Help your horse to feel confident on his own and make separation anxiety a thing of the past with expert advice from Rosie Jones.

Ground work exercises could help to give your horse confidence

What is separation anxiety?

Horses and ponies form strong bonds with their stable mates and field companions which means that being separated, even for a short time, can mean they experience feelings of fear, anxiety and stress – this emotional upset is known as separation anxiety.

How to help an anxious horse

If you believe your horse suffers from separation anxiety, the key to helping him overcome his anxiety is to try some simple exercises in a safe area – closer to his companions than you might think. For example, just outside his field gate, within sight of his friends and before his adrenaline levels become so high he’s difficult or dangerous to work with.

How to begin

Use groundwork exercises in this area to get control of your horse’s feet, and once he’s listening and behaving well, give him something positive, like a feed or a groom, before putting him back in the field. Repeat these exercises often as possible, slowly taking him further from his friends. The more you can get your horse to listen to you, the more you’re building your bond, reinforcing his obedience and distracting him from his friends.

Riding a horse with separation anxiety

When you move on to riding, stay within eye-shot of his friends at first. Work on your control of his movements, with exercises like turn on the forehand.

Don’t worry if you don’t have an arena. You could work in a paddock or ride around the yard if the footing is safe – you don’t have to move out of walk. This technique works well because you are building your horse’s bravery about being independent from the group, but you are also making ‘home’ a place of work too, so being near friends does not always mean having an easy time! An important tip is not to put him away until his adrenaline is down and he is really relaxed. This gives him the chance to realise he can relax independently from the group, and makes sure the day’s learning sinks in.

Riding with other horses

When riding with other horses, continue to encourage him to listen to you. Start by simply asking for more of his mind on you when out hacking in company. Even if he’s following another horse, he can walk slightly to the inside so he’s walking in his own track, and you can keep practising his obedience to your aids by giving him things to do like changes of pace or circles round puddles, gradually increasing the distance you can take from the group for these little tasks. If his adrenaline does become raised, a small circle will help keep you safe until he settles.