help the horse to focus and react quickly to changes in its environment.
  5. Increased Adrenaline: The sympathetic nervous system can increase the release of adrenaline, which can improve reaction time and provide a burst of energy for short-term bursts of intense activity.

Short term, these responses can help your horse to perform at its best during competition.

However, long term activation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a variety of serious negative physical and mental health effects, including a suppressed immune system, digestive issues, muscle tension and pain, increased risk of injury, heart stress, and behavioral issues including aggression, nervousness, and difficulty focusing or learning. Perhaps most alarmingly, it can lead to adrenal fatigue which can cause weight drop, exercise intolerance, fatigue, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal issues, dull coat, hair loss and poor skin condition.

*If you suspect your horse is suffering from adrenal fatigue (or any of these negative conditions), PLEASE contact your Veterinarian ASAP.

As you can see, stress can be both positive and negative, depending on the circumstances and length of time it’s experienced. Short term, it can lead to stellar athletic performance. Long term it can lead to health and behavioral problems. So, it’s essential to help your horse relax and recover in between stressful events and return to their parasympathetic nervous system state.

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system – it promotes relaxation.

The PNS is responsible for the “rest and digest” response in the body, characterized by decreased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and increased digestive and metabolic activity. The PNS plays an important role in stress recovery, promoting immune function, tissue building, and optimum Immune function.

You can help your horse relax and recover its parasympathetic state by managing its social environment, turn-out, nutrition, and balancing time off and exercise activities.

One of the most effective effective ways reduce stress in horses is through massage:

  1. Massage can help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
  2. Massage increases blood flow throughout the horse’s body, warming and softening tissues, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, and flushing painful metabolic waste.
  3. Massage increases the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, reducing pain and promoting lasting feelings of well-being.
  4. Massage can ease tension in muscles and connective tissues to reduce stiffness and soreness, and improve flexibility, range of motion, balance, strength and efficiency of motion.

Massage can help your horse relax and recover its parasympathetic state between stressful events and can help its body function and feel better.

Massage is an important part of keeping your horse fit, healthy, happy and performing at its best.

Benefits of massage with myofascial release include improved muscle function, improved joint alignment, improved self-awareness, mobilized fascia, an increase in stride length and range of motion, enhanced relaxation and immune function, improved recovery and improved overall performance.

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