Separation anxiety- ideas to overcome it

28 December 2020
I’ve posted a fair bit in the past about my horses various behavioural issues and had great advice. I’ve recently realised (thanks to my instructor) that most of his behaviour stems from separation anxiety (don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before!! When he lived in a herd at a v busy yard he was such an easy horse. As soon as we moved to small quiet DIY yards the issues started- these yards are always quiet during the day so my horse is usually the only one on the yard and in the school). Basically my horse is ok-ish when left alone (he’s doesn’t really call out or fence walk), however it’s when he’s leaves other horses, that’s when he feels it. Eg being on a yard alone or walking him to the school (where there aren’t any horses) that causes him to be anxious/bolshy/fire breathing dragon/planting/rearing/spooking at things (any of these). When he’s in company, nothing phases him, however on the ground, when it’s me and him, he finds lots of things terrifying. This results in him planting and not moving, which can quickly escalate to rearing and spinning. At the moment he’s very reluctant to go into the yard alone or to walk to the school. Tonight he was planting, backing up, trying to pull me back to the field (I always lead in a bridle so I had control).
So, I’m looking for ideas and advice to try and help to get him over this. So far I’ve been working on
1) groundwork (TRT)- teaching him manners, plus how to be calm- this will take time
2) walking him to the ‘scary area’ where he usually plants and feeding him there, then taking him back
3) When I can, using my daughters pony to give us a lead into the school (he’s dope on a rope then, can walk past all sorts of farm machinery etc)
Is there anything else I should/shouldn’t do? I’ve tried being firm and giving him a tap with a schooling whip but this makes him worse. I’ve tried pressure and release head collars and again, once he feels pressure he rears and gets his knickers in a twist.
Thanks in advance (as always)
18 November 2021
My horse used to be similar to this when we moved to a smaller yard. Bringing her in to ride was a nightmare, screaming her head off, spooking at nothing and had no regard for my space, barging through me etc. She once started to bolt back to the field while I was half way through getting her bridle on and had me hanging onto her neck trying to get her to stop, all in full view of my yard manager and two others:oops:
How long have you been at your current yard? Maybe he doesn‘t yet feel settled and comfortable in his new environment and that’s contributing to his anxiety over being away from other horses. My mare doesn’t take change well and it took her many months to fully settle. She’s much better when being brought in now and much less anxious.
Groundwork helped a lot too. Anything to help get her attention back to me when she starts to feel nervous, like rein back, leg yield, turn on the forehand etc, all from the ground. Basically anything to get their attention away from whatever their worrying over. Also basic manners training and respecting your space is really helpful too! Tapping my mare with the whip, getting angry etc just makes the situation worse, I just try to stay as calm as I possibly can and I’ve found she’s started to take confidence from me.
To be honest it sounds as though you’re doing all the right things so far! It’s not an overnight fix but stick with the ground work, it really does help to improve your bond with the horse and they will start to see you as a leader they can trust to keep them safe. I’m not sure what pressure headcollars you’ve used but for me a basic rope halter does the trick, they make what you’re asking the horse much clearer than a flat headcollar.
Hope that helps even a little bit. I totally understand how difficult this problem can be!

Caol Ila

Well-Known Member
23 January 2012
Yeah, I know that movie. It's a sh1t movie. My Shire-TBx lost her mind at a yard where the stables/arenas were drastically geographically separate from turn-out fields. Out of sight, over a hill, that sort of thing. The stables at this place were all higgledy-piggledy -- two horses in one building, three in another, etc. That did not help. If you brought her into the stables when her neighbor was out, she would turn into a fire-breathing dragon. Wouldn't tie, would run you over, race in circles around her stable, completely wild. Riding her in the arena was impossible. Work on her ground manners, you say. Well, the thing was, I'd had this horse for like 15 years when I moved to a small yard with that geographically disparate set-up, and her ground manners were flawless. They really were. Something triggered her, and training went out the window. She'd shown other fun behaviours like fencewalking at assorted yards, but this extreme separation anxiety was a new one. The fencewalking was a continuing saga for most of her life, but if you caught her, she was fine to handle, ride, etc. It was also weird as hell, because she hacked on her own. She used to go to horse shows on her own. And I never had any hassle bringing her in to ride at any bloody time of day I wanted.

Here's what I did: I gave up on stopping her from being nuts, because I couldn't. I only rode after 4pm, when the horses were brought in from turn-out. I hoped that the owner of her one neighbor wouldn't be riding. Luckily for me, that owner was terrified of her horse, so she usually wasn't. Obviously not a long term solution. But my horse was her normal sweet, easygoing self so long as I stayed within these parameters.

I also tried assorted training methods (LOL), animal communicators (also LOL), and joined this forum.

The yard owners were building an American barn. I held out, hoping that my horse would cool her jets a bit once all the horses were in one building. It didn't change the location of the summer turnout fields, but I took a bet that it would help. It did. Once the horses moved into the American barn, things got a lot better. My horse was never completely chilled when in by herself in summer (winter was okay because winter turnout fields were next to the barn), but she was handleable and rideable.

I blame it on early/traumatic weaning. It was like the set-up of that yard triggered some PTSD that I didn't even know was there.

Best solution? Moving. She was always pretty sane at large, busy yards, and when I finally moved her to another one, even the fencewalking went away. It was a shame we only enjoyed that place for the last year and a half of her life, but I'm happy we had that year and half. Still wish I'd moved her sooner.
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