Horse Separation Anxiety – Why does my horse get stressed leaving the herd?

Herd interaction is vital for the sanity of the horse, it belongs with other horses so when you have a horse that shows separation anxiety when you take it away from the herd (a herd can be 2 horses) then you need to look a little bit more into what the horse has experienced. Has your horse had many owners? Been to lots of different yards? Been alone in a field for long amounts of time? These are all things that can cause stress to your horse so when it is with a herd and you take it away for shows, hacks or training it doesn’t know fully that you’ll be taking it back afterwards.  You might be thinking, I always take it back afterwards, but when the stress levels of the horse go up, thinking levels go down.

There is a way to get around this, but it takes a bit of time. Patience is always rewarded!

Dakota and Sonny, horses with separation anxiety

Dakota and Sonny, horses with separation anxiety

Important whilst you do this, no mobile phone and do not take a friend out with you. Clear your mind of anything that will lose that contact with her and live in the Now! You, your horse and nothing else.
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Whilst she is so fixated with the herd, it would not be safe for you to take her out straight away and attempt join up. You will need to make a bond with her in the field so that she willingly comes with you, knowing that you’ll return her afterwards.
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Remember you have all the time in the world when with your horse there is no deadline to keep, have that mentality when creating a security for her and as Monty Roberts says… ‘Slow is Fast!’ Once she fully understands she’s not alone it will change her anxiety.
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First become part of what she considers her herd, so go out with her make a fuss, but do not take her away. If she at first walks away from you when you approach, respect that and just hover. She’ll let you come to her when she knows you’re not just going to take her away. Every now and then as you hover, give her a gentle look and smile with your eyes and mouth, then slowly look away and hover again.
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Try this for a week everyday until she’s happy for you to just be nearby.
When you think she’s happy for you to hover without expecting to be caught, catch her and start to lead her away but only take her 10-20 feet way from the herd, make a fuss and reward then return to the herd. If you can’t get 10 feet away, do as far as she is comfortable with, 1ft, 5ft it doesn’t matter. What you’re trying to say to her is that you know she’s with the herd, but you’d like her to be part of your herd, 2 makes a herd.
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Each day continue this: catch, reward, walk her away for a bit, reward, return her to the herd. Try and take her a bit further each day, but as soon as you feel her adrenaline going up, stop and turn her around to see the herd. Make her stand with some love n fuss, then return her to the herd again.

Dakota Welsh B pony

Dakota happy to be away from Sonny

You’ll find when you’ve stopped and make a fuss her adrenaline will drop more each time, when you get licking and chewing you’ll know you can take it that

Sonny happy to be away from Dakota.

Sonny happy to be away from Dakota.

one step further. When you walk back to the herd make sure you do so slowly and keep your adrenaline down. When you’ve taken the head collar off, just hover for a few moments before leaving the field.

 

Stoke her a couple of times, then let her go back to grazing. When it’s time to leave, just look at her and give her a smile, turn around and walk off to the gate. Do not look back, keep focusing forwards and she’ll know you’ll be back another time.

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