A horse that has separation anxiety suffers from the same root problem as a horse that is buddy sour, barn sour, or gate sour. Any object a horse is drawn to acts as a magnet and captures his focus and attention. This object can be another horse or a physical place. The horse is not comfortable in his current state, mentally and/or physically. He is looking to that magnet for reassurance and security. Separation from the magnet causes anxiety. The horse’s instincts tell him that he needs to find a way to be with or near the magnet so that he can be safe.
A horse may gain security from being with his pasture mate or even another random horse. Separation from his buddy causes mental turmoil. So he will anxiously pace the fence line or paw when tied to the trailer and constantly call out to his missing companion. He is not capable of relaxing until the buddy shows back up. The horse has never learned that he is okay by himself.
Some people are of the impression that never allowing a horse to live in a herd environment will prevent separation anxiety. However, horses are wired to live in a herd. It does wonders for their mental soundness. Even horses that don’t live in a herd can have magnets that capture their attention and focus. The goal is not to eliminate their natural herd instincts, but to help them know they are okay when by themselves or with a trustworthy human companion.
Help Separation Anxiety By Tying Out
There are several different exercises you can do to help a horse that has separation anxiety. One thing I try to do consistently with all my horses is tie them out to a high tree branch in an area where they can’t see other horses. Tying the lead rope up high will help prevent them from getting sufficient traction to pull back. At first, the horse may fret and move around so much that he creates a huge crater under the tree. But he will eventually settle as he gains confidence about being by himself. Do this as often as possible.
Help Separation Anxiety Through Groundwork
Put the two buddies together in the pen. Use a flag to drive them around. When they are staying together, keep the pressure on to cause them to keep moving. When they choose to separate, stop all pressure and make that feel good. If they buddy up again, keep them moving until they choose to separate.
Security And Confidence
Magnets are one of the most common horse problems that occur. And no matter what the magnet is, it all stems from the same issue – a lack of confidence. A horse does not want to be separated from the object that is providing him with a sense of security. He wants to be where life is most pleasant. If the horse is not finding that security and confidence from the human, or within himself, he will look for it somewhere else.
A horse may be anxious when separated from the barn because the rider is not using good horsemanship. The rider may be keeping constant pressure on the bit, giving the horse conflicting signals, and keeping him in a state of confusion. So the horse determines that if he can just get back to the barn, the rider will leave him alone, and life will be good again.
I was a homeschooled kid. But my parents also made sure my brother and I learned some social skills and how to be self-sufficient when separated from them. We had homeschooled friends who were overly sheltered. They never learned how to be independent and adapt to unfamiliar situations. Many horses have this same disadvantage.
Suppose you are trying to lope your horse in a circle. The arena gate has become a magnet to him because he is sure that gate is the best place for him to be. So every time he comes around the circle towards the gate, he drifts out, over bends, and falls onto your leg. His feet quit following his nose around the circle. Is the answer to switch to a different bit or use more spur? Or would it be better to get to the root cause of the issue?
The horse is not in a neutral state of mind. His focus is on the gate. Separation from the gate causes him anxiety. Getting closer to the magnet consumes ninety percent of his brain power. He can not focus on loping a balanced circle.
For more tips on how to cure a buddy, barn, or gate sour horse, go here: Buddy Sour Horse
As we improve our horsemanship communication skills, the horse will become convinced that they don’t need another horse, a gate, or a barn to have a sense of well being. They become neutrally minded and open to suggestions.
The more sure you get a horse about catching, haltering, lunging, saddling, backing up, sidepassing, etc. the more overall confidence he will have. This is why I am always referring people to the Virtual Clinic course on the Buckaroo Crew membership site. The purpose of the course is to help the human become better at communicating ideas to a horse so that the horse will actually want to do what you are asking. He is convinced that it is his idea to do it. Effective communication develops confidence. Confidence builds independence.
Access the Buckaroo Crew here: Buckaroo Crew Membership
If you’ve ever observed a herd of horses interact, their communication skills with each other are fascinating. Watch for the frequent subtle cues they use as they connect and relate to their pasture mates. When the human begins to also relate to the horse in a way he can trust and understand, confidence is boosted and separation anxiety melts away.
The Ultimate Goal
The ultimate goal is for the horse’s comfort and security to come from us instead of anything else. We become the type of rider who allows the horse’s self-preservation instincts to lower. Being separated from another horse or familiar place is no longer a source of anxiety. He knows he is in the hands of a confident and trustworthy leader.