Bad behavior due to herd attachment - Mastery Horsemanship
Bad behavior due to herd attachment

Bad behavior due to herd attachment

January 26, 2021 4 Comments

Don Jessop

Horses are naturally herd bound. They quite literally develop a deep love and bond with their herd mates and they instinctively rely on each other for safety. It's not fair to say "bad behavior" when talking about herd attachment issues. Really, it's instinctive behavior when a horse reacts to being taken from the herd or left behind as the herd is taken from them. We call it "bad" because it interrupts our plans to have a "good" day with our horse.

Imagine going out to the farm, planning on a pleasant ride, only to become frustrated because the horse you're working with is so attached to the horse you left behind that he or she starts rearing, turning, pulling, and more and you can't calm them down or focus their attention and now you're left with a wild animal and a not so pleasant experience. Has that ever happened to you? If so, keep reading. 

In four simple steps I'm going to help mitigate the issue of herd attachment. It all starts with step one.

STEP ONE: This one's on you.

Never get frustrated. If you get frustrated you make it worse for everyone involved. When was the last time you got frustrated that actually benefited you and the people involved? I'm willing to guess the answer. Frustration is the enemy and frustration can be mitigated in one simple fashion. Change your expectations! That's it. High expectations lead to frustration if they aren't met. Don't have high expectations. Don't have low expectations. Have natural expectations. If my horse is a horse, I expect he'll act like a horse in spite of my plans and goals. Therefore, I'll make my plans not about me alone, and more about my horse growth and learning, every time I interact.

If my horse is a horse, I expect he'll act like a horse in spite of my plans and goals. Therefore, I'll make my plans not about me alone, and more about my horse growth and learning, every time I interact.

That means... If I am planning on a pleasant ride, I'm also planning on the time it takes to ensure that happens. I can't be in a hurry. I can't be hoping it works. I plan on helping the horse find that place in his/her heart and soul that allows for that. It's about my horse too.

STEP TWO: This one's on you too. 

Be more interesting than the compelling thoughts racing through your horses mind. Remember... he's attached to his herd because that's how he survives on an instinctive level. Those racing thoughts are so compelling that he's willing to disregard everything you want and do everything he can to get back to the herd. You have to be more interesting than those racing thoughts. You have to hold the attention. And when he gives you, even the slightest bit of attention, you have to reward it. Gradually his attention on you will grow and grow until he relaxes and forgets about what mother nature was screaming at him. 

How do you hold his attention you might ask? There are a million ways, but here are few that are memorable.

Keep him/her straight and on the track. The nose should go in front of the shoulders and the shoulder in front of the hips and all on the same track that you started on. In other words, if you horse starts to drift from one side of the road to the other, make a point of correcting it. If you start early on the corrections, they don't get out of hand as you distance yourself from the heard. Another tip for holding attention is to make minor transitions and adjustments all the time. Don't just stay in the walk. Speed the walk, slow the walk, tip the hind quarters off track for a moment, then back on track, and so on. Keep changing it up. 

REMEMBER. Every time you get a little attention from your horse, reward it! Open your hands, soften your expression, give some space or time. Treats or food can work too, but can also spike the energy in the wrong way if your timing is off. Usually just a quiet moment, where all the pressure is off, is all you need to reward your horse in situations like this. 

Like I said, there are a million ways to hold the horses attention. Some are quick and extreme, some are slow and patient. Each situation requires a little feel and timing. Join our Mastery University and learn them all. Check it out!

STEP THREE: This one's on you too.

Go somewhere. Not anywhere. Somewhere. Be clear about where that is. Be destination oriented and make pitstops along the way. Don't be random in your destination with a horse that needs to be focused. With herd bound horses I almost always ask my students to look up, before they even take another step, and tell me where they are going next. If they can't tell me precisely where they are going and what they are going to do when they get there I don't let them go. "Clarity is Power!" Remember that. If you know where you're going, your horse will be able to connect to your leadership easier. That doesn't mean they don't test you. It just means you know what you're after. And that garners respect.

STEP FOUR: This one's on your horse.

Some horses instantly see your leadership and stop reacting to separation anxiety and stop trying to see where the other horses are. Others take some time. Don't lose your nerve just because it's taking thirty minutes or longer to settle the horse down. Be patient. Be kind. Be firm when you need to. Be clear. And trust that if you persist in the proper position every horse in the world will find a connected calm place to be. And that's with you. 

There's more you need to know. Things I can really only hint at in an article. Things like intentionally challenging the emotional growth of your horse daily or regularly. But I'll leave you with this... I believe in you! I believe you can reach your horses heart and mind. I've been where you are. I'll get a new horse and be there again. The magic is not in solving herd bound attachment issues. The magic is in connecting with a wild by nature animal and developing and growing relationship that impacts all areas of your life. I want to be there on this journey with you. 

Join me in the Mastery University. You can learn about it for FREE with a private consultation. Check it out. Can't wait to see you. 

Thanks for reading. Comment and share below.

PS. What about the one left behind? We talked about the horse we're working with, but what about the horse that's left behind, pacing the fence? Is there anything we can do about that one? Answer... YES! Stay tuned for next weeks article. 

4 Responses


February 11, 2021

Thank you, Don, for all these fantastic articles! I am so amazed that Natural Horsemanship has become so important in the last 20 years or so since I first found out about it through my daughter’s experiences with her horse and with training she had from several different sources. Thank you for sharing your insights.


February 02, 2021

Glad you posted about this. I look forward to work with you on this when you come down to Florida in February. Once again my little buckskin quarter horse is challenging me to grow. We look forward to seeing you at Judy’s next month.

Pat Santillanes
Pat Santillanes

January 28, 2021

Thanks for writing about herd behavior. We are at a new stable and are seeing lots of it…takes time and patience to adjust – both for humans and horses.!

Christine Wilford
Christine Wilford

January 27, 2021

Hmm, it’s like you’ve been watching me from above. After 2+ years, my pony has become herd bound to the other horse that she’s normally completely ignored. And I suspect it’s because I’m emotionally less available as I’m working through some difficult challenges at work that consume my mind when I’m home. I’ve avoided frustration, but I’m vulnerable to discouragement. Thank you for the reminders about your tools to manage and overcome this problem, but thank you MORE for the support and encouragement that it can be successfully addressed. I’ll go out today with natural expectations!

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