THE ONE LEFT BEHIND
The last couple of weeks we've talked about how to manage herd animal behavior and separation anxiety in horses. And just like last week, I'm going to reiterate how important it is to view this anxiety when separated as an instinctive behavior in a horse. Horses are family creatures and when they get separated they get nervous. Luckily it can be changed for the better. Horses can learn to relax when separated. Read last week's article to find out more about how to keep your horse's attention in a positive place.
At the end of the article I hinted I would write about the one left behind. We've talked about how to solve separation anxiety in the horse you're working with but didn't really get into solving it for the horse left in the field. It's often much harder for him or her because when you leave him alone, you leave him with no leadership.
There are however, a few things you can do to make his/her life more comfortable.
Here are you options:
Number one: Don't leave him behind. Take him with you. Or if you do leave him behind, leave a friend with him. I know it's not ideal, but it is one solution many people explore.
Number two: Give it time. Time heals all wounds. If your fences are safe, you can trust he won't hurt himself. In time he'll realize that you always come back with his friend. In my experience this will take lots of time. Maybe a year or two (some horses are even more extreme) before your horse starts to realize that his friend leaving, doesn't mean staying away.
Number three: Stay in sight. Slowly increase the distance at which you can separate the horses. First, play with your horse inside the same space. Then, begin to slowly increase the distance at which you play but stay in sight. Soon, you can leave his sightlines, but quickly return. Think of it like "approaching and retreating" from a certain distance until your horse left behind is trusting you'll always return. Eventually, you'll be able to stay out of sight for longer without upsetting your horse too much.
Number three: Leave something behind for him to enjoy. If you have a third horse that can stay back as a friend that's ideal, but even that isn't enough sometimes. You can leave food behind. If you leave food every time, your horse left behind will start to associate food and relaxation to separation instead of anxiety. Especially if you combine a few of the above strategies.
I want to highlight just a few concepts here before I go. First... make sure your fences are safe. Sometimes you can't help the horse left behind, you just have to trust he'll be okay. Second... spread the distance slowly. Third... don't get frustrated! You're dealing with instinct. Every time you deal with instinctive behavior you've got a long road ahead. Be patient, calm, and carry the demeaner of a leader. Don't carry the demeaner of a worry wart. Plan ahead for success. You can do anything if you plan like a leader.
To your success with all your horses,
PS. I want to hear from you. Comment below. Ask me questions. I'll respond.