Connecting with Herd Bound Horses To Help Them Get Over Their Separation Anxiety

Jan 25, 2021

Herd bound horses can be difficult to deal with if you force the horse to separate from other horses that he does not want to leave. For this reason alone it is important to help a horse to get over the overwhelming need to be with the herd.

Also, when working with horses at liberty, herd bound behavior needs to be removed from your horse to help him focus on you and allow the connection between the two of you to grow. When I first began Liberty Training in The Resnick Method of Horsemanship my horses were extremely herd bound and it was difficult to work with them individually, so Carolyn shared some exercises with me to help them get over the fear of being separated and now I am going to share them with you. These exercises are a fun way to train your horse to give up herd bound behavior.  It is certainly more enjoyable for horses to play these games rather than having to accept the conditions of being separated by force. In the Resnick Method, we are always looking to find a way to connect with our horses where we will get a YES!

This first exercise takes very little effort and is a nurturing and enjoyable interaction that helps your horse discover that he does not need to worry about being without the herd.

Step 1: Set Your Horse Up For Success

Begin by making a plan to set up an environment that works best for your situation. There may only be one horse that your horse does not want to leave,  or you may have a horse that lives with a large herd. Analyze your options and decide how you can easily move one horse out of the herd with little effort. Decide where you will be taking your horse once you leave. You will want to take the horse to an area that is not far away and where he can still see his friend/friends.

Step 2: The Sweet Spot

Set up the area you will be taking the horse to once you leave his friend/friends to be the “sweet spot”. Have water and a bucket of carrots, or sweet feed, waiting in that area. Remember, he must be able to see his friends wherever you take him, as you want to ensure that he would not be so upset that he would not want to eat.  For some horses this distance might be just on the other side of the gate, for others, it might be a short walk away where he can still see his friends. Always choose a place where you know that the horse will not be too concerned. This will help him get over the herd bound behavior more easily.  When a horse is overly concerned he loses the ability to learn and will obsess on his desire to be with the other horse(s) he is bonded to.

Step 3: Everyone Needs to Be Happy

Whether you have only two horses or an entire herd, you will want to set it up so that the horse(s) you are leaving behind are happy as well. It is important that you set it up so that you can take your horse away from his herd and they won’t follow you. You may need to get the herd to move close to an exit gate by putting food down by that gate so you can easily move your horse away from them and they won’t care if you are leaving.

Step 4: Pleasant Surprises

Now that you have set yourself up for success,  you can begin by taking your horse away from his friends and walking him to the place you have chosen to be the “sweet spot”. Once you arrive at your destination, walk him to the bucket of treats and let him eat only enough to really enjoy the food you have offered him. As soon as he is very pleased with his reward, and he has not finished the food in the bucket, take him back to his friends, when he would rather keep eating. This way your horse will experience a loss of food and wish he did not have to leave. He will begin to think, “I do not want to go back to my friends, I want to eat my treats.” He will realize that being away from his friends is nothing that he needs to be concerned about and he will be happy to be without them. Repeat this exercise every day for ten days and each day put the bucket a little further away from his friends if you can do that without getting your horse too nervous. Never put the bucket where it would create anxiety for your horse.  If you see your horse become too nervous go back to a place that he is comfortable with.

As your horse begins to enjoy the trips to the bucket, you can then take him on walks after he finishes his reward bucket. On these walks, you can hide another bucket of treats somewhere for him to discover. Eventually, your horse will begin to relax enough that you can take him out of sight from his friends and he won’t be concerned about leaving them.

It is important for equestrians to understand the effort and care that is needed in the training of horses. Remember, training needs to be an ongoing practice so that the horse learns he can depend on you. You want your horse to understand that he can count on your leadership and that wherever he goes with you he gets a good deal! This brings well-being to your horse and strengthens the bond you share. 

Have fun!

Nancy Zintsmaster

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