not sure that separation anxiety is a real term, but it sounds like my mares (15
& 16 yrs old). One will NOT ride without the other. They only go 30 to 40
feet away from the other (around the pen) and will whinney and just have a fit
if you try to go further. And DON'T take one out of the other's sight! They
start hollering for the other and we have trouble. I like to ride alone
sometimes or my son (14) does, too. What can I do about this, before someone gets
hurt? Anything helpful, please.
Anxiety is a good and descriptive name for what you describe. It is commonly
referred to as being “buddied up” (won’t leave their buddy) or “herd
bound” and is related to being “barn sour” (refusing to leave the stable
or home pasture area).
It is a very hard thing to work with, especially when it is as bad as you
describe. Frequently the horse being ridden is fine, or at least not bad, but
the one left home will go nuts and is in danger of hurting itself, but your
horses are way past that. As I am sure you are aware, the problem is based on a natural
horse dynamic—they are by nature herd animals and only feel safe among other
Having 2 horses is of course the worst scenario because there is no chance of
leaving them home in different combinations. They are either totally abandoned
(in their mind) or with their buddy and therefore content. And the longer you
have the same 2 horses living together, the worse they get.
One thing that would help, if it were possible, would be to trailer one to
another location and totally separate them for a few weeks or so. Depending on
the horses this could be dangerous for the first couple hours, but if you hauled
one in a good stock trailer and the other left behind was in a high and sturdy
pen or stall it would probably be safe enough, like weaning a foal with total
separation. When you brought them back together they would remember their buddy
and bond again because they never forget anything, but it might give you a
little easier starting point.
If you don’t totally separate them or when they are reunited, you need to
start separating them just a little at a time. If they go nuts at 30 feet, ride
to 25 feet then go back. When you return to their buddy, work their rear
off—Clinton Anderson’s longing for respect would be a perfect thing to do.
Then separate them 25 feet again, then return and work them again. Eventually
the one being taken away can be offered a chance to stand and rest while away.
If they don’t take you up on it, return and work them again near their buddy.
Repeat this until the horse begins to realize that going back to the corral
where the other horse is means work, and leaving means rest. Then you start
going 30 feet away and doing the same thing, then 35 feet away, etc.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the horse being left also worked when the
other horse returns, and allowed to rest when it leaves.
Depending on your level of expertise with horses which includes your ability to
read them, and on the horses’ dispositions, this could take a lot of time.
Remember that every time you handle a horse you are training it—whether you
are training it something good or bad depends on you. So these horses have been
trained that when they are separated and they throw a fit, they get to go back
together. Or even if you haven’t caved in, they still have learned that it is
rewarding when they do go home but is lonely and hard work while away. So you
have to un-train all that before the new positive training will begin to sink
Herd bound horses can be dangerous. You may need to hire the services of a
professional trainer if you don’t have the time or ability to safely do this
training on your own. I strongly suggest that you study the work of some of the
currently popular trainers because some of them are brilliant at breaking things
down so they are simple and understandable, and their techniques are safe and
do-able by average people. Personally I really enjoy Clinton Anderson. You can
watch him on RFD TV, buy some of his DVDs (or maybe borrow them if you are lucky
enough to know someone who has them), or go watch one of his clinics. His
Walkabout Tours are very inexpensive to attend and are packed non-stop with
great information on how to make your horse a safe and enjoyable partner.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I would be pretty sure that
your horses in general lack respect for you and your son. Taking time and
spending a little money to learn some proper ground work techniques and then
proper riding techniques will pay huge dividends for the rest of your life.
Please let me know how you progress
with your horses!
The American Blacksmith