My Horse Has "Separation Anxiety"

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January 25, 2018

I am needing some help with separation anxiety in my horses. I have a five-year-old mare who I bred, and she has lived her whole life with two geldings, very happily. She's always been independent and confident when I have taken her away from them to handle and (over the past year) ride. She's been beautifully behaved both at home and out at shows, and very willing and focused on her job.

The problem has arisen since we purchased another (slightly older) mare for my daughter. My mare took one look at her and fell in love, so it seems! The two mares are now grazing together, separately from the two geldings. 

Now, when I go to ride my mare, she is constantly trying to see where the other mare is, calls out and generally it's much harder to get her to concentrate and focus on me. When we take them out, when the other mare goes away to be ridden, instead of standing quietly at the truck (like she used to) she is now digging holes and calling out constantly.

I would love my well-mannered lady back again! I have thought about grazing all four together, or splitting up into two herds of one mare and one gelding each, but I'm not sure this would solve the problem. 

Your trainers thoughts greatly appreciated.

Melanie, Tauranga

Answer:

 Hi Melanie,

First, make sure your mare isn’t overfed. Too much grain makes any horse excitable and especially so under pressure. When a horse is overfed and underworked, they find it hard to concentrate on your lessons.

You could try separating the mares and grazing each one with a gelding. If you do this, make sure that they’re not in adjoining paddocks or they may get tangled in the fence.   

When you ride your mare, you don’t want her to look around and call to her friend. It’s up to you to do something about it every time she even thinks about looking around or calling out.

Trainers often say to ignore a horse that calls out. Others say that speaking gently or stroking a horse’s neck will calm an upset horse. If you do this, you relieve all the pressure and in effect reward your mare for looking around and calling out.

Instead of rewarding her for this behaviour, you must make life a little unpleasant for her when she looks around or calls out. Every time your mare looks around or calls out, pull her around in a tight circle. You must keep her moving forward and kick her around with your outside leg. Do this every time she looks around or calls out. If you have to correct her thirty times in thirty metres, then so be it. If you’re consistent, looking around and calling out will be an unpleasant experience for your mare.

You must react and make life unpleasant for your mare every single time she looks around or calls out. When your mare moves along in the manner you want, make life easy and pleasant for her by relaxing and giving the rein. If you’re consistent and do something each and every time your mare looks around or calls out, she’ll work out that life is much easier when she moves in the manner you ask.

You must react exactly when your mare isn’t doing as you ask. Then she’ll relate the unpleasantness with her behaviour at that time. If you react even three seconds after the event, she won’t relate the unpleasantness with her unwanted behaviour.

Spend plenty of time practising at home. If you can’t control your mare at home where things are relatively easy, you won’t be able to control her with all the excitement at a competition. If you’re consistent, your mare will soon learn to do as you ask, rather than look around or call out.

When you go to a competition, make sure you get the excess energy out of your mare’s system before you tie her. Ride or lunge her, away from the other mare. Trot and canter her for four or five circles, then let her walk to give her a break. Repeat these circles until your mare thinks about you and what you want, instead of looking around or calling to her friend.  

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