Don't Leave Me

If your horse suffers from separation anxiety try Pat Parelli’s methods for weaning both the young and the adult horse.

Horses are herd animals. They are socially dependent on each other. Why? Because for prey animals, there is safety in numbers – and horses are prey animals. Hanging out in groups is how they survive in the wild and understanding your horse’s instinctive behaviour is a foundational element of natural horsemanship.

SeparationThere are two occasions in a horse’s life when he has to go through the ‘weaning’ process - firstly from his mother when he is a foal and secondly at any time he is removed from his best buddy or buddies in later life. The approach to shifting a horse’s separation anxiety is similar in both cases. Start by getting your horses used to being tied for long periods of time. This means hours. They learn patience quickly and soon stand quietly. Horses that are not used to separation or being tied need to be tied more often. Start with shorter amounts of time and build up to several hours. You can tie the horse where he can still see his buddy. Next, begin some short separations.

Cold turkey is not the way to do it. That is how horses and riders get hurt. Take one horse away for just a moment and return. Then do it again and again until the other horse sees that he’s really not gone. Be prepared for this to take many repetitions. Once they are both calm, increase the time that one horse is out of sight. With each session push the distance a little further but always start with a short one. Begin with the horses tied near each other, and then each day increase this gap until by day seven they can’t see each other at all. By doing this task in stages you’re helping increase the horse’s confidence.

Weaning a Youngster Instant separation (especially for a herd bound horse) without preparation can traumatise a horse, and this is especially so when weaning a youngster away from his mother. We recommend that the process be done in stages and only a little at a time. Over the space of a week or two, move the foal into another corral that is right next door to his mother’s. A fence that has gaps through which a foal can still suckle is ideal. After a few days, move him one corral away, then two. Do the separations for longer and longer until mother and foal can go a whole day without getting too upset. The mare and the foal don’t go through any trauma, no one gets hurt or sick and pretty soon you can take them their separate ways.

Weaning Heard Bound Adults When weaning your adult horses from each other, it’s important to keep the same perspective as when weaning foals. If horses spend a lot of time together in the pasture and get closely bonded, removing one drastically affects the other’s emotional security. A herd bound horse scenario is more common for occasional riders, because their horses tend to spend more time as part of that herd and so become more attached and less comfortable with separation. A slow and steady approach to acclimatising them to separation from their best friend or group of friends will solve this problem comfortably. It does, however, take a little time. But if you love horses, and are committed to a natural horsemanship approach based on putting your relationship with your horse first, then the Parelli natural horse training approach is right for you.

It’s also important to think about how to become as important to your horse as another horse. It’s easy to do this with dogs because we are both predator species. With horses, you need to understand their prey animal psychology and how to prove yourself a worthy leader. Horses are very attached to their dominant counterpart. If you were to put on a horse suit what would it take to become the ‘boss hoss?’ You have to learn to think like a horse and use the same communication and dominance strategies that horses do within the herd. This is the key to natural horsemanship - 50% is about equine relationship skills.