Dealing with Equine Separation Anxiety

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Pair of Horses
Horses should be allowed to form social bonds with other horses, but when they become buddy sour when separated, you need to make some changes.

People who keep their horses turned out with others often run into the problem of equine “separation anxiety.” Since horses are herd animals, they can quickly become very attached to one another and can get upset when separated. Sometimes this causes a challenge for horse owners: what happens when you want to take one horse out of the herd for a trail ride, show, or other purpose?

#1: Keep more than two horses together

One possibility is to keep at least three horses (or more) together in a pasture, as this improves your chances of being able to remove one without upsetting the others. This doesn’t always work, as different horses will often form attachments to different members of the herd, but in general it helps. What many horses seem to hate is the feeling of “I’m being left alone!” If your horses are always together, and you suddenly leave one alone in the pasture with no friends, he’ll likely be upset by this change in routine. Having another friend around might keep him happier.

#2: Stall those left behind

Let’s say you’re going out for a ride on one horse, and you’re absolutely sure that his pasture mate will whinny and run when left behind. Placing the other horse in a stall while you’re riding can often solve the problem—especially if you give him a nice pile of hay for a distraction. Again, this doesn’t always work, but horses generally learn that stalls mean “It’s okay to be alone.”

#3: Take Both

If you’re going to trailer your horse somewhere, consider taking his buddy along! In a new situation (like a horse’s first show, or even his first trailer trip), having a pal along for the ride can be a great stress reliever, as well as a means to prevent separation anxiety for both horses.

#4: Don’t let them get too attached in the first place

The problem with all the ideas above is that they only treat the symptoms of separation anxiety—they don’t actually address or fix the problem. So what’s the easiest and best solution for preventing separation anxiety? Try to avoid allowing your horses to become “super attached” in the first place. Here are a couple of possible methods:

 

  • Teach your horses that separation isn’t forever. This can involve regularly taking one horse away to do something while leaving the other, and then reuniting them after a brief time. This can reinforce to the both horses that separations are temporary, and not something to worry about. Gradually, you can work up to longer times of separation.
  • Try to frequently shake up their routine so it’s not too predictable. Periodically adjust pasture and stall arrangements so that your horses don’t get too attached to a particular routine—or a particular “buddy.”
  • Remember—modify these ideas for you own situation and for the personalities of your horses.

Have you found a way to combat separation anxiety with your own horses? Share it below!


Daniel Johnson is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He’s the author of several books, including How to Raise Horses: Everything You Need to Know, (Voyageur Press, 2014). Dan’s barn is home to Summer, a Welsh/TB cross, Orion, a Welsh Cob, and Mati and Amos, two Welsh Mountain Ponies. Follow him at www.facebook.com/foxhillphoto.

1 COMMENT

  1. Everyday, I take one or some times two, of my horses, and put them in a different pasture, out on the lawn, or in a different pen, so they can not see their friends in the big pasture. Once there, they get a apple, brushing, or attention.

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