Separation anxiety is becoming an increasingly common behavioural issue in domestic horses.
Equine behaviour consultant Justine Harrison suggests ways to help them overcome their fears in different situations.
Make sure that your horse has something tasty or interesting to occupy him if you think he may struggle in a certain situation.
For example, if he needs to stand for the vet and you think he might be worried, then borrow a horse friend for company.
If he won’t be able to see other horses at all, then ensure that he has a toy box or a net of his favourite haylage studded with carrots.
If your horse is worried about leaving other horses on a hack, try the ‘leapfrog’ exercise. Walk a few paces, then stop and let the others catch you up. Then ask your horse to wait while your friends walk on a few paced before catching them up.
Gradually increase the distance between yourself and the others on each hack. Practice this exercise at home first and then repeat when you’re out hacking with calm horse friends.
If your horse is anxious, don’t force him to go forward or to wait as that will only reinforce his fear.
He may only want to go two or three steps ahead on his own, but your patience will really pay off and you can always increase the distance the next time. Always reward your horse afterwards.
At a competition
Practice separating your horse from his companion at home first before putting him in a competition situation. Only when he’s relaxed enough to be ridden away from his friend in the arena should you consider going out to compete.
If your horse is anxious, or calls out to his friend at competitions, make sure that his friend is in sight to start with.
Let his companion stand at the ringside for the first few occasions, then start to practice walking them both short distances away from each other on the showground.
Competition situations are extremely stressful and asking too much of your horse before he’s ready could increase his separation distress in the future, so be patient.
For more about coping with separation anxiety, read Justine’s full article in issue 457, available here.
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